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Mouth-to-mouth advertising and other Dutchisms

A lot of Denglish or Dunglish (English spoken by the Dutch) is caused by the fact that the Dutch tend to translate their thoughts into English word for word. In other words, they make frequent Dutchisms, such as: the wine is up.

Dutchisms exist because living in a country of Dutch speakers making the exact same translation mistakes, it’s difficult to recognize correct English when you hear it. I’ve argued countless times with students about English because their language mistakes are engrained. Repeat it (wrongly) often enough, and it’s hard to hear the correct version.

The Dutch are famous for their knowledge of foreign languages

So do the Dutch really speak such good English? Yes and no. Because both languages are close relatives of each other, it’s easy to think so.

For example, Maarten Rijkens, the author of “I always get my sin,” writes his Denglish blog on the NRC website about typical Dutch mistakes in English. His blog gets a great deal of commentary from both Dutch and English speakers. The Dutch find it amusing, though can’t always identify his mistakes; English natives like myself are flummoxed: why does such incorrect English appear on a news website?


But Dutchisms abound wherever you look. I’ve heard the following:

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

Dutchisms can be fun or amusing, for English speakers and Dutch alike, but disastrous for those giving professional presentations to international audiences or publish in English.

What’s the best way to combat this?

Take a Business English language course and your teacher will point out your mistakes, talk frequently to native speakers, who will, too; or I suggest reading Righting English that’s gone Dutch by Joy Burrough for greater insight.

Translation mistakes are inevitable, but I hope you will enjoy the comedic moments they create—sometimes memorable one-liners that prove how absurd language really is.

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