The Joy Of Dunglish

Dutch and English come from a similar German root and both love to steal words from French. But that is about where the similarities end.

As an English trainer and native speaker, my journey to learning Dutch has been a bit of a bumpy one. The fact that I speak Afrikaans thanks to my years spent living in South Africa has in most cases hindered rather than helped me.

The problem with moving from English to Dutch is that many of the similarities that you will discover are coincidental. Sometimes you can simply translate directly and get fairly accurate and pleasing results. But what makes life the most complicated are the rules around sentence construction.

What many people are not aware of is that the rules of word order in English are pretty rigid and inflexible. This means that, once you are aware of the various parts and their roles, you can pretty much build good English sentences using a colour by numbers approach: each piece in its designated place. Of course, there are some variations and exceptions, but overall, the word order of English is standard: it doesn’t change from the present to the past of the future tenses, it maintain is fundamental Subject-Verb-Object construction.

The same cannot be said for Dutch. Realising this was the biggest light bulb moment of my learning trajectory. When I discovered that the Object of Dutch sentences can effectively roam around, forming Passive voice, active voice, coming in after the time element or after the how element depending on your intended emphasis or emotional tone I suddenly realised why many of MY Dutch sentences sounded so clumsy: they were Dutch words ordered according to English word order.

Suddenly I had a new perspective on all the sentence building errors of my clients. Native speaker bias is a very hard thing to overcome as a student as often you just don’t realise that you are still looking at your new language through the filter of the rules of your mother tongue.

It is true that my vocabulary has benefited from my knowledge of Afrikaans, but not my pronunciation or my ability to conjugate verbs. Sometimes I have just had to put aside the overriding feeling that I am saying things wrong and doing things to verbs that shouldn’t be done and follow the rules and get used to it…

TalenInstituut Language Learning Tip

Extending what you know from your mother tongue into the new language you are learning, only ever takes you a small part of the way to your goal. Sooner or later, you will have to start obeying the fine points of grammar and getting used to a new way of organising your thoughts. The earlier you start to do this, the faster you will progress with your new language.

At TalenInstituut Nederland (The Dutch Language Institute) we understand the needs that companies face as well as the fears individual learners feel. Therefore, we offer flexible, fully customised Business English training to businesses and individuals. Through a process of interviews and meetings we establish the unique needs and competence of our clients and design every course around those. To find out more about our Business English and other language courses, visit our website and ask us for a quote:

© Taleninstituut Nederland

By: David Chislett
Trainer Business English