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The Old Dutch "Shoe"

From Germany to the Netherlands, here is a quick tip on reading/pronouncing Dutch... It is the COMPLETE opposite of the standard American approach. Or is it?

It is absolutely fascinating to spend so much time in Germany, getting beaten up repeatedly by friends for mangling their ever precise German vowel sounds (you have no IDEA how many variations they have created with umlauts - the double dots over letters - and vowel combinations.

But the Dutch leave the trail of German behind for many softer sounds that sound much more like English. When you hear Dutch radio, the average American or Brit can recognize so many more sounds and words... except the Dutch took that beautiful hard "g" that is in German and English - and replaced it with "chhhhhhhh" - think clearing your throat, and that's the sound.

But the one common mistake I have been making had to do with two vowel combinations that the Dutch frequently employ:

They are big on words with the same two vowels together. We do this with words like "street" and "boot." "Cool," "beet," "sleet," "tool..." We are hard-wired to say these words with the appropriate sound. There is little variation in English - one of the rare times, for sure. And these double vowel combinations don't exist in German at all.

So when I was in Flanders, visiting an area where the Allies had dug a tunnel under No Man's Land to blow up the German trench system, the name seemed easy enough to pronounce:

Hooge Crater is the name of this "huge crater" that was left after they detonated a great deal of explosives underneath the German lines. And my "oo" seemed to be a perfectly sound pronunciation.

But it's not.

"oo" in Dutch actually makes the sound "oh."

And in COMPLETE reverse is the Dutch "oe."

It is the greatest temptation in the world to give the Dutch "oe" our own "oh" sound. After all, it is how we say "hoe" or "toe" or "goes."

But this is incorrect! Maddeningly so!

The Dutch "oe" takes the English "oo" sound!

My favorite example of this in Dutch is the Flemish (Belgians who speak Dutch, regardless of some minor dialect changes and words) name of one of Belgium's best beers:


An American might be tempted to pronounce it "Hoe-gayrden."

But it's actually pronounced "Hoo-chhhharrden."

There is one English word which stubbornly clings to this Dutch past of ours, as one can full well hear the migration of German from its homeland, through the Netherlands, and into English. And you can always remember it when you glance at a Dutch sign and want to attempt, as is so very natural to do, to pronounce it...


So there you have it... I hope it's a little clearer than mud now. :P


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