Self-Access Centre - Dutch

Welcome to the Self-Access Centre materials database. Here you can find out about the Dutch materials available in the SAC.

If you are interested in studying Dutch at UCL, please click here.

If you are interested in studying Dutch online at UCL, please click here.

The SAC is here to provide you with opportunities to study Dutch outside class time. You may feel extra study is necessary in order to achieve the exam score you want, or you may just enjoy studying Dutch. Either way, the SAC could be useful for you.

If you have a very clear idea of what you need to study in Dutch, use the Resources menu above to look for the study topics which are of importance to you. If you need advice and guidance on what to study, you should talk to your class tutor, who will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses and make recommendations on what to study.

In the Self-Access Centre you can find course books, dictionaries, but also grammar books. You can browse through magazines and newspapers in Dutch, watch online TV or listen to radio stations. You can also watch Dutch films, course videos or TV documentaries.

A bit about the language

Dutch is a West Germanic language spoken by over 22 million people as a native language, and over 5 million people as a second language.  Most native speakers live in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Suriname, with smaller groups of speakers in parts of France, Germany  and several former Dutch colonies. It is closely related to other West Germanic languages (e.g., English, West Frisian and German) and somewhat more remotely to the North Germanic languages.

Dutch is the parent language of several creole languages, as well as of Afrikaans, one of the official languages of South Africa and the most widely understood in Namibia. Dutch and Afrikaans are to a very large extent mutually intelligible, although they have separate spelling standards and dictionaries and have separate language regulators. The Dutch Language Union coordinates actions of the Dutch, Flemish and Surinamese authorities in linguistic issues, language policy, language teaching and literature.

Names for the Dutch language

In English, the language of the people of the Netherlands and Flanders is referred to as Dutch; or rarely as Netherlandic; Flemish is a popular informal term to refer to Belgian Dutch, Dutch as spoken in Belgium.

  • Map of the Dutch Speaking World

In Dutch, the language is referred to as Nederlands. It derives from the Dutch word "neder", a cognate of English "nether" both meaning "low" and "down", and "land" (same meaning in both English and Dutch), a reference to the geographical texture of the Dutch homelands, the western and lowest portion of the Northern European plain.

Geographic distribution

Dutch is an official language of the Netherlands, Belgium, Suriname, Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles. Dutch is also an official language of several international organisations, such as the European Union and the Union of South American Nations. It is used unofficially in the Caribbean Community. Countries and territories with a significant number of speakers are: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, United States and United Kingdom.

The Netherlands

Dutch is the official language of the Netherlands, a nation of 16.4 million people, of whom 96 % say Dutch is their mother tongue.[ In the province of Friesland and a small part of Groningen, Frisian is also recognised, but is spoken by only some hundreds of thousands of Frisians. There are many different dialects, but these are often overruled and replaced by the language of the media, school, and government (i.e., Standard Dutch).

  • Estimate of languages spoken at home (Brussels Region, 2006)
    French only (57%)
    French & Dutch (9%)
    French & non-Dutch language (11%)
    Dutch only (7%)
    Neither French nor Dutch (16%)


Belgium has three official languages, which are, in order from the greatest speaker population to the smallest, Dutch (sometimes colloquially referred to as Flemish), French, and German. An estimated 59% of all Belgians speak Dutch, while French is spoken by 40%.  Dutch is the official language of the Flemish Region (where it is the mother tongue of about 97% of the population) and one of the two official languages —along with French— of the Brussels Capital Region. Dutch is not official nor a recognised minority language in the Walloon Region.


French Flemish is spoken in the north-west of France by an estimated population of 20,000 daily speakers and 40,000 occasional speakers. It is spoken alongside French, which is gradually replacing it for all purposes and in all areas of communication. Neither Dutch, nor its regional French Flemish variant, is afforded any legal status in France, either by the central or regional public authorities, by the education system or before the courts. In brief, the State is not taking any measures to ensure use of Dutch in France. Since the daily speakers of this form are mostly over 60 years old, it is expected that the use of French Flemish will become extinct in the near future, unless there are radical changes in the French government’s language policies towards this language minority.


Despite the Dutch presence in Indonesia for almost 350 years, the Dutch language has no official status and there is only a small minority that can speak the language fluently.  Contrary to other European nations, the Dutch chose not to follow a policy of language expansion amongst the indigenous peoples of their colonies. In the last quarter of the 19th century, however, a local elite gained proficiency in Dutch so as to meet the needs of expanding bureaucracy and business. Nevertheless, the Dutch government remained reluctant to teach Dutch on a large scale out of fear of destabilising the colony. Instead, use of local languages —or, where this proved to be impractical, of Malay— was encouraged. As a result, less than 2% of Indonesians could speak Dutch in 1940. After independence, Dutch was dropped as an official language and replaced by Malay. Yet the Indonesian language inherited many words from Dutch, both in words for everyday life, and as well in scientific or technological terminology. The century and half of Dutch rule in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and southern India left few to no traces of the Dutch language.


