Should I Learn Dutch Or German? Or Both? In Which Order?

avatarMille Larsen
8 mins read

Dutch and German are two related languages that have a lot in common. They both belong to the Germanic language family like English, and they both have a lot to offer pretty much no matter how you look at them. You're here because you want to learn one of them (or both?) But which one should you pick as a start?

While most people would pick German over Dutch because of its importance in Europe and in world-economy, Dutch, is a language that's easier to learn than German. In many ways, Dutch has got at least as much going on as German opportunity-wise. Where German is spoken mostly in European countries, Dutch is spoken on several continents, notably in Africa. These are the reasons why I'd suggest that you pick Dutch.

There are many other things that you should consider before picking which of the two languages to learn, however.

In reality, it depends a lot on you, so I can't give you a precise answer. In the following, I'm going to look into some of the advantages and factors that you should take into consideration when deciding if you want to learn Dutch or German. (Or which one to learn first!)

Advice: If you're looking for a good starting point for learning German or Dutch, then your best options are (in my opinion):

Where In The World Can I Get By With Dutch Or German?

So let's say that you want to travel the world and communicate with people from far and wide. Would Dutch or German get you further?

The German language is spoken in a number of European countries like Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, and Luxembourg but also by small minorities in Nambia, South Africa, and Brazil - and a few other countries. A total of 100 or even 110 million people around the world speak German!

To really be able to rely on German, though, you need to use it in one of the traditionally Germanophone European countries. The countries where German is a minority language simply don't have that many German speakers.

Dutch, on the other hand, is widespread on three continents. While the Dutch language is certainly spoken in the Netherlands and Belgium, a form of Dutch, also known as Afrikaans is spoken by over 17 million people in South Africa and Nairobi and it's spoken in the small South American country Suriname, as well as a few Island states in the Antilles.

When you add everything up, there are some 46 million people in the world who speak Dutch (or Afrikaans)!

In other words - while the Dutch language might not make you able to communicate with more people than German would, you'll be able to speak with people from much much further away than continental Europe.

Is Dutch Or German Better For Business And Jobs?

No matter which language you become fluent in, doors start opening up. The same goes for Dutch and German, but what kind of opportunities do the two languages actually represent?

Many would consider German a good language to learn for business, and knowing German while doing business in Germany, Austria or another German-speaking country is extremely important.

But Dutch is also a language that can be extremely useful when trying to qualify for jobs and finding professional opportunities. While the German GDP of 4 trillion dollars (in 2018) is an impressive number, the Netherlands is close to one trillion dollars, but with only 20% on the population. You could argue that that's even better!

One difference between the Netherlands and Germany, however, is how widespread English is in the two countries. Most Dutch people speak English well, and if you work in a multinational company in the Netherlands, chances are that the corporate language will be English. In Germany, the situation is probably the same for big multinational corporations, but if you look at the population more broadly, the German language really becomes a must.

In short: Having success doing business or working in the Netherlands doesn't depend as much of the local language as it does in Germany. So if you were to pick a language because you wanted to do work in the Netherlands or Germany, consider learning German and relying on your English for the Netherlands.

Which Of The Two Languages Is Easier For An English Speaker?

German and Dutch are both languages that are related to English, which means that you'll have an advantage when learning either language, especially when it comes to vocabulary. Pronunciation-wise both languages have their challenges and some parts that are easy too. Where the two languages really differ in difficulty is in Grammar.

German grammar is more difficult than its Dutch counterpart, namely because of the case-system which simply takes a long time getting used to for an English speaker because it's a grammatical feature that only has extremely limited used in English.

German also has a few other features that might render the language slightly more complicated than Dutch, such as the three genders (versus two in Dutch) and the distinction between how you speak formally and informally, which does exist in Dutch but is less important.

Dutch grammar resembles English a lot. So does pronunciation, syntax, and, as mentioned, the vocabulary. In general, Dutch is not a difficult language for an English speaker. It's also less time-consuming than German, which is said to take some 20-30% longer to reach fluency in, compared with Dutch.

There are many great ways to study a foreign language. Most wouldn't pick the reason that "it's easy", however, so you might want to think about the other arguments listed in this article before you decide upon learning Dutch. I do think, however, that we can say without much doubt that Dutch is an easier language to learn for an English speaker.

If You Want To Learn Both Languages, Which One Should You Learn First?

That's my kind of question! You don't want to settle for one language, you want to learn both! You just want to decide which one to learn first.

My suggestion is to learn Dutch first.

As we've established above, Dutch is an easier language to learn for an English speaker. Yet it's closely related to German. This means that it'll act as a kind of gateway to the German language, a little as if a Portuguese speaker were to learn Spanish. After Dutch, German will seem much more like a natural next step, and with a knowledge of both English and Dutch, you'll be well suited for the difficulties that you'll meet in German.

Learning Dutch first also saves you from getting too comfortable once you've got the German language down. How so? Because people in the Netherlands not only speak English extremely well, the Dutch also speak German.

This means that if you were to try and learn Dutch while already knowing German and English, people would literally have two different languages with which they could communicate with you much more easily than your stuttering, beginner's Dutch and it would be a constant battle to get people to actually speak Dutch with you.

Sure, you'll be facing the same obstacle even when picking Dutch first, but at least you'd only have to struggle with the Dutch who try and speak English with you, not both English and German.

So how about learning both languages at the same time?

I wouldn't recommend this. For one thing, learning languages demands a lot of time and effort. It can be hard enough finding the time to learn one language. Let alone two!

Even if you've got plenty of time on your hands, you'll find that learning two closely related languages at the same time will get extremely confusing. You'll mix up words, forget if rules apply in one language or the other, and pronounce one language with the pronunciation of the other. At least, that's my experience.

Learning two related languages at the same time can be done if they're at different levels, however. If you want to give it a try, build a solid base in one language before getting started on the second one. This might save you a lot of problems.

For me, I find that I have a hard time focusing on two languages at the same time, however. When I study a language, I fall in love with it, and I can see nothing else!

Conclusion: Should You Learn Dutch Or German?

So which of the two should you learn? That's obviously an extremely subjective question. The easy answer is "pick the one you want to learn the most (duh)", yet you came to this article because you had difficulties picking one, so let me help you:

Pick Dutch.

Sure, there are many great reasons why you should learn German, but Dutch gets more points in my book. It's an easier language to learn, it opens a window to three continents, not just Europe and while German certainly has a lot to offer in terms of culture, job opportunities, tourism, cuisine, literature, and so on - Dutch has (almost) as much.

On the other hand, if you have only the slightest, most obscure, and minuscule preference for German, you already have your answer!