Nederlands vir (Afrikaanse) dommies

I like the Belgians. I really do. There's no but's here: I like them. 

But the Belgians have a few traits that make them - different. Not different weird, just different unique. Let's see if we can figure them out: 

(Yes, you're right of course. You can't stereotype an entire nation. It's bad taste and people should be seen as individuals and there are exceptions to the rule and...

I'm doing it anyways.) 

So, what are the Belgians really like, when you can finally look past the chocolates and the beer? 

Let's see. My first observation would have to be that, if looks could kill, Belgium would be the murder capital of the world. Kwaai tannies met kwaai kyke - they strike fear into the very heart of non-abiding expat citizens! 

People here take things really seriously. Things like rules and manners and regulations and etiquette - they actually abide by them. In South Africa, of course, we don't. We frown upon crime, but we park illegaly every now and then, we break speed limits, we don't recycle, we let a swearword slip on occasion, and if we have 5 cents too little to pay for the bread you ask the shop owner if that's ok. Don't you try that over here. 'n Kwaai kyk - 'n dreadful dreaded kwaai kyk - that's what it will get you. Be warned! 

Second observation: Belgians are hard-working. This is for me the one thing that really stands out about the Belgians. On the one hand I respect this immensely, but on the other hand - I can't really condone it fully. Being hard-working is a good thing of course. I'm not saying it's not. But you do know the expression "all work and no play..."? Yep, it's that bad. 

I always thought South Africans were hard-working. But ever since we've lived here I've had to adjust that value slightly. South Africans are hard-working in an ambitious sort of way. That is, they're hard-working at their jobs, if their jobs have a promise of promotion or payment attached. But they're not hard-working in the iron-11-o'clock-at-night-no-time-for-tv type of way. The Belgians are. 

One way in which this shows, is that almost all Belgian women work. In this way they differ a lot from the Dutch (and the Germans, and the Brits...). There is almost no such thing as a stay-at-home-mom here. As an expat this is a draw-back. In SA you have so many activities and clubs for SAHM's - here not. You should be working - not having breakfast with your friends while your cleaner is doing your laundry. Sies! Go work already! 

Third observation: predictability. Belgians like predictability. They like certainty. They like having things set in rules, and then abiding by those rules. And I'm not making this up - this one has actually been proved. 

Some background: I'm referring to Geert Hofstede's dimensions. Geert analyzed work ethics of people in various countries, based on data collected by IBM in the 70's. He established 5 dimensions at the hand of which work attitudes can be better understood. He later continued and updated this research and has released several books and papers on the findings. You can find more info at

The 5 dimensions are: attitudes towards power, individuality, masculinity, long-term orientation and uncertainty. The latter is where the Belgians really make a break with other European counterparts. The uncertainty avoidance score measures the extent to which uncertainty and ambiguity make people feel uncomfortable, and the effort that they would put into avoiding that uncertainty. The higher the score, the less tolerant they are of uncertainty. European average for this dimension is 74, the US scores 46, South Africa 45, the Dutch 53, the world average is 64. Now try to guess where the Belgians rank: how hard, on a scale of 1 to 100, will they try to avoid uncertainty? The answer is 94. Ninety-four! They will do almost ANYTHING to avoid uncertainty! 

What does it mean in practice? In practice it means that as a nation, the Belgians like rules. They like things set in stone. They don't like exceptions. They can't tolerate rule-benders. And you certainly shouldn't expect your expat butt to be pampered because you feel you're special. Not here, you ain't! 

In fact, this is quite hard to get used to if you come from a country with a high uncertainty index like South Africa or America. We sort of like doing things our own way; we like thinking that our needs are special; and we like those needs to be met. In fact, we EXPECT those needs to be met. 

Uh-uh, not here. 

You arrived in Belgium 10 October and want to take a language class? Sorry, the next enrollement night is in Feb. You'll just have to wait 4 months. 

You want your child to swim? Pay the swimclub upfront for the entire year please. (For a child of 5 who changes his mind every week? I ask you!)  

There are homeless people sleeping on the streets in the icy cold? Disgrace! This should have been regulated last year! We need new laws, NOW! 

It does make life easy in a certain sense. Everything works. Everything is taken care of by the government. It's nice, once you get used to it. Once you get over yourself being o-so-special and all that. It's nice as long as you don't like change. And as long as you can find it in you to abide. by. the. rules. 

