Talking Dutch: West-Vlaams for beginners

Summary

Learning Dutch is a slog, but you can console yourself with the thought that at the end of it all you will be able to sit down in a Flemish cafe chat away happily to the locals. But then you go somewhere like Ghent or Bruges and realise that you do not understand a single word the locals are saying.

Derek Blyth on the difficulties of dialect

You maybe know this problem if you are a foreigner in Flanders. You spend three years attending Dutch classes, every Tuesday evening from 8pm to 10pm, learning all the grammar, perfecting your pronunciation, working on those difficult words like vijfhonderd vijfenvijftig (555).

It is a slog, but you can at least console yourself with the thought that at the end of it all you will be able to sit down in a Flemish cafe with a beer and chat away happily to the locals. But then you go to somewhere like Ghent or Bruges, sit down in a cafe, and realise that you do not understand a single word the locals are saying.

But now there is a solution, according to a recent report in De Morgen. De VDAB in Kortrijk pakt uit met een opmerkelijk initiatief: een lessen reeks West-Vlaams voor beginners – the VDAB (the Flemish employment agency) in Kortrijk has come up with an interesting initiative: a course of lessons in West Flemish for beginners.

Wuk zeg je? I beg your pardon? Well, let me explain. De VDAB wil buitenlanders die in Kortrijk komen werken zo de kans geven om makkekijker te integreren – the VDAB wants to give foreigners who come to work in Kortrijk the opportunity to integrate more easily. Die mensen leren vaak al AN, maar daar zijn ze niet veel mee als alle buren of collega’s West-Vlaams spreken. These people often learn to speak correct Dutch, but they still don’t get very far if all their neighbours or colleagues speak West Flemish dialect.

Now they can sit in a classroom and learn how to speak like a native of Kortrijk. They are taught to say words like toarte (tart) when they go to the baker’s and iezerdroad (wire) when they go to the hardware store. By the end of this six-lesson course, the students will know exactly what it means when they hear the words vuufoendrd vuuvnviftug (555).

But I see a couple of little problems with this excellent idea. The first is that there is not just one West-Vlaams dialect. There are several versions, such as coastal West-Vlaams, which they speak in towns like Ostend, continental West-Vlaams, which is spoken in the middle of the region, and west West-Vlaams which is what you hear in towns and villages up close to the French border.

And of course you only have to drive 38 kilometres down the motorway to get to Ghent, where no one will have the slightest idea what you are saying when you go into a bakery and ask in West-Vlaams for a toarte.

Talking Dutch: West-Vlaams for beginners

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