PRONUNCIATION: Why do vowels matter?

In previous articles, I’ve elaborately explained to you the difference between long, short and combined vowels and how there’s one spelling rule to rule them all. Now it’s time for a closer look at why knowing these vowel distinctions is so important. In general, textbooks focus too little on why something is important and how high of an impact certain material has on the language level of the student. I would say that the difference between long, short and combined vowels is one of the most important things a student of Dutch should know. 

HIGH IMPACT

The impact of a short-long and combined vowel mistake (both in writing and speaking) can be quite high because there are so many words in Dutch that have the same consonant “skeleton”. There are so many words that will change meaning radically, only depending on the vowel configuration or vowel combination. Fear not however! If you’ve paid attention to the previous videos and articles about pronunciation of long, short and combined vowels, you should be able to derive the correct pronunciation of these words based on how they are written, Dutch is very logical like that. It will also give you a huge amount of independence when reading a text out loud or writing new words down. 

In order for you to practice these vowels in comparison to each other, I made two lists which demonstrate how many words Dutch has that will change meaning radically depending on the vowel you put in the middle. Even though vocabulary wise, not all of these words are very important for A1 students, the best thing is to use these lists (and the video below) as long-short-combined vowel practice material by repeating the words with me. Good luck!

KORT VS. LANG

This first list consists of words with the same composition of consonants but where the long and short vowels will result in radically different meanings. 

KORT(Engels) LANG(Engels)
manthe manmaanthe moon
latthe bar (for geometrics)laat1. late
2. conjugation of the verb “to let”
halthe hallhaalconjugation of the verb “to get”
wettenthe lawswetento know
benam (of the verb “to be”)beenthe leg
helhellheelvery (in combination with adjectives)
stellento make a question (as in “vragen stellen”) stelento steal
zitconjugated singular form of “zitten” (to sit)ziet (2nd & 3rd person of the verb “zien” (to see)
witwhitewietweed, marijuana
stilquietstielthe trade
knopthe buttonknoopthe knot
kortshortkoordchord (rope)
grotthe cavegrootbig
botthe bonebootthe boat

LONG-SHORT-COMBINED VOWELS

In this second list, I’ve compiled words with the same composition of consonants but where different long, short and combined vowels will result in radically different meanings. 

H…Rhaarheerhuurhoorhier
Engelshairherlordrent (verb)the renthearhere
V…Rvaarveervuurvoor vierver

fare featherfireforfourfar
V…Lvuilveelvelvalvulvol

dirty /filthya lot manyskinfallfillfull
K…Lkaalkeelkilkuilkoelkool

baldthroatcold / chillypitcool / coldcabbage
B…Kbuikbeukboekbeek


belly / stomachberchbookcreek

L…Kluikleuklooklik


hatch / trapdoorfun / nicegarliclick

T…Ntuintoentoonteen 


gardenthen / back thentonetoe

A FINAL WARNING …

Finally, as a general warning, look out for “huur” (lange u) and “hoer” (prostitute). The sentences “Ik betaal de huur” and “Ik betaal de hoer” really have radically different meanings. This would also be the case for “buur” (neighbor) and “boer” (farmer). Whenever introducing your neighbors, make sure that you don’t say “Dit zijn mijn boeren”, but rather go for “Dit zijn mijn buren”. Now learn your Dutch vowels, alright?

EXERCISES & LINKS

If you want some more exercise material, check out these links:

Apps:
Uitsprekend (Flemish pronunciation, for free)
Spreek Beter (Dutch pronunciation, 1.99€)
Nederlandse spelling (mostly made for kids who are Dutch native speakers, but could also be practical for adults learning Dutch)
Websites:
Van Dale NT2 Woordenboek (usable both on the Van Dale app and online, amazing Dutch to simplified Dutch for students dictionary with pronunciation examples of each word in both Flemish and Dutch variation, a bargain for 4.99€ / year!)
Studiebazaar Uitspraakoefeningen (Flemish pronunciation, organized according to vowels, vowel & consonant combinations)
Klankbord (Dutch pronunciation)
Forvo (a free online dictionary where you can hear how regular Flemish & Dutch people would pronounce a word, also available for many, many other languages)
Books
In terms of books, check out Nu versta ik je, available in both Dutch and Flemish versions.

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