Dutch is a Germanic language, and within this family it is a West Germanic language. Since it did not experience the High German consonant shift (apart from þ->d), it is a Low Germanic language, and it is most closely related to the Low German dialects of German. There was in fact a dialect continuum which blurred any clear boundary between Dutch and Low German, in some minute areas there are still tiny dialect continuums but they continue to go extinct. The Low Franconian rural dialects of the Lower Rhine area in Germany are much closer related to Dutch than to standard German. Dividing the West Germanic languages into low and high in this way, however, obscures the fact that modern Dutch is more closely related to modern standard (high) German than to modern English.
Dutch is spoken by practically all inhabitants of the Netherlands and Flanders, the northern half of Belgium. It is also spoken in the bilingual region of Brussels, together with French and other languages. In the northernmost part of France, the Dunkirk arrondissement in the Nord département, Dutch is still spoken as a minority language, often referred to by the dialect name Vlaams (Flemish). On the Caribbean islands of Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles, Dutch is used but less so than Papiamento (Aruba, Curaçao, Bonaire) and English (Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius, Saba). Dutch is spoken as a mother tongue by about 60% of the population in Suriname, most of them being bilingual with Sranan Tongo and other ethnic languages (2005, Nederlandse Taalunie: , in Dutch). There are also some speakers of Dutch in Indonesia and in countries with a lot of Dutch migrants, such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. In South Africa and Namibia a language related to Dutch called Afrikaans is spoken.
In Flanders, there are roughly four dialect groups: West Flemish, East Flemish, Brabantian and Limburgish. They have all incorporated French loanwords in everyday language. The Brabantian dialect group, for instance, also extends to much of the south of the Netherlands, and so does Limburgish. West-Flemish is also spoken in part of the Dutch province of Zeeland, and even in a small part near Dunkirk, France, bordering on Belgium.
The Netherlands also have different dialect regions. In the east there is an extensive Low German dialect area: the provinces of Groningen (Gronings), Drenthe and Overijssel are almost exclusively Low Saxon. Zuid-Gelders is a dialect also spoken in the German land of North Rhine-Westphalia. Brabantian (Noord-Brabant) fades into the dialects spoken in the adjoining provinces of Belgium. Same thing applies to Limburgish (Limburg (Netherlands)), but this variant also has the status of official Minority Language in the Netherlands (but not in Belgium). It receives protection by chapter 2 of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
Until the early 20th century, variants of Dutch were still spoken by some descendants of Dutch colonies in the United States. New Jersey in particular had an active Dutch community with a highly divergent dialect that was spoken as recently as the 1950s. See Jersey Dutch for more on this dialect.
The language Afrikaans is derived from Dutch. It is one of the 11 languages of South Africa and is the mother tongue of about 15% of its population and spoken or understood by very many more. Afrikaans originates from modern Dutch (1500 - present).