False Friends in Dutch Language

When learning to understand a new language we always say to the learner; 'Look at the word or listen to the word and guess for the meaning'. Your calculated guess might be due to the fact that the word looks similar to the English word; ' wijn' (wine) ; 'Mijn' (=mine); 'kat' (=cat); 'dat' (= that); 'rugzak' (=rucksack) 'beter' (=better); 'zeven' (=seven)

the word sounds the same; 'het boek' ; 'goed' ; 'de boot' (remember that [oo] in Dutch sounds like [oa]); 'koel' (=cool)

the word looks the same; 'het park' ; 'de bank' ; 'de computer'; 'de lamp'

Linguists call these words cognates. Cognates can really help the language learner to understand words he or she has never seen before in their life.

Another way to extract meaning out of unknown Dutch words you come across when reading or listening, is their context. "Mijn vader heeft een nieuwe wagen, het is een Volvo S60" If you have never seen the Dutch word 'wagen' before, you can work out that in this sentence 'wagen' means 'car'. I picked the word 'wagen' in this example as it is slightly unusual, most people would use the word 'auto" for car.

Unfortunately life is not always simple, there are Dutch words that look the same or similar but that have a completely different meaning. These words are called "false friends". The best way to not fall into the trap of guessing them wrong is to learn them by heart. Our first false friend is the word 'slim'. In English slim is slender or small in quantity. 'Most female news readers are slim.' In Dutch however 'slim' means 'clever'. 'De vrouw is slim' means 'the woman is clever', if she has a slim waist we would say: 'De vrouw is slank'

This might need some practice, think of someone you know who is clever and possibly a bit heavy or overweight.

'Churchill was slim. Hij hield van lekker eten en was niet slank'

'Carol Voderman is slim, zij is goed in spellen en optellen. Zij is ook erg slank'

'spellen' = 'spelling' or 'to spell'

'optellen' = 'adding up'

Another false friend between English and Dutch is:

'Het brave* kind doet wat is gevraagd' = 'The obedient child does what has been asked'

* pronounce in a Dutch way e.g. [bra] + [ve]

If someone is brave you use the word 'moedig' in Dutch. Think of someone who is brave.

'Robin Hood is moedig', 'Superman is moedig'.

Sometimes your brain gets tricked by the appearance of a Dutch word. The Dutch word 'boot' is pronounced as 'boat' and means boat but the English part of your brain will often read it as boot and confuse its meaning.

The English word for 'arm' if we talk about a body part is also 'arm' in Dutch. There is a slight difference in pronounciation as a Dutch person will pronounce the [r]. But the word 'arm' in English can also mean 'weapon'. The Dutch also have a secondary meaning for 'arm' but in Dutch 'arm' means poor or pitiable.

'Kinderen in Afrika zijn arm' = 'Children in Africa are poor'

'Dat arme kind heeft geen jas' = 'That poor child has no coat'