Multinational Languages


Some languages are spoken in more than one country or region, so we refer to them as multinational. Some examples are Dutch, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish.

In this blog, we will provide information about the dialectical differences in the same language due to geography and other characteristics of each locale.


Dutch (aka English Dutch, Flemish, Netherlandic Nederlands, Flemish Vlaams)

The national language of The Netherlands and one of the two official languages of Belgium1, Dutch is a West Germanic language. In English, we refer to this Netherlandic language as Dutch when spoken in The Netherlands and Flemish when spoken in Belgium. Fundamentally, Dutch and Flemish are the same language, equally understood by both Dutch and Belgians.
In its standard form or dialects, Netherlandic is the language of most of The Netherlands, Northern Belgium and a small part of France, located to the West of Belgium, along the North Sea. In South America, this Netherlandic language is spoken in Suriname (formerly Dutch Guiana). In the Caribbean, Netherlandic is spoken in the Netherland Antilles (formerly Dutch Antilles).

The Dutch were primarily traders, but also colonizers, and they sailed around the world bringing their language to different countries and continents. Thus, Dutch pops up in unexpected places, such as Indonesia, where some of the older population still speaks the language. In the 17th century, Dutch traders were sailing to the East. Thus, Afrikaans, one of the 11 languages spoken in South Africa, has its roots in Dutch3.

1 (French and German are the other official languages of Belgium)
2 However, the creole or common language of Suriname is Sranang Tongo, or Sranantongo (Surinamese tongue).
3 However, Afrikaans, a seventeenth-century African variant of Netherlandic, is a different language and has been recognized as such since the 19th century.


French (Français)

French is spoken in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Canada, and in parts of Africa (Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, Seychelles); South America (French Antilles), in some of the Caribbean islands (Guadaloupe, Martinique and Haiti)*, and in French Polynesia where it is one of the official languages, along with Tahitian.

The Académie Française (French academy), established by Cardinal de Richelieu in 1634, has successfully maintained uniformity of grammar and spelling in all regions where French is spoken. Therefore, product instructions translated into Parisian French, for example, will be understood by most readers in the European regions where the language is spoken. and by the Francophone population of Canada. However, keep in mind that there are deep dialectical differences between French spoken in France and in Quebec. These dialectical differences, due to geographical distance and history, will be the topic of a future blog.

*Creole Patois languages are also spoken in these islands.

germanGerman (Deutsch)

The official language of Germany and Austria, German is also one of the four official languages of Switzerland, along with French, Italian and Romansh, one of the three official languages of Belgium, and the official language of the tiny Principality of Liechtenstein (Fürstentum Liechtenstein), located between Switzerland and Austria and roughly the size of Central Park in Manhattan.

There several dialectical variations of German: Austro-Bavarian, Hochdeutsch, Schwäbisch, Plattdeutsch and Swiss. Each, of these vary in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. Differences increase relative to geographical distances. It is not uncommon for Bavarians and Northern Germans to have difficulty understanding each other.

Fortunately for German readers, there is one version German that all understand: Hochdeutsch (Modern High German), the standardized version of the language. Historically, Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible into Mitteldeutsch (East Middle German) may have been one of the most influential forces leading to the standardization of the written German language. This version of the Bible was widely distributed and thus Mitteldeutsch became the basis of modern Hochdeutsch. By the 18th century there was a standard written German language, even though the spoken language continued to be strongly influenced by local and regional variations.

Therefore, if you must select one version of German that will be read and understood in multiple regions where German is spoken, we suggest that you request Hochdeutsch, the modern High German, such as is spoken in Berlin.

portuguese  Portuguese (Português)

Portuguese is the official language of Angola, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal and the São Tomé and Príncipe islands. It is also spoken by about two percent of the population of Macau, China.

Compared to French, and as we will see, Spanish, there are more regional differences in pronunciation, grammar and spelling in Portuguese. Some attributed these to the lack of a standardizing influence, such as the Académie Française has been for French, and the Real Academia Española (Royal Academy of the Spanish Language) for Spanish. The Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa, (CPLP) (in English: Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries), was established in 1996 with one of its goals being the creation of a Portuguese language standard.

However, the language follows largely the national rules for vocabulary, grammar and spelling. For example, there are vast differences between Brazilian and Continental Portuguese. However, the language has maintained enough cohesion among its many variations, so readers of Brazilian Portuguese are able to understand text written in Continental Portuguese and, conversely, most Continental Portuguese readers can understand text written in Brazilian Portuguese.

Therefore, if you can only provide Portuguese readers with one version of the language, you may select either Brazilian Portuguese or Continental Portuguese.

If you base your decision on numbers of speakers, consider that Brazil has a population of approximately 151 million, whereas the population of Portugal is approximately 9.9 million. If, however, you plan to distribute your product in Europe, you will have to comply with EC requirements. In this case, Portuguese (EU), of the Continental version will be more appropriate.

Notwithstanding the influence of aboriginal languages (languages of the Bantu family spoken by the majority of the population), Portuguese speakers of the Angola and Mozambique regions of Africa speak a fairly pure version of the language. They incorporate some archaisms and Lusitanian (Portuguese) dialectical influences, similar to those found in Brazilian Portuguese.


 Spanish (Español, Castellano)

The official language or an official language of nineteen American countries, as well as Spain. Even though there are wide regional differences in the colloquial form of the language, the written form has maintained uniformity of grammar and spelling. This may be attributed to the standardizing influence of the Real Academia de la Lengua Española (now the Real Academia Española), founded in 1713 for the purpose of maintaining the purity of the Spanish language.

The dialect understood by most Spanish readers is Castilian. In fact, Castellano (Castilian in Spanish) is the name used for Spanish in some of the Spanish speaking countries of the Americas. Castilian spread to the South of Spain as a result of the Reconquista (the conquest of Moorish Spain by the Christian states of Spain in 1492). After establishing itself in Spain, it was exported to the New Word in the 16th Century, possibly in its Southern or Andalusian form.

Therefore, if you can provide only one version of Spanish to your readers we suggest that you select Castilian Spanish. It will be understood by more Spanish readers.