3 Things Every Dutch Speaker Should Be Aware Of When Learning English

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. English falls under the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family, which means it is closely related to Dutch, German, and the Scandinavian languages. The Dutch are known for their willingness to learn other languages, particularly English, which they regularly encounter in their daily lives. But that’s not the only reason Dutch have an advantage when it comes to learning English. In fact, a surprising amount of modern Dutch comes directly from English. Despite the similarities, there are a number of things every Dutch speaker should know when taking a leap into English. This post considers three distinct differences.

Those Darn Tenses

Selecting the correct tense and conjugating the verbs correctly can be tricky, and the lack of correspondence between the use of tenses in Dutch and English certainly doesn’t help. For example, English requires the past simple where Dutch uses the present perfect or the present perfect where Dutch uses the present simple. Perhaps you are not yet familiar with the names of each tense, let alone its usage, but failing to use the correct one can quickly lead to miscommunication. For example, the meaning of ‘I am living in Utrecht’ differs from ‘I live in Utrecht’; the first statement refers to a temporary situation, whereas the second assumes a permanent statement or a fact.

The Intrusion of False Friends

Due to the prevailing similarities between some English and Dutch vocabulary, it is common for Dutch speakers to adapt a false friend in their search for the right English translation. In certain cases, where Dutch might refer to a single word to express multiple actions (e.g. leren), English might employ two different words with very different meanings (e.g. teach and learn). For example, ‘He lent some money from the bank yesterday’ is incorrectly used as a result of a false friend. The Dutch verb ‘lenen’ embodies two separate actions in English, borrow and lend, therefor the sentence should be rephrased to state ‘The bank lent him some money yesterday’.

Word Order Rules and Tendencies

Even though Dutch shares a similar sentence structure with English (subject-verb-object), it differs in the positioning of the adverbials. For expressions of time, English tends to refer to time at the very end of a sentence (e.g. John goes to work at 8.45) whereas a Dutch sentence would exhibit an entirely different word order (e.g. John gaat om 8.45 naar zijn werk). Furthermore, in English we put the adverbs of frequency before the main verb (e.g. John often goes to work early). This tendency is reflected quite differently in Dutch (e.g. John gaat vaak vroeg naar zijn werk). Using the wrong word order may not cause miscommunication in every case, but it might elicit a smirk from fellow native speakers or perhaps a slight cringe.

Finally, mastering English grammar cannot be done in the course of a single lesson. More likely, it will take months of practice to rewire old habits and develop an inherent awareness for speaking English fluently and writing it flawlessly. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth it.

AlmaAbout the author

Alma Omerovic is an English language trainer and writer from Canada. She is passionate about education, exploring new cultures, and creative collaboration.

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