3 English Pronunciation Tips for Dutch Speakers

The Dutch language is spoken by about 20 million people worldwide, as well as 21 million who speak its descendant Afrikaans. Being so closely related to English on a grammatical level, Dutch speakers don't have too much trouble in recognising or pronouncing most English sounds. There are a few sounds, however, that give rise to a Dutch accent, and it can be useful to understand these specific nuances. If you're a Dutch speaker looking to polish up your standard British accent whilst still allowing your identity and personality to shine through, here are three tips.

In this video our fabulous accent coach Kate Guest explains three commonly mispronounced sounds for Dutch speakers, and how to correct them:

1. The 'th' sound

One of the most common challenges for speakers of the Dutch language is the 'th' sound in English. It is often mistakenly replaced with a 'd' sound. For example, when trying to say 'mother', it often comes out sounding like 'mudder', or 'thing' might sound like 'ting'. This is because the tongue is tapping on the roof of the mouth. To practise the ''th' sound, pulse the sound from your belly and make sure the tongue is coming underneath the teeth and out of your mouth. This way, your voice is supported from your diaphragm - this is where your power is! Here are some sentences to practise this sound: 

  • "I think, therefore I am."
  • "That is the question."
  • "The thing I love most about my mother is her smile."

2. Devoicing final consonants

The 'voiced' consonants (sounds that are made by vibrating the vocal chords, as in 'bet' but not 'pet') don't occur at the ends of words in Dutch, so some Dutch speakers have a tendency to replace them with their 'unvoiced' counterparts. This means that 'cab' ends up being pronounced 'cap', 'dog' becomes 'dock', 'said' sounds like 'set', 'leave' is pronounced 'leaf', 'rise' sounds like 'rice' and so on. Many Dutch speakers also struggle to make the distinction in the length of vowels before consonants in English. To overcome this, carry your voice right to the end of the words, making sure to hit those final consonants. Place your hand on your neck to feel the vibration in the voiced consonants, compared to no vibration in the unvoiced ones. 

3. The 'r' sound

In Received Pronunciation, we do not pronounce the 'r' at the end of the word, or in the middle of the word when it's after a long vowel, or when there is no lonbg vowel sound after it. Unless it's at the beginning of a word (as in 'really') or there's a vowel sound after it (as in ''tree' or 'carry'), the 'r' is always silent. Take the word 'runner' - unlike in American English, the final 'r' in this word should be a lazy, throwaway sound that isn't pronounced - so it sounds more like 'run-uh'. To make this sound, the tip of the tongue should curl back in the mouth, without touching the roof of the mouth. Let your jaw relax at the end to help this. The same goes for words like 'farm' and 'earth'. To pronounce 'earth', make an 'uhh' sound then bring the tongue out for the 'th' sound at the end. 

So there you have it - three tips to get you started. Of course, there's no 'one size fits all' when it comes to accent softening. Each of the clients we work with has unique challenges and habits depending on their experience and specific accent. If you feel like your accent is holding you back from reaching your true potential at work and in your daily life, book in a free 15-minute Discovery Call where we’ll discuss your particular goals and challenges, and how we can help you overcome them through bespoke accent coaching.


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