How come Dutch people are so good at languages?

Maya l'abeille   Tuesday, September 21, 2004, 10:11 GMT
How about English for guttural sounds?
I'll never forget the first time I managed to pronounce [a:], [o:], [u:] and several other English vowels in a way as close to the RP accent as possible. I was glad I had made it at last — I had been trying to imitate them for so many hours – but then my throat was so sore I had to run straight to the kitchen to get something to drink!

It is probably because the Dutch speak with guttural sounds that they can pronounce the English sounds so easily.
Bjorn   Wednesday, September 22, 2004, 00:04 GMT
[Maya l'abeille] >>The majority of them can speak English and many of them can even speak several foreign languages.
Some may have little knowledge of them, but still they make proper sentences with a great pronunciation.<<

[Maya l'abeille] >>And so I am wondering what language classes are like in the Netherlands. What the hell is that great,
entertaining and effective method Dutch teachers use?<<

Hello English speaking fellows!
I happen to be a native speaker of Dutch and I shall comment to the above:

We live in a small country with a population of 17 million people and we're surrounded by three large countries which
populations outnumber us at least four times. I think it is just a matter of surviving, a nation is economically
dependant of others, and since we're the smallest over time we've adapted ourselves to them.

I've had English classes at primary and secondary education for a total of eight years but I didn't learn much of English back then(for the same reasons as
described on this site). But since in our country we like foreign languages so much (English in particular) it is very
normal to encounter them everywhere, like in advertisements, television programmes (subtitled) or as signs on electronic equipment.
So even if you never learned much of it at school(like me), you will run into it everywhere, it's inevitable. (like i'm using the UK English
version of Windows xp right now). We have also created a habit for 'importing' English word into Dutch, instead of creating a Dutch synonym. (like the word 'computer')
I think all this explains why the average Dutchman can speak at least a few correct sentences English.

So i think it's partly the English classes at school but mainly our adoptation of English in our daily life which is responsible for our foreign language skills.

By the way I hated learning English in classes, I started to like when I started watching English spoken movies an using computers.
And now I love English and I want to learn to speak it fluently:-)

[Maya l'abeille] >>It can't be harder than English ..<<

Well Dutch is far more phonetic than English, and every letter is pronounced, so that'll be easier to learn. On the other hand, the Dutch word order has many different forms. There are also a lot of small words (insertions and prepositions etc)that 'fill up the gaps' between the main words. In Dutch verbs have more forms in English..
I think overall the structure of Dutch is more complicated than English.
Juan   Wednesday, September 22, 2004, 00:40 GMT
I love the Dutch :-)
Dulcinea del Toboso   Wednesday, September 22, 2004, 03:03 GMT
Does anyone here know how mutually intelligible Dutch and Afrikaans are? Afrikaans evolved from 17th century Dutch, but I have no idea how close the two languages are in terms of phonology or grammar.

It would be interesting if there were a corresponding situation for English, i.e. a country where their language evolved from 17th century English, separately from the evolution of English in the UK and US.
Damian   Wednesday, September 22, 2004, 08:02 GMT

Thanks for your is very interesting. To my knowledge, you are the first Dutch person I have come across in here....welcome! I am intrigued by our seems more Scandinavian than Dutch?...I personally know two Dutch guys fairly well and they have, I think, typically Dutch names.....Jaap and Mikel.

It was good to read about the learning of English in Holland, and how it is an important part of education from an early age which is, of course, the most effective way to learn a language. As a child you assimilate language skills naturally and unquestionably and so get all the basics in the same way as you do when you learn to speak your native tongue. You become fluent without worrying too much about all the technicalities....they can come later if you really want to know, which is nice in my opinion. It's like a just get to know how it works, then later you can find out just how it works.

<<the average Dutchman can speak at least a few correct sentences English>>

Hey, Bjorn...a bit of an understatement! I found that practically ever person I met in Holland spoke excellent English. I was in a store in Amsterdam and asked an assistant for directions to a particular department and she responded in a way that made me think she was British...her English was perfect.... her accent made me think she came from southern England somewhere. I asked her where she came from as I was convinced she was British, and she just smiled and said that she had only ever been to England once in her life! Another lady I met in Hoorn, whose English was of a similar high standard, said that she had never been to the UK at all. I was amazed at her knowledge about this country (UK)..she seemed to know more about the British Royal Family than I did. Unlike the lady in the store, though, she had an identifiable Dutch accent but her spoken English was perfect.

The Netherlands is in a fantastic position for language learning, mostly because of it's small physical size and it's Continental location with common land borders. Your comment that you found learning English easier though the medium of TV, films and the internet rather than in the classroom was understandable. Actual contact with native speakers is much preferable to text books. You are fortunate being in are surrounded by your fellow countrymen whose English is on a par with native born English speakers anyway.....and in many cases...superior.

