Herman Koch’s English language report

Language Partners onderzoekt hoe het is gesteld met de talenkennis van onze BN’ers. Deze maand: bestsellerauteur Herman Koch. Zijn boeken werden vertaald in vele talen en zijn ook internationaal een succes. Waar wij dus benieuwd naar waren: hoe zit het met het Engels van Herman Koch? Taaltainer Jo schreef een taalrapport.

Herman Koch

This interview is good on the whole; it displays a lot of vocabulary and is very coherent throughout. This being said, there are a couple of issues that I am able to pick up, particularly with pronunciation and word order.

General issues and pronunciation

This interview is about his new bestseller, so this man is in his element doing this interview. He comes across as confident and very relaxed and that makes the issues with English almost insignificant. It is only when you really scrutinize the interview (which is what I am doing here), that you hear pronunciation issues for example concerning the ‘th’ sound. He has a tendency to say ‘dis’ and ‘dat’ rather than ‘this’ and ‘that’, but this is an issue which tends to be fossilized and so is rather tricky to correct. You can hear this throughout the interview but by absolutely no means does it compromise any understanding of the interview.

At times, there are some hiccups with word order which are common with Dutch speakers of English. At the 2.13 mark, he says: ‘what this doctor is all the time talking about’ when really ‘what this doctor is talking about / or talks about all the time’. Also at the 3.22 mark, there is a little slip with the placing of the word ‘also’. He says: ‘it has to do also that I relate very well to this age group.’ It would have been better to say ‘it also has to do with the fact that I relate to this age group very well’. It almost sounds as though he is translating literally, but again you can completely understand what he is talking about.

Right at the beginning of the interview, it almost sounds as if he says ‘I were thinking first’ instead of ‘I was thinking’. For a person whose hometown is near Sheffield, this is completely acceptable from a dialect point of view and to be honest I found it quite funny to hear – maybe he has been to Yorkshire and picked up a thing or two?

Coherence of the interview

Herman Koch is very laid back and confident throughout this interview. His English, although there are couple of tiny minor points, is very fluent and he can use a wide range of vocabulary appropriately. There was only one slip in pronunciation that I noticed and that was with the word ‘narrator’ around 3.10, there was a shorter vowel sound on the second ‘a’, but I was very impressed by the use of the word ‘protagonist’ so I can let this go! He is very fluent and displays good intonation throughout.

Conclusions and ratings

On the whole this was a very honest interview. Herman Koch has quite a Dutch sounding accent, but his intonation and grammar were in general very good and his range of vocabulary was of a very high level. The only ‘mistakes’ that were made as such were those typical to Dutch natives – and he is Dutch after all. He comes across as a very passionate, credible and accomplished author, so in that respect he nailed the interview!


Herman Koch's English language report

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