Are Flemish and Dutch One and the Same?

When I decided to study Dutch, I did not imagine there would be so many different variations of this language. In fact, I thought that it was only spoken in Holland, but later I discovered that I could not be more wrong.

I got in touch with a private Dutch teacher through a friend. When I went to the first class, she told me that she was not from Holland but from Belgium, and that in her country they spoke French in one region and Flemish in another. My first question then was whether Dutch and Flemish were one and the same. She explained to me that Nederlands is a Germanic language that has two main dialects: a northern one, commonly called Dutch, and a southern one, known as Flemish (Vlaams), which is spoken in the Belgian region of Flanders. There are however many more regional variations of Dutch spoken within these two countries, some of which are hardly mutually intelligible. I would suggest that the complex political history of Dutch speaking areas had something to do with the divergent evolution of Dutch dialects, as is the case with many other languages.
So, are they the same language? The answer is yes. The main difference between one and the other is the pronunciation and a group of no more than 2000 words, which varies from one region to another.

Because my first language is Spanish, it was relatively easy for me to understand my Belgian teacher’s pronunciation. She was aware that she was teaching me Flemish and not exactly “pure Dutch”. But when I traveled to Holland for the first time I really realized the difference: in writing everything was exactly as I had learned it, but it was extremely difficult for me to understand the Dutch when they spoke. I heard the pronunciation as a distorted form of Flemish, and noticed they definitely spoke faster. I felt a little lost, like when I first went to the United States after having studied British English all my life. In both cases, I had to ask people to speak to me slowly and clearly in order to understand what they were saying.

Over time, I learned that Dutch is not only spoken in Europe, but also in several countries in South American and the Caribbean, such as Suriname, and Dutch Antilles, where it is the most widely spoken language, and in Aruba, where Papiamento, a sort of Dutch creole is predominant. Dutch is also spoken in old Boer settlements in Africa, such as Namibia and South Africa, where Afrikaans, a dialect of Dutch, is the most widely spoken language.

As with many languages, the Dutch has many variations and a wide geographical distribution, but the Union of the Dutch language is responsible for regulating them, thus facilitating communication between the speakers of this language, including the curious ones like me, who venture into the learning of a new language.

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