The relaxed, friendly, liberal open-minded internationalism of the Dutch people appeals to me and to be honest, I can't wait to go back soon. That should not be too's less than an hour's flight acros the North Sea.

I hope you post some more in this forum.
Juan   Wednesday, September 22, 2004, 10:26 GMT
Damian sez:
<<The relaxed, friendly, liberal open-minded internationalism of the Dutch people appeals to me and to be honest, I can't wait to go back soon.>>
Yes, the Dutch are a great people. I happily concur.
Maya l'abeille   Wednesday, September 22, 2004, 11:16 GMT
Thanks a lot for your answer, Bjorn!
So, apart from the fact that English classes start early in Holland, the real answer is that you are surrounded by English in everyday life? Well, immersion is definitely the best way of learning a language. ;)

And maybe we can conclude that Tom's description of English classes corresponds with most of the English classes in the world. That's quite a worrying subject. :(
Only people who have the chance to see English in another way — like in movies, books or used to talk with people from all around the world — can get interested in it.

Personally, I first heard of it when I was 4 — my mother, whose father was from England told me about it and said a couple of sentences to show me what it was like. I remember being amazed at the fact that another language than French existed — different words said in a different tone and used in a different way.
I've been keen to know more about it since then, and even though I often complain it's too hard... I'll become an English student tomorrow at 9:30 or 11.30 GMT (et oui, la passion est souvent mêlée d'amour et de haine!!). I'll also have Italian and Spanish courses as "options". WOW! :)))
Kees (from the Netherlands)   Wednesday, September 22, 2004, 12:14 GMT
Hello international fellows who are interested in our tiny language.

As Dutchman, I have to watch at my language from an other, like English or German. Indeed, Dutch is very difficult to learn. It's grammar is very complicated and it has very very very many irregular verbs. It's pronunciation is hard as well, and there are few people who kan pronounce the Dutch 'g' or 'ch'. This letter is like the Spanish 'j' in Juan, or like the 'ch' in Scottish loch. Russian and other Cyrillic languages can pronounce the soft 'ch' ( pronounced in the south of The Netherlands and Flamish Belgium), this is their letter X.

However, for Germans, Dutch isn't hard to learn and vice versa. Dutch looks much like german by words (G Haus and D Huis) and many irregular verbs are conjugated the same. ( gezwommen, geschwommen, swim)

Afrikaans is very similar to Dutch, if Dutch and South-Africans speak slow and clear, they can have an excellent communication.

Result: Dutch is a hard language, just like Danish and Basque. But many people speak foreign languages. Almost everyone speaks English, more than the half of the Dutch speak German and French (Ich spräche Deutsch, Je parle peu français) and very many people speak languages like Spanish and Italian(Hablo español).

So I'll invite you to come to our Low Lands, and not only to the 'Sodom and Gomora' cities Amsterdam and Rotterdam. There are many things to do in provinces like Friesland, Overijssel (that's where I come from), Gelderland and all the others.

Greets, Kees

P.S. Please don't call our country Holland, that's only one sixth of it all.
The right name is: The Netherlands
Steve K   Wednesday, September 22, 2004, 13:46 GMT
Holland is the name for the Netherlands in many languages. Today it refers to the whole country in those languages. That is not about to change. I wonder why Holland became the name for the whole country outside Holland. Anyone know?

Germany, Allemagne, Deutschland
China is called Kitae or something in Russian (from the proto-Mongol Khitans who had a large state in Northern China, the Liao Dynasty)
Hanguk= Korea (historically only a part of the present Korea)
Are there other examples that come to mind?
Maya l'abeille   Wednesday, September 22, 2004, 13:54 GMT
>>Please don't call our country Holland, that's only one sixth of it all.
The right name is: The Netherlands>>

Yes, it's like calling France "la Bretagne" or the UK "England". It's weird, this mistake is made by the Anglophones, the French, the Spanish, the Italians... And probably many others. Even a Dutch boy I met in the Netherlands last summer, who could speak French, always referred to his country using the word "la Hollande".

I reckon the sentence structure in Dutch must be similar to German with particles and the verb at the end of a sentence in some cases — like "kommst du MIT?" or "ich habe mein Deutsch VERGESSEN" (a bit like me!).

I have asked to some Dutchmen who knew French which language — between theirs and mine — they thought was the hardest. All of them replied "French". But perhaps they were a bit biased, I don't know. ;)

It's amusing. Since I started this topic, some Dutchmen have started to come to this website. It's nice. :)
So if you feel Antimoon lacks Chinese people, all you have to do is start a topic about them. ;)

>>So I'll invite you to come to our Low Lands, and not only to the 'Sodom and Gomora' cities Amsterdam and Rotterdam. There are many things to do in provinces like Friesland, Overijssel (that's where I come from), Gelderland and all the others.<<

