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Dutchisms, Dunglish & Denglish

“During 32 years I was employed by Heineken, for many years responsible for the Asia Pacific. During most of those years I either travelled fifty percent of my time or lived and worked in the outside country.”

What you’ve just read is the ‘Before Word’ from the book I Always Get My Sin by Dutch author, Maarten Rijkens. You may notice some mistakes in his writing. That is part of his style and the basis for his book – he writes in a way that might confuse and annoy native English speakers while Dutch readers may not even catch his intentional mistakes. 

The Dutch are famous for their ability to speak multiple languages, with many speaking Dutch, English and another foreign language. However, sometimes when people are learning a new language, they can’t help but directly translate their thoughts into the other language, even if they know it’s wrong. In the Netherlands this Dutch influence on English is known colloquially as Dunglish, Denglish or Dutchisms.

Do the Dutch actually speak English well?

The Dutch do in fact speak English quite well, I’ve never had an issue in making sure my colleagues and I clearly understand what is being said, though sometimes it may require some additional questions. This isn’t to say that they don’t make mistakes. Though they are far from being the only culture to translate directly into English, due to its widespread use in the Netherlands, these mistakes are often accepted or go unnoticed. Of course, it doesn’t help that English can be quite confusing. A good example of this can be seen in the poem The Chaos, written by Gerard Nolst Trenité. 

As an organisation which specialises in language training, we’ve seen our share of Dutchisms. Some of the popular ones that come to mind include:

  • undertaker (instead of entrepreneur)
  • maker (meaning artist)
  • global (in English means worldwide, rather than general)
  • old-timers (in the US or UK, a retired person)
  • and bizarre sentences like: we do mouth-to-mouth advertising.

Limiting Dunglish and improving your communication

This is not to say that the Dutch are bad English speakers. They are far from it, in fact. This serves to highlight that while a person may make mistakes that are easy to ignore, or laugh off, there are certain situations where this could be problematic or even disastrous e.g. when giving presentations, relaying instructions, or publishing. Taking a Business English course is one sure way to improve and engage yourself in recognising where your mistakes might come from.

Paul Van Zanten
Paul is an American intercultural communications professional living in the Netherlands and connecting with his Dutch roots. With a passion for travel, as well as gaining new perspectives and experiences, Paul aims to further his growth, as well as that of others at Language Partners.

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