Do the Dutch speak English?
The Dutch are proud to say: YES!
In fact, of all the countries where the mother tongue is not English, the Dutch have the best knowledge and language skills. Research done in more than a hundred countries shows that the Dutch speak better English compared to other countries.
The Dutch watch American and English films and tv-shows
From a young age, the Dutch are exposed to English, mostly in television shows and movies. In most countries, like Germany and France, movies are dubbed into the national language.
And because the Netherlands is a small country, the Dutch watch a lot of foreign shows and movies, especially from Hollywood.
But it doesn’t stop with movies and tv-shows. The research shows that online gaming contributes a lot to the improved English of the younger generation.
The Dutch listen to English music
Since the sixties, American and English music has been dominant in the Netherlands. Of course, there is music with Dutch lyrics. Here you can find a list of artists. But most bands sing in English, for example, Golden Earring.
The Dutch have always loved to do international business
It’s not just since the introduction of television that the Dutch have learned English. They were already learning it in the 17th century
The Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, VOC (1602-1800), was a private Dutch trading company with a monopoly on overseas trade. The VOC is often referred to as the first company to have branches in several countries, a company that we now would have called a multinational.
To do business, it was necessary for them to speak different languages. Not only English but also French, Latin and German.
The Netherlands is visited by a lot of tourists and expats
The Netherlands and especially Amsterdam have always been a place where tourists like to come. And especially in recent years, the growth has increased. To help them as much as possible, and so to earn more money, it is really useful to speak English.
In some streets in Amsterdam, in 25% of the stores, the assistants will speak to you in English! And most of them won’t be able to speak Dutch.
The Dutch learn English in school and university
You only have to look at some of the names: Tilburg University, Maastricht University and the University of Twente.
Some universities have decided to switch to English completely. Mainly because they don’t want to exclude the growing number of foreign students.
The decision to focus more and more on English as the lingua franca has led to a lot of criticism. Here you can read what I think about this.
Frequently used English loan words
Not only do the Dutch speak English. They incorporate it into their own language. The list of loan words is long, here are some that are really common:
Does this help you learn Dutch?
You might think that this doesn’t help when you are learning Dutch.
But actually, English is a really helpful language when it comes to this. And you will see that the Dutch are pretty willing to help when you want to learn Dutch.
Learning Dutch? Listen to and speak as much Dutch as possible
So what you can take from this, is that learning a language has a lot to do with the exposure you have to it.
Listen to and speak as much as Dutch as possible.
Of course you can watch Dutch movies and tv-shows, listen to Dutch music and read Dutch books. Do you have a Dutch partner, colleague or friend? Try to practise. The more the better!
Bart de Pau
online Dutch teacher & founder of the Dutch Summer School & Dutch Winter School