Yes, everyone think about those two cities when they hear the word "Netherlands" — or rather "Holland". It must be annoying to you all. Personally I enjoy Amsterdam, but I'd also like to know about the rest of the country and I'd be glad to hear from you fellow Dutchmen about it. :)
Mi5 Mick   Wednesday, September 22, 2004, 14:58 GMT
It's so named because once upon a time, Holland (the province) was the only major commercial province in its country. All the other provinces paled in significance to the extent that its own traders (and other Dutch travellers) would refer to their country homeland as Holland. And so in international circles everywhere, this name was perpetuated.
Björn   Wednesday, September 22, 2004, 15:40 GMT

My name is indeed Scandinavian, Swedish to be more precise and it's actually written like this: Björn.
24 years ago my father met some Swedish business relations, that's where my name comes from.
It is a very rare name in our country. I'm 24 years old and I only met one other Björn in my life.
Jaap is indeed a typical Dutch name, Mikel is more like Michael in Dutch spelling.

>>you are surrounded by your fellow countrymen whose English is on a par with native born English speakers..<<

This is the way you see us when you vistit our country as a tourist. To be honest, for me it's kinda hard to confirm that because we never speak English to each other. I think it's true most Dutch people have an excellent -passive- knowledge of English because of music, advertisements, movies etc, but when it comes to a real conversation most will face some troubles. This is because an average person rarely speaks English in daily life.

When I look at myself: I can read English without any trouble, and when I watch an English spoken movie on dvd I switch off the subtitles
and listen to the spoken words, and understand almost everything. So my passive knowledge is quite good. On the other hand, I work part-time
in a shop in a touristy city called Delft(it has canals just like Amsterdam but it's a lot smaller). I work there only on saturdays and
occasionally a tourist asks me something in English. Those are the only times I speak English so you can imagine I'm not fluent.

However if you have to speak a lot of English every day, you can easily use your passive knowledge to become fluent very quickly.

(I experienced that most people I know want to watch a movie with the subtitles switched on, I don't know if it's laziness, lack of passive knowledge or lack of interest in foreign languages:-)

>> I reckon the sentence structure in Dutch must be similar to German <<

Thats right Maya in most cases it's very similar.

kommst du MIT?
kom je MEE?

ich habe mein Deutsch VERGESSEN
ik ben mijn Duits VERGETEN

This is called the VERB FINAL sentence structure which only exists in Dutch and German. All other Germanic languages like English, Swedish, Danish etc. have the VERB INITIAL structure:
I FORGOT my German
Sanja   Wednesday, September 22, 2004, 15:46 GMT
We also call it "Holandija" in Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian (whichever you prefer). We don't even have any other word for the Netherlands.
Kees   Wednesday, September 22, 2004, 17:00 GMT
I know, the UK is often named Engeland in the Netherlands, and I'll bet we make much of the same mistakes.

Holland is split up in two provinces North and south Holland (Noord- en Zuid-Holland), and the Economic centre is slowly shifting southeast, in the direction of Utrecht, North Brabant and Limburg, that means the provinces behind the Veluwe (a big nature reservate in the centre of the country) will not be the places to be. However, places like the Frisian lakes and the Twentsch woods are very nice places for nature lovers. There's a big gap in the city and the 'farmers' culture. In the North and east the people are much nicer. (I don't say this because I come from there, the City nearby my village, Almelo, is one of the poorest cities in the country). You should go to the villages.
Don't care about the language, every young dutchman or woman speaks english, even there!

Here a list with all names of countries translated from English to Dutch with behind the way how they call it themselve

UK, Great Britain, England - Verenigd Koninkrijk, Groot-Brittanië, Engeland
USA - Verenigde Staten van Amerika
Germany - Duitsland (Deutschland is how the german call it, not?)
Belgium - België (Belgique in the Wallon part)
France - Frankrijk (France)
Spain - Spanje (españa)
Denmark - Denemarken (Danmark)
Sweden - Zweden (Sverige)
Norway - Noorwegen (Norge)
Finland - Finland (Suomi)
Iceland - IJsland (?)
Switserland - Zwitserland (Schweiz)
Austria - Oostenrijk (Österreich)
Italy - Italië (Italia)
Portugal - Portugal (?)
Greece - Griekenland (Hellas)
Russia - Rusland (Roessija???)
Canada - Canada
Mexico - Mexico (México)
Argentinia - Argentinië (Argentina)
[Most countries in English ending on -ia will end in Dutch on -ië]
Australia - Australië
New Zealand - Nieuw Zeeland
India - India

Haven't I mentioned your country: mail>>>

Okay, this was it. Keep practising the Dutch 'g' (so buy throat tablets) and tot ziens!!!!!
Sanja   Wednesday, September 22, 2004, 17:57 GMT
Actually I just remembered that Croatians nowadays say "Nizozemska" for the Netherlands, which would be the exact translation of the original name. But in Bosnia, Serbia etc. we just say "Holandija". Croatians have changed their language a bit, they started using some old words or even inventing their own words for the foreign ones, so you will find a lot of alternative words instead of the words that have a foreign origin.