Our guide for translating Dutch

If you are about to start a business amongst the Dutch-speaking territories, then it is crucial to consider Dutch translation for your documents. A local language is a powerful tool to enhance relationships amongst individuals, businesses, and countries.

I. The importance of Dutch translation

The Netherlands or Holland has a population of approx. 18 million and Dutch is the official language of this nation. Not only that, but Dutch is also the official language in Belgium. Both of these countries are famous for connections to international trade, creating a lot of opportunities for foreign businesses. Outside Europe, Dutch is also the official language of new Caribbean islands. 

The Dutch language is a West Germanic language. It shares some common ancestral history like German, Scandinavian languages, and even English.

II. 4 problems when translating Dutch

1. You cannot rely on the phonetics

The Dutch spoken language contains many pronunciation traits from its long history, so translators may encounter several challenges such as sometimes the written form of a word is not the same as its pronunciation. Moreover, Dutch has many words which are spelled the same as their English complements but pronounced differently. These might confuse the inexperienced translators, especially when it comes to interpretation.

2. Long and vowelless consonants

The Dutch language is from the West Germanic family, so the Germanic tendency is still found in many Dutch words, which merge long and vowel-less strings of consonants, making the words much lengthier (both pronunciation and spelling) and confusing. 

Further adding to this complexity, Dutch people speakers rarely shorten these mega words in their pronunciations, leading to a result that the words can be inaccurately translated.

3. Localization 

Dutch alters itself across the borders of Holland and Belgium. It is therefore essential to know whether the target country for which the Dutch translation is required is for the former or latter. 

Take the English word ‘national’, if the target market were Belgium, then the Flemish word ‘nasional’ would be required, as whilst the Dutch ‘natzional’ may not look very different, it would look out of place in a text whose target market is Flanders. There may be many words that Dutch and Flemish share, but equally, there are countless words that are not used in both dialects and many that are not interchangeable. E.g. ‘schoonbroer’ in Flanders means my wife’s brother, whilst in the Netherlands, the Dutch is ‘zwager’.

 Formal Dutch for ‘you’ is ‘u’, whilst the informal is ‘je’. This can be a challenge when translating into English. Moreover, just to make it a little more complicated, the Dutch in the Netherlands no longer use the formal, ‘u’, and has been replaced by the informal je (you). This is the opposite in Flanders, where the formality is still in existence. 

In this instance, not only is there the challenge of translating these different levels of address, the text would need to be localized and translated by a native qualified and professional Flemish translator, as the end result will be an authentic translation that respects the target culture

4. The untranslatable

A popular Dutch word that bears no English equivalent is ‘gezellig’. It is used when a Dutch person wants to describe their sunset walk with their lover or a family meal with their favorite food. The word ‘gezellig’, gives the impression of something familiar, jolly, and cozy. There are even books that are specifically written about this concept of gezellig.

Sometimes there is no straight way to translate the same local word with its full meaning. We might have to take on a description instead, it depends greatly entirely on the skill of the translator.

If you need to translate into Dutch, give us a call today!

Facts about the Dutch language

  • Place names in New York City, such as Brooklyn is named after the Dutch city Breukelen or Harlem is from the name of a Dutch settlement in Manhattan Nieuw Haarlem
  • Dutch people actually call their language “Nederlands”
  • The English word ‘awkward’ won a competition as the most beautiful English word used in the Dutch language.
  • In Dutch, gloves are called handshoes (handschoenen)