After the independence of Indonesia, Western New Guinea remained a Dutch colony until 1962, hen it was donated to Indonesia. Despite prolonged Dutch presence, the Dutch language is not spoken by many Papuans. Immigrant communities can be found in Australia and New Zealand, with about 50,000 fluent speakers.


In contrast to the colonies in the East Indies, from the second half of the 19th century onwards, the Netherlands envisaged expansion of Dutch in its colonies in the West Indies. Until 1863, when slavery was abolished in the West Indies, slaves were forbidden to speak Dutch. Most important were the efforts of Christianisation through Dutchification, which did not occur in Indonesia due to a policy of non-involvement in already Islamised regions. Secondly, most of the people in Dutch Guyana (now Suriname) worked on Dutch plantations, which reinforced the importance of Dutch as a means for direct communication. The size of the population was decisive: the Antilles and Dutch Guyana combined only had a few hundred thousands inhabitants. In Suriname (former Dutch Guiana), where in the second half of the 19th century the Dutch authorities introduced a policy of assimilation, Dutch is the sole official language and over 60% of the population speaks it as a mother tongue. A further 24% speaks Dutch as a second language. Suriname gained its independence from the Netherlands in 1975 and has been an associate member of the Dutch Language Union since 2004.

In Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles, both part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Dutch is the official language, but it is spoken as a first language by only 7-8% of the population, although most people on the islands can speak the language since the education system is in Dutch at some or all levels.

In North America, in the United States, there were various Dutch dialects in different US states (e,g, Jersey Dutch, Pennsylvania Dutch, Mohawk Dutch etc.) According to the 2000 United States census, about 150 thousand people spoke Dutch at home. In Canada, Dutch is the fourth most spoken language by farmers, after English, French and German, and the fifth most spoken non-official language overall (0.6%).


Belgium, which had gained its independence from the Netherlands in 1830, also held a colonial empire from 1901 to 1962, consisting of the Belgian Congo and Ruanda-Urundi. Contrary to Belgium itself, the colonies had no de jure official language. Although a majority of Belgians residing in the colonies were Dutch-speaking, French was the sole language used in administration, jurisdiction and secondary education. After their independence, French would become an official language of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. Knowledge of Dutch in former Belgian Africa is virtually nonexistent.

Arguably, the largest legacy of the Dutch language lies in South Africa, which attracted large numbers of Dutch, Flemish and other northwest European farmer settlers, all of whom were quickly assimilated. After the colony passed into British hands in the early 19th century, the settlers spread into the hinterland, taking their language with them. The subsequent isolation from the rest of the Dutch-speaking world made the Dutch as spoken in Southern Africa evolve into what is now Afrikaans. European Dutch remained the literary language until the early 20th century, when under pressure of Afrikaner nationalism the local "African" Dutch was preferred over the written, European-based standard. The constitution of 1961 only listed English and Afrikaans as official languages. It is estimated that over 90% of Afrikaans vocabulary is ultimately of Dutch origin. Both languages are still largely mutually intelligible.

It is the third language of South Africa in terms of native speakers (~13.3%). In 1996, 40% of South Africans reported to know Afrikaans at least at a very basic level of communication. It is the lingua franca in Namibia, where it is spoken natively in 11% of households. In total, Afrikaans is the first language for about 6 million and a second language for 10 million people.

Development phases

Dutch, like other Germanic languages, is conventionally divided into three development phases which were:

  • 450 (500) – 1150 Old Dutch (First attested in the Salic Law)
  • 1150 – 1500 Middle Dutch (Also called "Diets" in popular use)
  • 1500 – present Modern Dutch (Saw the creation of the Dutch standard language and includes contemporary Dutch)

The transition between these languages was very gradual and one of the few moments linguists can detect somewhat of a revolution is when the Dutch standard language emerged and quickly established itself. Standard Dutch is very similar to most Dutch dialects.

A process of standardisation started in the Middle Ages, especially under the influence of the Burgundian Ducal Court in Dijon (Brussels after 1477). The dialects of Flanders and Brabant were the most influential around this time. The process of standardisation became much stronger at the start of the 16th century, mainly based on the urban dialect of Antwerp. In 1585 Antwerp fell to the Spanish army: many fled to the Northern Netherlands, especially the province of Holland, where they influenced the urban dialects of that province. In 1637, a further important step was made towards a unified language, when the Statenvertaling, the first major Bible translation into Dutch, was created that people from all over the United Provinces could understand. It used elements from various dialects, even Dutch Low Saxon, but was predominantly based on the urban dialects of Holland.


Dutch dialects are remarkably diverse and distinct. The same applies to the Flanders region in Belgium. The introduction of Standard Dutch in the 1960s began later in Flanders, due in part to the dominance of the French language in Belgium.

Source: adapted from www.wikipedia.org