Seven Dutch words every international student should know

Tea and stroopwaffels: gezellig! Photo: Pixabay

During my time in the Netherlands, I definitely got a good grasp of the Dutch language living in an English-speaking bubble at UCU. I can happily do my grocery shopping without using Google Translate, and (oftentimes) answer the cashier’s questions. Now Dutch is a language with many words, but I’ve found that there are a few that are especially important to have in your vocabulary:

1. Bier
Starting off, we have bier (sometimes biertje), which means beer. It isn’t difficult to make this connection, but this is still important to include, considering the Netherlands is home to Heineken, one of the world’s most popular beer brands. It especially comes in handy if you’re at a bar and unsure of what to order, because you can never go wrong with a beer.

2. Lekker
There isn’t any exact translation for this word, but it (roughly) translates to many words: good, tasty, nice. Because of its versatility I’ve come to the conclusion that it can be applied to almost any context. Beer is good? Lekker biertje. Find someone attractive? Ik vind je lekker (I find you attractive). Everything going well? Alles is lekker. You bike well? Ik fiets lekker. The possibilities are endless, and more recently I’ve found myself combining it with some English words (to the dismay of my Dutch friends).

3. Gezellig
This is my personal favourite. Like lekker, there isn’t a translation for this word, but cosy comes (sort of) close. It means more than that though, and I realised that my first year of university. My housemates organised a Sinterklaas dinner and the common room was decorated with soft Christmas lights, with presents carefully stacked under the Christmas tree. We made a delicious dinner and sat down in a circle drinking glüwein and exchanging presents. Everything was perfect: it was gezellig.

4. Kapsalon
For the longest time, I thought this exclusively referred to the favoured dish eaten after a night out. So you can imagine my disappointment (and confusion), when googling “kapsalon near me” only yielded directions to local hairdressers rather than a beloved fast food restaurant. I hate to admit that it took me a bit too long to realise this word has two meanings. In case you plan on grabbing a late night snack, try searching “fast food near me” instead.

5. Borrel
I’ll be honest, I’ve heard this word so many times that I sometimes forget it is a Dutch word. Pre-Covid, it referred to a social gathering (sometimes themed) with drinks. The layout of a borrel can vary depending on who you’re with and who is planning it, but the essence remains the same. They’ve been an important part of my time at university, so if a Dutch friend invites you to a borrel, consider accepting the invitation to meet new people and enjoy a lekker biertje.

6. Fietspad
A very important word to know, often written on signs along the city. This means bike path, but I like to think it means do not walk here. When I first moved to the Netherlands, I didn’t quite understand this concept, and angered one too many bikers when I walked along the path. It’s also important to remember to look for fietspad signs when you’re biking to make sure you don’t accidentally end up biking on the highway as a friend of mine once did.

7. Ik spreek geen nederlands
I know, this isn’t a word. However, I thought it would be nice to conclude with a sentence that translates to I don’t speak Dutch. This sentence always spares me from the awkward silence as I gape at someone who speaks to me in Dutch. While you can always just ask “Do you speak English?” it is quite nice to at least tell people you don’t speak Dutch in Dutch.