How come Dutch people are so good at languages?

Maya l'abeille   Saturday, September 18, 2004, 20:51 GMT
I went to the Netherlands a month ago and was totally amazed at their language skills - and at this wonderful country as well :). It's actually no surprise they are so famous for them. 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.

I don't think the fact that Dutch language is not a major language is a sufficient explaination for it. Not only are they skilled, they also show great interest in languages.

Here in France, on the other hand, your average person in the street doesn't care much about foreign languages and therefore can hardly speak any of them. I think the reason is that the language courses we have in our schools are neither pleasant, nor effective whatsoever.

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?
Mxsmanic   Saturday, September 18, 2004, 21:13 GMT
Nobody speaks Dutch except the Dutch; they have to learn other languages or remain isolated. Lots of people around the world speak French. That's one reason for the difference.

The French are also quite lazy linguistically, like all Latin societies (although they are not the worst). To some extent this reflects a more general intellectual laziness that is also typical of Latin countries. Germanic societies are more disciplined.

Additionally, the French tend to worry a great deal about arcane details while ignoring the essence of a subject. They spend a lot of time diagramming sentences and arguing irrelevant and trivial details of grammar even as none of them has learned to compose a complete sentence without a raft of errors.
Maya l'abeille   Saturday, September 18, 2004, 21:38 GMT
>>Nobody speaks Dutch except the Dutch<<

60% of the Belgians speak it as well. Still that's not much, I know...

>>The French are also quite lazy linguistically, like all Latin societies. Germanic societies are more disciplined<<

Hmm... What about the English? I think the truth of the matter is that their language classes are unefficient and not entertaining, just like in Latin societies - English, French, Spanish, etc are all major languages and so our governments don't find it necessary to do anything about that.

>>Additionally, the French tend to worry a great deal about arcane details while ignoring the essence of a subject. They spend a lot of time diagramming sentences and arguing irrelevant and trivial details of grammar even as none of them has learned to compose a complete sentence without a raft of errors<<

How very right you are! ;)
We are urged to practise all the time, even though we're only taught poor grammar. :(

Still I don't think this is a cultural matter. The problem must be our language classes.
Mxsmanic   Saturday, September 18, 2004, 22:14 GMT
The language classes are a product of the culture, so it obviously _is_ a cultural problem.

The English are even worse at learning languages, but in their case it is far less due to laziness and far more due to the widespread use of English in the world. It is perhaps about equally attributable to unjustified pride as well.

In any case, as long as French public schools continue to do such a horrible job of teaching English, I'll have a job. And since some of my students are quite young, it looks like nothing is changing.
Maya l'abeille   Sunday, September 19, 2004, 11:04 GMT
I don't think the language classes are a product of the culture, as only a handful of people, that is the Department of Education decide how they have to be. And of course just a handful of people cannot reflect a whole people's ideas.
Many of my fellow citizens agree that our language classes suck.

Anyway let's change the subject, it looks like this is going to be an endless discussion. :)

So, does anybody know what language classes are like in the Netherlands?
Maya l'abeille   Sunday, September 19, 2004, 12:35 GMT
By the way, you said Latin societies were lazy. Surely you don't see us like this?
Mxsmanic   Sunday, September 19, 2004, 19:58 GMT
I was thinking of intellectual laziness in this context.

Remember that the departments of education are drawn from the same culture that they teach. They do not exist in a vacuum.
Maya l'abeille   Sunday, September 19, 2004, 20:27 GMT
Intellectual laziness?

What about the Bac, then? (French high school exam).
"To succeed on this exam, students must demonstrate thorough knowledge in a wide variety of compulsory academic disciplines as well as in-depth understanding of their chosen field of specialization".
Do you know of many countries where philosophy is compulsory in schools? And why do you think the French and the Italians are so famous for their on-going intellectual discussions in cafés? It's more than a mere stereotype, I can tell you that much. Sometimes it can get annoying. :D

Our governments are quite conservative, and are not going to change our education systems before ages...

Whereas in Northern country, they seem to be much more innovative.
Steve K   Sunday, September 19, 2004, 21:09 GMT
Having studied in France and being quite familiar with the French and Anglo-Saxon cultures, and a few others, and assuming that intellectual laziness means an unwillingness to think for oneself in a manner that attempts to be disciplined and rational, I think that Msxmanic is way out of line in his generalization on Latin intellectual laziness. Let me just say that for every intellectually lazy French person I can find at least as many English or American or German or Chinese who are equally intellectually lazy. I find the French intellectually curious, always willing to get into a discussion and as unwilling to change their opinions as most people.
Johan   Monday, September 20, 2004, 12:37 GMT
They do drive crazily though! (And need I mention those ITalians!)
Damian   Monday, September 20, 2004, 19:57 GMT
I have been to Holland twice now.....the last time was a weekend in Amsterdam with two friends ;-) ;-) ;-) What a cool city!

