Why Are The Dutch So Good At English?

December 29, 2020

The Dutch not only outrank the rest of the world with their height, but they are also the number one English speaking non-native nation according to the 2020 EF English Proficiency Index. But “why do Dutch speak English so well?”. If you have the same question in mind, you are in the right place. 

Dutch people speak English so well because it’s being taught from elementary school, the Dutch are a trading country and have a lot of international connections, TV shows are not dubbed, Dutch and English are both Germanic languages, and the Dutch have an affinity with English and American.

But there are more reasons why Dutch people speak English so well, like their high standards of education. Therefore, I highly recommend you to read on. 

Why Do the Dutch Speak English so Well? 

There are various regional, educational, and cultural reasons behind the Dutch being so good in the English language. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Dutch and English are both a Germanic language:

The Dutch have a linguistic advantage over other countries when it comes to speaking English. Both Dutch and English hail from the same West Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family. 

Plus, Dutch is also the closest major language to English. The grammatical structure of Dutch and English are pretty similar.

Have you ever noticed how similar some Dutch and English words are? For example, Dank U is Thank you, wafel is waffle, bier is beer, knapzak is knapsack, landschap is landscape in English. Besides this, words like water, warm, and wind are written exactly the same and have the same meaning.

Some sentences in Dutch look similar to English. For example, “Het is laat” In English is “It is late” Again, many Dutch sentences do not look like English but sound similar to it.

Learning a foreign language is easier when it is similar to your mother tongue. Although linguistic similarities are not the only reason why the Dutch speak so good English, they still benefit from it.

Kids start learning English at a young age in the Netherlands: 

If you go to higher studies in the Netherlands, you don’t need to know a lot of Dutch. This is because more than half of the studies given at universities in the Netherlands are in English. This makes it easy for foreign students to come to the Netherlands. And besides their study is in English, they will also have no trouble conversing with the locals. 

The standard of Dutch education is so high that teaching the English language along with German and French is not a big deal in the Netherlands. Plus, English is perceived as a useful tool, and thus it is introduced very early on in their education system. 

In elementary school, English is taught in the upper grades and it is compulsory in the Dutch secondary schools as well. The Dutch have four different levels in their secondary education system. The students have to pass a test at the end of their primary education that determines which level they will fall into. 

The primary level of the Dutch secondary school education ensures that students can fluently speak conversational English. The second level focuses on teaching students professional English. In the third level, students learn to understand and communicate using English in an academic or scientific setting. 

To graduate from high school, Dutch students have to score above 5.5 out of 10 in their English Language and Literature finals. Moreover, various schools offer Bilingual programs that aim to make students equally proficient in both Dutch and English.

In University, Dutch students are encouraged to use English while doing research for course work. That way, they will have more information as Google yields better results for searches in English. Plus, the Dutch rely on different study materials written in English. 

Most importantly, postgraduate degrees and many undergraduate degrees in the Netherlands are in English. So, if you are planning to study abroad, why not consider the Netherlands?

In the Netherlands, children are taught English from an early age:

No Dutch dubbing is being used:

Do you love the American sitcom, Friends? If you do, you are not the only one. From popular American sitcoms to James Bond films, the Dutch love watching all of them. 

In the Netherlands, most foreign programs are subtitled in Dutch. The Dutch don’t dub English films and TV shows and, this is a major reason why they can speak English so well. Language barriers are not an issue for them when it comes to watching English programs. 

Dutch children grow up watching and hearing English cartoons, or they are watching English videos on YouTube themselves. Because of that Dutch children absorb the English language faster. Even if the shows have Dutch subtitles, most of the time it goes way too fast for them to read it properly.

Not dubbing foreign-language shows is also the reason why the Dutch people speak better English than the French and Germans. In France and Germany, there is a large audience for dubbed shows. So, all tv programs in English are dubbed into French or German over there.

But having a smaller audience is not the only reason why the Dutch do not dub their shows. The Dutch do not have cultural protectionist sentiments like the French and German do. Hence, the Dutch are more accepting of different languages and cultures. 

Dubbing may render people numb to linguistic differences. A different language will seem very weird to someone who has never heard the language before. Fortunately, the Dutch avoided such a situation when it comes to English.  

The Dutch entrepreneurial spirit:

The Dutch have an entrepreneurial and global mindset that led them to a lot of international business and in doing instilled the importance of English in them. In today’s world, the English language, being a lingua franca, is widely used in the international business scene. 

Since the Dutch have an entrepreneurial spirit, they are ready to take up any skill that will help them earn money. In that case, language is no barrier. Hence, the Dutch view English as a necessary skill to conduct international business. 

One of the reasons there are many international companies in the Netherlands is because the language barrier is not an issue there. From office meetings to road signs and any announcements at the Schiphol airport, English is used. 

The Dutch have always been a sea-faring nation with trade at the center of their culture. They were the ones to establish the world’s first multinational company, the Dutch East India Company. They were able to do so because of their global mindset. 

Most people have a hard time learning a new language because of their mindset. But the Dutch have the right mindset. They are not afraid to learn anything new, nor are they worried about how good or bad their accent is.

The Dutch East India Company was the world’s first multinational company:

Cultural affinity towards the English and Americans: 

Besides English, is the German language also closely related to the Dutch Language, and does have a lot of similarities. Yet, most of the Dutch people speak better English than German. 90% of the Dutch people speak English, and 71% speak German, French is spoken by 29% of the Dutch People.

It also depends on which part of the Netherlands you live in. As many Dutch people who live on the border with Germany speak German very well. Probably because they are more often in Germany for shopping for example, or the dialect they speak is very similar to the German language.

There could be several reasons why more Dutch people speak better English than German. The largest is, of course, because English is more widely spoken worldwide than German, and this language can be heard much more on television, for example.

Besides, the history between the Netherlands and Germany may also have influenced the preference of many Dutch people for the English language.

During World War II, many Dutch people died at the hands of German soldiers. That is why the Dutch-German relations ran cold after the world war. Afterward, the Dutch started preferring the English and the Americans as their friends.

This has resulted in many more influences from England and America coming to the Netherlands. Think of TV programs, radio programs, movies, and music. 

No wonder, famous English pop songs from Dutch singers like “Boom boom boom” by Vengaboys were produced in the Netherlands. The Dutch consume a lot of English and American pop culture.

The Dutch are so invested in American shows and magazines that they are pretty famous for their American accents. This is because you automatically adopt the accent that you often listen to.

How Fluently can Dutch People Speak English?

While 90% of the Dutch population in the Netherlands can speak English, not all of them are fluent. The Dutch have their own spin of the English accent. Many Dutch people speak "steenkolen-engels" or in English known as Dunglish.

Many Dutch people can speak perfect English like the European Council’s Vice President Frans Timmermans. Again many Dutch people perfected Dunglish like the famous Dutch football manager Louis van Gaal

Conclusion 

Right now, English is the global language used both in the academic and business worlds. The Netherlands with its high standards of education and dependence on trade took to English naturally. Now, they speak English so well, that it has become a second language to more than half of its population.  

I hope you have found the answer to, “why are the Dutch so good at English?” from this article. But, I hope you have also understood that learning a new language is all about having the right attitude. Fear of having a bad accent or sounding funny should not hinder anyone from learning a language.

If you would like to know which other language is closely related to Dutch, please check out our following article.

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Written by

Leo van den Berg
As a Dutchman I am extremely proud of the beautiful country in which I live. My goal is to convey my passion and love for the Netherlands to as many people as possible.

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