We know, we know — we once told you that Dutch was actually one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn. And we stand by that assertion, mostly because a lot of Dutch words are spelled the same as their English counterparts. That said, pronunciation is a different story. The hard Dutch words are the ones that’ll flip your phonetic sensibilities upside down. Just because two words are spelled the same doesn’t mean you’ll recognize the Dutch version when it’s spoken out loud. You’ll also encounter some false cognates along the way, so you can’t make too many assumptions about the words that seem familiar.
If you’re looking for a few specific culprits to focus your pronunciation drills on, you might begin with the Dutch “g.” In Dutch, a “g” is pronounced like the “ch” in “Bach.” Yep, it’s supposed to sound a little guttural — like you’re softly clearing your throat.
Another reason why you might be struggling with those hard Dutch words? There’s a lot of vowels to contend with and many vowel combinations to get acquainted with. For instance, “ou” sounds more like “ow” than “oo,” which is what English speakers might instinctually revert to. The “oe” vowel combination is also tricky for English speakers because it’s unfamiliar, but think of it as an “oo” sound (as in “loose”).
Honestly though, this might be the sort of thing that’s easier to explain through specific examples, which we have provided here. Below each word, you’ll find an embedded audio clip or a link that’ll help you along.
Hard Dutch Words You’ll Struggle To Pronounce
It’s not just a cheese — it’s also a city in the Netherlands. And, it’s a relatively easy word to start with on this list. You’re probably familiar with gouda cheese, but chances are pretty good you’re saying it completely wrong. Most English speakers call it “goo-da” cheese, but remember that the Dutch “g” is more of a fricative “ch” sound. Additionally, recall what we talked about above regarding the “ou” sound. It doesn’t sound like “oo” — it’s more of an “ow.”
No, we don’t come from Gouda. — Nee, wij komen niet uit Gouda.
2. Vliegtuig (airplane)
Here’s another chance to practice the “g” sound we just discussed. The other tricky part of this word is the “ui” diphthong in the second syllable, which is very hard for English speakers to pull off. It sounds a bit like the “ou” in “doubt” (but imagine it spoken with a Scottish accent). It’s a combination of “a” and “uu.”
the plane — het vliegtuig
3. Schreeuwen (to scream/yell)
Let’s start with the “sch” sound. Despite what it looks like, it’s not the same as the “sch” in “school.” It’s more of a combination of the “s” and Dutch “g.” Add in a rolled “r” (made in the back of the throat) right after it and a diphthong “eeuw,” a combination of “ee” and “oe,” and you can see why we’d consider this word tricky.
to yell — schreeuwen
4. Gelijkwaardig (equal)
This word begins and ends with a Dutch “g” sound. A new challenge? The “ij.” which is more or less a combination of the “a” in “bake” and “i” in “line”. Additionally, the Dutch “j” is pronounced like an English “y.”
Here’s an audio clip to give you an idea.
5. Puinruimen (to clean up the mess)
The typical Dutch diphthong “ui” appears twice here, which makes it pretty hard to pronounce for non-natives. Additionally, when there’s a “p” at the beginning of a word (or a “t” for that matter), they’re pronounced with hardly any aspiration. You probably don’t even notice you do this, but when you pronounce these sounds in English, you “aspirate,” or make a slight puff of air. That puff is mostly absent in Dutch.
Here’s what it sounds like out loud.
6. Vogelverschrikker (scarecrow)
The “v” is slightly less voiced than the English “v” in “very” (almost more like an “f” sound, but not quite). Then there’s the “sch” sound again mentioned above, followed by a rolled “r.” Good luck!
Here’s how it’s pronounced.
7. Klimaatspijbelaar (climate truant)
This word, which refers to a student who skips school to protest the climate crisis, took second place as Dutch word of the year in 2019 (after the English “boomer”). It’s also on our list of hard Dutch words because of the long “aa” vowel sound, which is similar to the “a” in Chicago, as well as the “ij” sound we confronted in “gelijkwaardig.”
It’s a tough one — just hear it out first.