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Multilingualism (meertaligheid) expands your world

Updated on October 18, 2015


The Netherlands is known for its clogs, tulips, windmills and marijuana. Dutch people are known for speaking many languages. Relatively few people in this world are speaking the Dutch language, so Dutch people learn early that it's useful and important to master many languages. The roots for this knowledge has been formed several centuries ago when our ancestors traveled all over the world to trade with other nations. In order to do business, they had to make themselves understood in other languages.

Speaking other languages, like English and German, not always run smoothly for the Dutch people. Sometimes Dutch sentences are translated directly into English language. This phenomenon is called "Steenkolenengels". The English expression for these mistakes is Dunglish: the contraction of Dutch and English. The history of the "Steenkolenengels" was formed at the port of Rotterdam, where dockers from England and the Dutch dockers worked together. The mostly poor educated Dutch workers tried to communicate in the English language.

Examples of Dunglish

In the book: “I Always get my sin”, author Maarten H. Rijkens wrote many funny examples. Maarten H. Rijkens is a former director of Heineken Beer. In his function he experienced a lot of people who tried to speak correct English. He even heard the famous phrase: "How do you do and how do you do your wife?".

There are also websites where you can find some examples of "Steenkolenengels":

  • Now comes the monkey out of the sleeve - the truth finally comes out (Dutch: de aap komt uit de mouw)
  • I will look it through the fingers - I will make an exception (Dutch: Ik zie het door de vingers)
  • Make that the cat wise - you can’t fool me (Dutch: maak het de kat wijs)
  • There is nothing on the hand – There is nothing to worry about (Dutch: er is niets aan de hand )

Nowadays we use programs like Google Translate to translate our sentences. These translations are well, but you have to be careful because the translations are not always perfect. Basic knowledge of the other language is still needed to avoid mistakes.

Google Translate: Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Hilarious!

The importance of multilingualism

Many Dutch people speak several foreign languages perfectly. An example is the former Dutch Foreign Minister, Frans Timmermans. He speaks six languages fluently: Dutch, German, English, French, Russian and Italian. His language skills were of great importance when the MH17 crashed in July 2014 on Ukrainian territory.

The great importance of speaking foreign languages is also noticeable in the Dutch educational system. Where youth first became acquainted at the age of 12 years with foreign languages, they will now start earlier with English language teaching. At this time, children learn Englisch from the age of 10 years. Around 12 years they start learning the French language and one year later also German is added. However, the emphasis is mainly on English. English is a very important international language . When using appliances, computers and reading scientific texts , knowledge of the English language also indispensable.

Relationship between English and Dutch

The Dutch and English language are strongly related. Both are Germanic languages. However, English is a real mixed language. Many words have a Germanic origin, but many words have a Romanesque ( Norman French ) origin. An estimated 40 % of the English words has a French origin.

Germanic history of some words



Both languages ​​use words of the other language.
In 1609 the first Dutchmen came to America and they brought their language with them. They took also all kinds of Dutch products with them. Because these products where new for the Native Americans, they adopted the Dutch terms for these items.

Other reasons are because the original language doesn’t have a right word or the word in the other language is easier to say.

A number of examples of Dutch loanwords are:

Boss - baas

Cookie - koekje

Waffle - wafel

Skate - schaats

And even the famous Yankee is put together of a Dutch first name: Jan-Kees.

Skate - schaats

2009_01_07_Kralingse_Plas | Source

English influence on the Dutch language

Dutch people love the English language and use a significant amount of loanwords. As one commentator remarked he had no problem with speaking English during his vacation in the Netherlands.

We even have our own grammar applied to make it to a Dutch verb. We say: checken, plannen, stressen en shoppen!

There is only one word that can’t be translated from Dutch into another language: it’s the word "gezellig". Cozy comes closest to it, but to experience what this Dutch word means, a holiday in our country is the best way!

Amsterdam | Source

Louis van Gaal, soccer coach

Louis van Gaal is a Dutch famous soccer coach. He is not only well-known forhis coaching qualities , but also because of his Dunglish. The phrases he uses are sometimes hilarious. Especially the following three statements are exemplary.

‘Death or the gladioli’
Dutch expression: dood of de gladiolen
By which is meant: all or nothing

‘We are running after the facts’,
Dutch expression: we lopen achter de feiten aan
By which is meant: to be overtaken by events

‘It’s a question of time’.
Dutch expression: het is een kwestie van tijd
by which is meant: it's a matter of time

Maybe not perfect ...

My native language is Dutch, at school I learned some basic English, French and German. Writing in another language is quite more difficult than speaking a foreign language. Because I like to write at, I'm going to challenge to write my articles in English. So I would ask the readers of my articles for understanding. When you see some mistakes, I’m open to positive feedback!

Happy reading!

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    • Bethink profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from the Netherlands

      Thank you for your positive feedback!

      Nice that you had such a good experience in the Netherlands. The Dutch find it so nice to talk to tourists in English that it's sometimes difficult to practice the Dutch language for those who have studied it.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      4 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      When I visited the Netherlands, I never had any problems with the language. Why? Because it seemed like everybody spoke very good English! You've done a good job of communicating in English in this hub, which I found interesting to read.


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