The first time was in April 03 on a three week course at Leiden University, which was entirely in English....I would not have been accepted for it otherwise. All the time I was in Holland, on both occasions, I only met ONE person who was unable to speak English sufficiently well enough to understand what I was in a store in Alkmaar. Everone else spoke excellent English, flawless in many cases. In fact, of a better standard than many so called native speakers here in the UK and that is so true, I kid you not.

The Dutch are great linguists probably because of their geographical location and the fact that Holland is a small nation with very much a minority language. The langugage itself is not really pleasant to listen to, either (all Dutch themselves freely admit that) as it's extremely guttural, a wee bit like Danish I think. If I ever tried to learn Dutch I would have to have a constant supply of throat pastilles ;-)
Jordi   Monday, September 20, 2004, 21:48 GMT
I would have thought that learning Dutch with a Scottish accent would have been a lot easier. ;-) I find all languages and accents beautiful. No kidding! When in Holland I heard the joke that the first Dutchman was a Scot who'd been put into a raft for being the stingiest in his land. That would perfectly explain how the Dutch are, seen by themselves. ;-) Stereotypes are always stereotypes.
Maya l'abeille   Monday, September 20, 2004, 21:52 GMT
Well, I think I'm not going to get any answer to my question about language classes in Holland. It's simple. The Dutch are so good at languages, why would any of them come to a website like this one? They clearly "learn English effectively" already. They make me so jealous. :)

Amsterdam... What an amazing city! ;)
At first sight, it just looks like a huge amusement park, or a binge. You can see some prostitutes in places, the air is thick with cannabis smoke in some others, and many streets are filled with loud music and have their grounds entirely covered with plastic drinking cups which crack up as you walk.

But even though I don't approve of all of those aspects, still Amsterdam is the city of social freedom, and it's definitely a cosy, cheerful place.
You can take out your kitchen table to have dinner in the street, go out wearing a tall pointed hat, be a gay, walk drunkenly along by the canals... Everyone there will just find it perfectly normal.
You can just be yourself! You feel free. And this feeling of freedom is reinforced by the fact that it is mainly a "pedestrians' city". You feel free to walk wherever you like, without coming across an annoying, noisy flock of cars.

Something else that puzzled me up there.
When Southern European boys tend to chat up a lot, and often are annoyingly insiting, Dutch guys, on the other hand, look very reserved. We girls have to come up and talk to one of them to find that it's not so true. :))

As for the language, I don't find it unpleasant at all. I find it both rough and soft, so weird... and it is because of this weirdness that I find it beautiful. I will take it up once I have coped with Spanish. It can't be harder than English — which is clearly one of the hardest languages in the world. :P
They are making so much effort for us — speaking so many foreign languages. Why not make one for them for a change? :)

I've just searched through the web to try and find out what technique they use to learn foreign languages. All I found was that they have more hours of language classes than most of the rest of us have...
Nico   Tuesday, September 21, 2004, 03:04 GMT
Hey, the Dutch are really great at languages, that's right! Now, I'm afraid I wouldn't grant them the 1st prize for it anyway. My candidates? Imagine a country where kids are first schooled in a German dialect, then in German and at last in French, where newspapers are in German, official stuff in French, tv in both and people go on speaking their dialect. Besides, in high School they learn English and another language (mostly Spanish or Portuguese), languages they can practice a lot because they are in a country with lots of immigrants and officials from all over Europe. Guessed it? Sure, Luxembourg... I've met several people from this tiny charming country and they are truly amazing in their mastery of languages and kindness.
Another candidate? Well, picture a country where most people speak home languages from all over Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, but where the official language is another Semitic language with a lot of Latin, Greek and English in it. A country where it's normal to have a Hungarian, Polish or French mom and a Syrian, German or Moroccan dad. Again, guessed it? Israel... There I found the most multilingual people in the least expected places: a janitor from Melilla speaking fluently Berber, Arabic, Hebrew, English, Spanish and French, or a bank employee who shunned at me when I tried to speak English, French and Spanish because he 'only' spoke... Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, German and Russian.
Damian   Tuesday, September 21, 2004, 07:13 GMT
<<the first Dutchman was a Scot who'd been put into a raft for being the stingiest in his land>>


I believe there are some characteristic links between the Dutch and the Scots..I didn't realise that this may be the (perceived) reputation for stinginess.....or should I more accurately say "carefulness in the spending of money". It's not for nothing that we have a prudent (his favourite word) Scot here in the UK very efficiently in charge of the national purse strings. To say all Scots are mean is a wee bit harsh...I'm willing to buy the next round (if there is absolutely, totally, inescapably, unavoidably, irredeemably factually no other option....)

National stereotypes will endure for ever I suppose.

The Dutch language.....again, a bit of a Scottish link with regard to the throaty vocals (like our CH) but Dutch is far and away more guttural and every other word seems to be so. Even a Scot born and bred in KinloCH RannoCH or the lovely AuCHtermuCHty would need those pastilles......but certainly not as many as those poor wee SassenaCHs.