Ok, that's about it. Let's summarise: The Belgians 
1) have looks that can kill
2) are hard working
3) are avid uncertainty avoiders 

But still, I really like them. Why? They're genuine. Down-to-earth genuine people. Not showy. Not arrogant. Humble but with confidence that they are competent. They're competent. They're respectful. They're responsible. They treat nature with respect. They recycle. They're good cooks. EXCELLENT cooks. They make beer. They're orderly. They're neat. They're polite. They're...uniquely Belgian. 

I like the Belgians. I really really do. 

This topic came under discussion on a language forum a while back. How easy is it to communicate in Dutch when you know Afrikaans, or vice versa? 

Answers varied greatly: some reckoned the mutual intelligibility was very high and communication didn't present a problem at all. Others said that they couldn't understand a word of Dutch / Afrikaans the first time they heard it. 

I think that the answer should be more nuanced and that it depends on several factors: 

  1. Understanding is easier than speaking
  2. Understanding the written word is easier than understanding the spoken word
  3. Understanding one-on-one conversations about the weather or other social niceties is much easier than understanding the news, which in turn is much easier than following the social chatter of a group of locals. 
  4. Speaking and being understood in everyday situations (ordering in a restaurant, exchanging social niceties) is relatively easy as long as you speak slowly and adjust your accent (especially vowels) somewhat. 
  5. Speaking and being understood on abstract topics is possible but takes some effort; unless there is willingness on both ends to keep at an Afrikaans-Dutch conversation, switching to English will probably happen. 
  6. Speaking and sounding like a native speaker is not trivial at all. The accent, of course, is different. But it's more than just accent - in both languages the direct translation isn't always what sounds natural in the other language. It will take some serious study to speak like a native. 

That being said, let's get down to it: how mutually intelligible are these two languages, and how long will it take for you to learn the other? 
  • Reading: With vocabulary estimated to overlap 90-95%, the written word is greatly mutually intelligible. Might take a page or two to adjust to the change from 's' to 'z', 'y' to 'ij', and from 'is' to 'zijn' - but all and all you would be able to read a novel in the other language with very little effort. Afrikaans is more difficult for Dutch speakers than vice versa. 
  • Understanding media: After a week of being exposed to Dutch TV, I could follow around 80% of what was being said in the TV news (for me, talk shows where people talk faster and sometimes with a heavy accent is more difficult than the news). After a month I could follow 95%. 
  • Understanding people: Accent plays a big role when it comes to understanding. Some Flemish accents can be difficult to follow, although in general, the Flemish accent is closer to Afrikaans than the Dutch accent. In the Netherlands, I understand people from the Den Haag region very easily, from Amsterdam less so, and from Friesland the hardest of all. Having said this, you should be able to understand someone easily as long as the subject is clear. I.e. it's easy to understand the baker if you know that he is either asking you which bread you want, whether he should cut it, or telling you the price. However don't expect to follow a conversation between family members where they are not talking to you directly (not speaking loud and clear) - this is VERY difficult. Give it 3 months at least! 
  • Speaking: Once again, this depends on your expectations. If all you want to do is order a coffee in Dutch, sure, it's easy, go ahead! But communicating Afrikaans/Dutch beyond topics such as the kids and the weather remains tricky. Humour just doesn't always translate, so English generally allows for more lively conversation than sticking to Dutch. Luckily for us, the teachers at the school and the neighbours kept at making smalltalk with us in Dutch no matter how much we stumbled and fumbled - for which I am now really grateful because this is what motivated me to keep at learning the language. I would estimate that it took me around 6 months to get to a point where I could talk about more than just the weather and be understood most of the time. 
In short: communication is a two-way street, with unequal traffic: just because you can read a book in Dutch doesn't mean that you will be comfortable expressing yourself in the new language. It does take time to adjust to new syntax, new expressions, and different grammar rules. 

Still, it is nice to be able to speak your own language and communicate with someone speaking another language - even if it is only smalltalk about the weather and social niceties! When it comes to learning Dutch - a little bit of work can take you a long way! 

Ok, so here's the thing: I created this site, yay! I've even had some positive feedback from someone other than my mom - double yay! 

And now what? 

