Awkward misunderstandings, while learning Dutch

Ja hoor, nee hoor!

Language is a collection of sounds to express our thoughts and emotions and these sounds have an emotional impact. In different languages, the same sound can have a completely different meaning and impact. This can evoke a specific emotional reaction. For example, it can be embarrassing or even shocking. This should be considered, since your personal interpretation is not necessarily correct! What to think of the following conversation at the office between two colleagues:

‘Wil je misschien ook een koffie?’  –  Do you also want a coffee perhaps?
‘Ja hoor, lekker!’  –  Sure, thanks, nice!
‘Wil je er suiker in?’  –  Do you take sugar?
‘Nee, hoor, dank je.’  –  No, thanks.

Is someone making fun of you? In contrast, there is nothing to worry about! For the Dutch, ‘hoor’ is a little word to express positive or negative confirmation or it can be used to soften the question. Furthermore, it can also be used as a polite statement or it can simply mean ‘please’. How to pronounce this loaded word? It’s like the English ‘door’, but then starting with the ‘h’. Do not feel uncomfortable to use this word, as long as you are speaking Dutch and don’t feel upset, when someone says to you ‘Je spreekt al goed Nederlands, hoor!’, because the person is giving you a great compliment, ‘You speak Dutch very well!’

An African ‘hoer’

How a word can make you feel very uncomfortable or offended, can happen to the Dutch as well. Our sister-language Afrikaans, spread by the Dutch ‘boeren’ (farmers) in the country of the San-people, has developed a few funny vowel variations. The Dutch long ‘eeee’ is pronounced as ‘ie-u’. That makes the Dutch ‘veel’, pronounced as the English ‘feel’, at the end of the vowel going to ‘ul’. The Dutch long ‘oooo’, is pronounced as ‘oe-u’, instead of ‘hoor’ this change into ‘hoer’, which actually is a lady from a certain district in town. Just imagine the big eyes of the barmaid, when she asked group of South-Africans ‘Kan ik nog iets voor u inschenken?’ and they replied with ‘Ja hoer!’

More false friends at the bar

Curious and straight forward, that’s how the Dutch communicate. You are at the bar, meeting a Dutch, starting a nice conversation, exchanging names and then your collocutor says ‘Wat is je vak?’ Your first reaction; ‘what the F*?,’ just breath in, breath out, your new friend is just asking about your occupation. You also need to instruct your kids, as a Dutch can ask your child ‘Wat is je favoriete vak op school?’, just showing interest in your child’s interests. Please note, not all Dutch are aware of these, what we call ‘false friends’. A false friend is a word or expression that has a similar form to one in a person’s native language, but a different meaning. For example English magazine (journal) and French magasin (shop), which inflicts less communicational confusion.

Who is it at the bar?

One week later, you’re at the bar again, meeting the same Dutch, now asking you ‘Hey, hoe is het?’ Is your Dutch friend referring to last week’s conversation? How is it with last week’s ‘vak’ perhaps? No no, calm down, your smiling Dutch friend is asking you ‘How are you?’ How is it (going)? What may help you to avoid these types of situations is to be prepared and to ‘download’ some phrases to your ‘hard disk.’

Hoe (Dutch) = how (English)
Who (English) = wie (Dutch) pronounced as the English ‘we’
(and don’t confuse that with the Dutch ‘wij/we’)

Back to the bar, next time when you see your Dutch friend at the bar you open the conversation with ‘Hoe-is’t?’
Which means ‘Hoe is het, hoe gaat het?
‘Goed, en met jou?’
‘Uitstekend!’ (outstanding)

written by: Flowently

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