dutch vs flemish

Netherlands vs Belgium

Netherlands and Belgium are neighboring countries. Belgium to the south, between Netherlands and France.

Small as it may be,  Belgium has two official languages: Dutch (Flemish) and French (Walloon). Netherlands has one official language: Dutch.

There is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about Dutch from the Netherlands and Dutch from Belgium. Sometimes I get requests like: ‘minimize your Dutch accent because your voice recording will also be used in Belgium.’ Let me explain why this is impossible.

Dutch and Flemish are very similar languages and even have the same dictionary. People from the Netherlands and from Flanders (the Dutch speaking part of Belgium) can talk with each other and understand each other. So my voice recordings can be used in Belgium.

But… there are many small differences in pronunciation. And there is no way to do it ’neutral’ or ‘in between’. Like it is also not possible to have a neutral version between UK-English and USA-English, or between Spanish from Spain and Spanish from Latin-America. Imagine asking someone who is born in London in the UK to minimize his British accent because his recording will also be used in the USA. Kind of impossible, right? Still Americans will most likely have no problem understanding the Englishman. The same with Dutch and Flemish.

If I try to speak with the Flemish ‘accent’ it will sound strange to Belgian people (because I am not native) and they may even think I am making fun of them. Which is also the other way round: if a Flemish person tries to speak Dutch (like in the Netherlands) it will sound so strange that we think he is fooling us. Not because of big differences but because of many small differences.

Apart from that, some words have a different meaning in Flemish:

So if a Belgian person says: “Ik ga stappen” then a Dutch person will think he is going out to a bar or club, while the Belgian is just going for a walk.

Not a huge problem, because the context will make clear what is actually meant. But still it is good to realize that Dutch and Flemish are not EXACTLY the same languages.

With certain slang words that one can hear often, the meanings can be very, very different. There is a word that means ‘making love’ in Flemish and ‘going to the bathroom’ in Dutch. I have never seen such slang words in a voice-over script, so no real reason to worry about it. Only to show how a few words developed in different directions, in different countries.

one or two voice talents?

So what to do with a Dutch script that needs to be recorded and needs to be used both in Netherlands and in Belgium? My advice is to book a native Dutch voice talent for the Netherlands market, and a native Flemish voice talent for the Belgian market. That is the only way to be really sure that everything fits and is clear without any uncertainties. This would especially be true if the job is about convincing the listener and making him feel comfortable and ‘at home’.

If the project is just informative and not very complex then it is allright to have one voice talent do one recording that will be used in both countries. You can then either select a native Netherlandic voice or a native Belgian voice, but since Netherlands has more inhabitants than Flanders (NL: 17 million, FL: 6.6 million) it seems more logical to book a voice from the Netherlands.


One more thing… both in Netherlands and in Belgium there are many different dialects. Each province (county) and even each city has its own ‘accent’ or dialect. Sometimes so different from official Dutch that it cannot be understood without further explanation. In Netherlands there is in fact one more official language: Frisian. This is not an accent or a dialect but a true language on its own. However, people who live in Friesland can speak and understand common Dutch so no need to worry about recording a special version in Frisian.

Most voice-over jobs are recorded as ‘Standard Dutch’ as we call it. That is the language all people in Netherlands and Belgium understand. Albeit that there are differences between Standard Dutch in Netherlands and Belgium as pointed out above.


Netherlands: the country where they speak Dutch / Netherlandish.

Holland: a part of the Netherlands. When people say ‘Holland’ they usually mean Netherlands.

Dutch: the language that is spoken in Netherlands and Belgium, generally the same in both countries but with many small differences (especially in pronunciation).

Netherlandish / Netherlandic: a not so common word for the language that is spoken in the Netherlands.

Belgium: the country where they speak Dutch and French.

Flanders: the part of Belgium where they speak Dutch (Flemish).

Wallonia: the part of Belgium where they speak French (Walloon).

Flemish: the name for the type of Dutch that is spoken in Flanders.

Walloon: the name for the type of French that is spoken in Wallonia.

Benelux: a cooperation of three countries: Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Friesland: a province in the Netherlands where they speak Frisian.

Frisian: a language on its own that is spoken in Friesland (one of the 12 provinces of the Netherlands). Frisian is very different from Dutch and is more similar to Scandinavian languages (Danish, Swedish and Norwegian).

One more pitfall: the difference between Dutch and Deutsch:

Deutsch: is the language they speak in Deutschland (Germany). So ‘Deutsch’ is German for German.

Dutch: the language that I speak in my native country the Netherlands.



© willem van den top



© willem van den top