Submitted the url to google, posted the link on a few South African sites - expat sites, Afrikaans forums, Dutch forums, etc - and still my google ratings suck. Placing 49 when people google "hoe om Nederlands te leer vir Afrikaans sprekendes" is hair-pullingly-feet-stampingly frustrating - I should be up there, first page, in stead of that bloody idiot who claims that actually, Afrikaans is not a separate language to Dutch, it is really just one and the same thing. Ja right. Anyways - back to the topic - I figured: let's use a blog entry to just use as many keywords as possible and see if we can fool our very fouvourite search engine! Cleeeever. 

And if you're wondering why this is in English: my ever-practical husband convinced me that many (most) South Africans, when they go online, turn to English as their default language. So even if a Afrikaans speaking South African would like to learn Dutch they would probably google "how to learn Dutch for South Africans", instead of "Hoe om Nederlands te leer vir Afrikaans sprekendes". Guess there's not a whole lot of great Afrikaans websites out there yet - no judgement here... (but get on it already dammit, we can't leave it all to watkykjy!!!). 

Anyways, so a completely utterly useless blog post, just to use the words Afrikaans, South African, Dutch, Nederlands, learn and leer all in one sentence. Maybe I should throw Belgium, Netherlands and Flemish in there too. Just in case. 

Ok, one last time: this website gives Afrikaans speaking, or South Africans with a working knowledge of Afrikaans, tips on learning Dutch.  

Ok google, take that! 

Ek onthou nog toe ek my oudste laas jaar vir die eerste keer swemles toe gevat het. Groot was die verbasing toe hulle my sê ek mag nie saam met hom instap nie (hy was toe 4) - ek kan hom by die deur afgee aan 'n jong studentjie, saam met 9 ander kinders, dan kry ek hom weer in die aantrekhokkie 'n halfuur later. My verbasing het gou omgesit in hardnekkige weiering. Ek het my skoene uitgetrek, broek opgerol en agter die verbaasde studentjie aangeloop. Enigste ma in sig. 

Wat kan ek sê? As jy in Suid-Afrika kinders grootmaak is waterveiligheid hoog op jou lys van prioriteite. Almal ken iemand wat iemand ken wie se kind, nefie, of maatjie verdrink het. Water is die vyand. Altyd op jou hoede. Altyd verantwoordelik. 

En toe gebeur iets wat my laat besef ek bly nou in 'n ander plek. Ons kom terug by die aantrekhokkie, en een van die ma's vra vir die juffrou - "en waar is mijn jongetje dan?". 'n Kind is weg! Snak na my asem, reg om te gaan soek, paniek. Water, kind, alleen, sonder toesig, water - paniek! 

Nee hoor. Oops, sê die studentjie, hy moes seker iewers afgedwaal het. Sy sal kyk of sy hom kry. En sy drentel rustig die gang af, terug swembaddens toe. 

Rustig. Sonder haas. 

En die ma? Die knoop maar weer 'n geselsie aan met die ma langs haar. Arms gevou. 

Rustig. Sonder paniek. 

Eers 5 minute later, minimum, kom die student terug met die verlore kind. Nee, sy't hom by die ander aantrekhokkies gekry. Hy't seker agter ander kinders aangeloop. Haha, sê die ma, hy's darem maar lekker verstrooid. Haha. 


Maar die tyd gaan verby en mens pas aan. In 'n plek waar paranoia nie 'n bestaansreg het nie raak mens vinnig gemaklik. Mens vertrou. Mens leer vertrou. Mens vertrou die sisteem, mens vertrou die mense. Jy gee jou verantwoordelikheid oor aan 'n ander. Jy laat gaan. Die eerste keer haal mens diep asem en knyp jou oë toe en laat huiwerig los. En dan as jy dit genoeg keer doen, word dit mettertyd jou nuwe normaal. 

Fast forward 18 dus maande. Dinsdagaand tien voor sewe. Tyd vir ons weeklikse swemles. Oudste is nou al amper 6, jongste 4. Trek aan, wag in ons hokkie. Die juf kom verby. Sien jou later seun! Daar gaan die een. En 2 minute later die ander. Ek vat my handsak, loop agter die ander ouers aan. Boontoe, kafeteria toe. Vandaar het mens 'n mooi uitsig op die swembad, kan jy sit en dophou hoe so 80 kinders van verskillende ouderdomme in verskillende bane aan die oefen is. Daar sit ek en kyk. Rustig. Geen paniek. Bier in die hand.

Bier? Ja hoor, dit is België after all. Hoe dan anders? 

My nuwe normaal.