Common Language Errors When Translating from (and to) Dutch

If you are starting to learn Dutch, you are in the process of translating a document from Dutch to another language (or vice versa), or you are wondering what the lyrics to the Dutch national anthem are in English, you might see some language errors and common problems that come up during the process. There will often be times where there are slight language differences or cultural tweaks and quirks that mean a word might not translate directly over between the two languages.

Let’s look at a few common misconceptions and language errors when learning Dutch and translating to and from it for professional purposes.

What to expect when reading Dutch

When speaking or writing Dutch there are some common errors that you might encounter. The following provides a general overview of what to expect when looking at the Dutch language written down on paper:

Ending with d, t, or dt

Knowing what letters to use at the end of a word that sounds like a t-sound can be quite confusing at times. You need to consider whether to use a d, t, or dt. There are a few rules that you must be aware of to determine which of these letters you need to use at the end of a word.

· ‘d’ should be used if it has already happened

· ‘t’ or ‘td’ should be used if it refers to another person

If a sentence is speaking about a current or future event, you would add 't' to the end of the word. An example of this would be ‘He becomes stronger’, which translates into ‘Hij wordt sterker’. The base of the word ‘worden’, which means 'to become', changes to ‘wordt’ as you are referring to a future event. This then becomes ‘hij wordt’. For a past event, you would see a word ending with d, because it has already happened.

The ‘ch’ or ‘g’ sound written down

It might sound great to say as a foreigner (or it might sound challenging), but when it is not your first language, and you are learning to write in Dutch it can be difficult to understand exactly how to write down this weird and wonderful ‘guttural’ words. For example, a word that starts with the letter 's' and has this sound will always be ‘sch’ written down. ‘Sheep’ becomes ‘schaap’ instead of ‘sgaap’.

Keeping words together or splitting them apart

An ‘emergency telephone’ does not translate as ‘nood paal’ as you would expect, but instead it translates into one word, ‘noodpaal’. When you are translating and writing down Dutch words, remember that it is a country that doesn’t want to waste time and space, so many words will combine into one.

Die or dat?

In English, everything begins with ‘the’, but this isn’t always the case in Dutch. Sometimes it will start with ‘de’ or ‘het’. This also influences which word is correctly used for ‘this’ or ‘that’. When pointing at things, it can seem quite a difficult thing to grasp. ‘Die auto’ is correct, not ‘dat auto’, but when pointing at a child, it would be ‘dat kind’ and not ‘die kind’.

Male and female words

‘De’ and ‘het’ are used to relate to a word either being male, female, or without gender. Always say ‘het’ if there is no gender. Otherwise, use ‘de’. It can be difficult to learn the exact genders for Dutch words, some of the important rules are listed below, but it could just be that over time you memorise them as you learn them. The important rules are:

· Plural nouns = de

· Diminutive nouns = het

· Noun made from infinitive verb = het

· Nouns for persons with identified gender = de (‘de dochter’ – the daughter, but ‘het kind’ – the child)

· Nouns for professions = de

· Letters and numbers = de

· Nouns for languages = het

· Two syllable nouns starting with ge-/be-/ver-/ont- = het

· Words ending in -isme/-ment/-sel/-um/ = het

· Metals = het

· Fruits, plants, trees = de (ending in -ing/-ij/-heid/-nis/-de/-te = de)

· Names of rivers and mountains = de

Past perfect tense

A good example of a past perfect tense in Dutch that might seem like a mangled, weird word when it is translated, is the Dutch way of saying to ‘save’ something. Dutch people say ‘opslaan’, which is two separate words put together (‘op’ = ‘on’ and ‘slaan’ = ‘to beat’). The actual formal word for saved is ‘opgeslagen’, which directly translated into English is ‘stored’. Another word that is accepted in Dutch to mean ‘saved’ is ‘gesaved’.

How to use commas in longer sentences

Adding a comma into your sentences can have a dramatic change in meaning. One of the best examples of this is with the sentence ‘Hurry up Jan!’, which directly translates as ‘Schiet op Jan!’ or ‘Let’s shoot at Jan!’ when you translate it back. With one comma, you can fix this, with the correct translation being ‘Schiet op, Jan!’.

There are more examples that we could run through, and it is an interesting journey when you are learning how to read and write Dutch to see such examples.

Common mistakes Dutch people make when speaking English

Dunglish is a popular term for those who speak English with a little bit of Dutch included. There are common errors that are made, including some of the following.

‘Have lived’

If you say that you have lived in Rotterdam for one year, it always comes out a little different, as there is no word for word translation for ‘have lived’, and it is often used in Dunglish. So, instead, you might hear a Dutch person saying, ‘I live in Rotterdam for one year’.

‘Have seen’

Another example of this is where someone says, ‘I have seen that last month’, where in English this would correctly be ‘I saw that last month’.

Future tense

There are sometimes similar problems when saying something for the future. Instead of saying ‘I’ll do it soon’, you’ll often find Dutch people speaking English will say ‘I do it soon’.

To the point

One of the biggest differences between Dutch culture and others is that it is very to the point. This might seem blunt to some people, but it is perfectly logical and polite for a person to respond to a question with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, instead of adding a ‘thank you’ at the end of the sentence for example.

‘on’ or ‘in’?

You might come across a Dutch person saying ‘Ik heb dat op school geleerd’, which translates as ‘I have learned that on school’, and not ‘in school’ which would be correct in English.


Finally, Dutch people would never say the word ‘greetings’ alone, as it sounds too weird in the language, instead using the word ‘Groetjes’ as a casual way of saying goodbye, or ‘vriendelijke groeten’, which translates as ‘kind regards.’

Recruiting international jobseekers to the Netherlands often means conversing in, and putting together documents in a language unfamiliar to you. Whether you are a company in the Netherlands looking to recruit employees from abroad, or you are looking to start a new life and career in the Netherlands and you come from the UK, US, or another part of the world, it is important that misunderstandings are left at a minimum, and that cultural and linguistic differences are left behind. As you can see, there are a few common language errors when translating from and to Dutch, and having a recruitment specialist on your side is a fantastic way to smooth the entire process.

About the Author:

Say hello to Paulien, an online marketer at a leading translation agency. She is passionate about her craft, linguistic diversity and the benefits clear communication across different languages, cultures, and countries offers. Paulien is dynamic, and results-driven, fully understanding the ever-evolving digital landscape and how it can be used to maximise the reach of a globally expanding agency. She plays a pivotal role in this process, creating digital strategies that are innovative, creative, and exciting, connecting businesses with the power of multilingual communication. The work Paulien is involved with helps to bridge language barriers and present clear communication for a wide range of businesses across the world.

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