As the official language of the Netherlands, Belgium, Suriname, Aruba, Curacao, Sint Maarten, and one of the official languages in South Africa, Dutch is widely spoken by at least 28 million people--23 million being native speakers of the Dutch language. Not only is Dutch widely used within the European Union, it is also an unofficial language popular in the Caribbeans. Dutch is a Germanic language of the Indo-European language family. Like other Germanic languages, Dutch uses Latin characters. The language first began to form in the middle of the 5th century AD. In the middle ages, the Dutch language is referred to as "duutsc," which means "the people's language." The Dutch language involves several dialects, with Flemish being the most popular one spoken in Belgium.
Like German, French, and Spanish, Dutch contains two grammatical genders: masculine and feminine. However, unlike German, these grammatical genders in Dutch do not have significant influences. They mainly affect pronouns instead of nouns and adjectives. In most circumstances, the grammatic features of Dutch closely resembles that of German, particularly its syntax and verb morphology. The vocabulary of the Dutch language is primarily Germanic and thus, in certain cases it is rather similar to English. However, Dutch learners should be aware of the many variants between Dutch and English. For example, slape in Dutch means sleep rather than slap. Also, unlike English, Dutch adopts the subject-object-verb sentence structure. This sometimes creates confusion or misunderstanding among English speakers.
The development of the Dutch language can be divided into three phases: Old Dutch, Middle Dutch, and Modern Dutch. The transition between phases is a gradual progress. As a result, almost no linguists can concretely determined how the language evolves.
Dutch consists of 13 simple vowels and four diphthongs. While the vowels are easy to pronounce, the diphthongs often pose difficulties for new learners of the language. There are also certain sounds that exist in Dutch but not in English. Those sounds too, have proven to be difficult for English native speakers. Like English, many words in Dutch begin with three consonants, with certain words that end with four consonants.