The current EF English Proficiency Index put the Netherlands first when comparing the English skills of 72 countries. The Dutch are very good at English than any other non-native country. According to the study between 90% and 93% of the Dutch population claims to be able to hold a conversation in English. How do they do that and why they think they are English native?
· Dutch is close(-ish) to English
Well, geographically, it is near to England - a flight from London to Amsterdam takes just 40 minutes. You’re more likely to be spending loads of time waiting around in the airport than actually airborne if you are flying to Amsterdam from London! Linguistically, the two languages are part of the same family: The Germanic family and once you have mastered the rules of Dutch pronunciation, you will see that several of the words sound very like English when reading out loud. It is far easier for Dutch people to learn English than a language from a different family, like Welsh, Italian or Polish. I have written a few sentences in Dutch below to show you just how close to English it is, bear in mind that when reading out loud, these sentences sound incredibly close to their English versions.
Wat is jouw naam = “what is yow naam” (What is your name?)
Mijn naam is Peter = “Mine naam is Peter.” (My name is Peter.)
· The Dutch education system and English
English is introduced very early in the Dutch education system unlike other countries: primary school students are introduced to English early in the process, and it is compulsory for all levels of secondary education. There is even a Bilingual Education program available, which aims to make students equally fluent in English and Dutch. Indeed, many Dutch students use English when researching their studies as that Google searches yield far better results in English than in Dutch.
· No dubbing
The truth is that the Dutch get in contact with the English language early in life with the help of television. They don’t dub or translate Dutch to English or the other way around on any films, dramas or series, from Dutch to English and contrary to other European nations like Germany, Spain or France you can watch everything on TV in the original English language while reading the subtitles in Dutch. This indicates that the kids in the Netherlands have much more direct access when it comes to learning and speaking English, driving them well ahead of their peers in other nations.
The Netherlands wants to be connected with the world
The Dutch are anything but isolated, they have loads of neighbors in Europe whom they trading for many centuries, and they needed to speak other languages to promote the business. Loads of people come to the Netherlands for everything from tourism to teaching to business and the Netherlands welcome these people with open arms: business conferences are conducted in English if there is even one person in the conference who cannot speak Dutch. There are courses in Dutch colleges which are conducted in English to make them more open to international students who aren’t fluent in Dutch and don’t want to be at a loss. Even the signs in Eindhoven and Schipol airport were in English only - they didn’t even bother putting them up in Dutch as the practically all Dutch people speak English anyway.
· A zeal to embrace the English language and make it their own
This is obvious from the way Dutch people speak Dutch amongst themselves: not only do they use loads of English loanwords, they even slip in and out of English, making whole phrases or sentences in English. There is the term”Dunglish” (Dutch + English) which represents this hybrid language/patois. There seem to be two modes of Dutch used. There is a purer form of Dutch (devoid of English loanwords) which is used for formal writing (essays, exams, certificates, official government documents, etc.) and then there’s Dunglish which is used in every day, less formal cases. This means that Dutch people are regularly using a large volume of English on a daily basis even amongst themselves - it is not a language they use only when they meet foreigners. Dunglish has evolved a lot over the decades: it used to be a derogatory term used to mock the bad English spoken by Dutch people, but now it is also used to refer to Dutch people who choose to mix their English and Dutch for fun, showing off the fact that they are effectively bilingual.
Dutch vs. English
The Dutch can also acknowledge their ancestors for their outstanding ability to speak English. Dutch are part of the Germanic part of the Indo-European language family just like English. It indicates that both languages share the same origins and have similar features making it easier for Dutch people learning this language and for these reasons they think they are English natives.