The Horror and Embarrassment: Dutch Attempts at Speaking English

There aren’t many things that make me laugh and be embarrassed at the same time. Something that does this to me however is hearing Dutch people speak English. The Dutch, although usually complimented because of their excellent knowledge of the English language, have a tendency to speak English with the most horrible accent imaginable. Surely not all of us do, but 9 out of 10 times when I encounter a Dutchman abroad having a conversation in English, I am an unwanted witness to something that sounds extraordinarily ridiculous. Unfortunately it’s not only the accent. Although a Dutch person’s vocabulary usually isn’t too bad, English sentences are usually constructed by translating them straight from Dutch. This doesn’t only apply to grammar, but also to the words used, which are literally translated without keeping the context in mind.

Not sure what I am talking about? Well let me present exhibit number 1: I would like to invite you to watch the following video in which CNN’s Robyn Curnow interviews Dutch ex-footballer Ruud Krol about the World Cup 2010 in South Africa. You will only need to watch the first 30 seconds to 1 minute in order to see, or rather hear, my point (I would encourage you to watch the whole thing, if you can endure it):

Now how funny was that? And so painful and embarrassing at the same time! You don’t even have to be Dutch to have a good laugh, and I suspect that non-Dutch people would also see why this kind of accent is so immensely embarrassing to witness. His vocabulary isn’t bad at all, I’ll give him that. Even the occasional Dutch word thrown in can be forgiven, but the way in which the words are pronounced… it’s too much for me to handle. Let me attempt to phonetically analyse the first 30 seconds of Ruud Krol speaking English :

“Jaaa, inn seventy-for end in seventy-ate” […] “Boos tymes we was ferry anlacky det we play boos tymes agenst, in the vinyl, agenst Germany and Argentina who organised the wurld cup, and det was of course never heppened in historie, end it neffer heppened again, I fink”

Should it matter that he speaks English with a funny accent? No, not really. But it gets worse. At 00:54 in the interview Ruud Krol uncovers the truth behind the world championship finals lost by the Netherlands in 1974 and in 1978: he was orgasming on the pitch. Again, I shall analyse phonetically:

“You play eh, pool metsjes det arr de same, butt the vinyl if jor cumming on de field, jaa det was samthing, ja how do you say det in Inglis, you get ehhh”

There you have it: tens of thousand of people in the stadium, millions of people in front of the television or listening to the radio, and Ruud Krol is having orgasms whilst he’s on the pitch. He explains it whilst his arms thrust forward, and it apparently still gives him goosebumps. Great, thanks Ruud. Or should I say Rude.

Not only Dutch ex-footballers go about in this way, Dutch politicians do too. Exhibit number 2. Although not as bad as Ruud ‘cumming on the pitch’ Krol, surely someone could have advised former Dutch Prime Minister Balkenende to go and see a speech therapist before visting former US president Bush. Although the accent is less thick and the sentences less Dutch-like, it might even be more embarrassing to watch as this person was representing the Netherlands in the United States for the whole world to see. To say the least, his diction doesn’t make a strong impression (skip the first two minutes of Dubya*):

And last, but not least, exhibit number 3. Someone else that has been ‘representing’ the Netherlands on the world stage, a xenophobic and populist blonde. Luckily he was only addressing rednecks and teabaggers (skip to 0m37s*):

At least in the latter case, Wilders’ poor diction and knowledge of the English language takes away from his message of hatred. All in all, Ruud Krol’s accent is the worst, but has the least consequences, although his on-the-pitch ejaculations did cost the Dutch two world championship finals.

Now, for those English speaking individuals that have firsthand experience interacting with Dutch people, a fabulous schedule has been created to avoid confusion about what is being said and what is understood. This of course is also very helpful for Dutch speaking individuals.

The Horror and Embarrassment: Dutch Attempts at Speaking English

More of this can be found in the book I Always Get My Sin.

I had forgotten all about this classic Dutch commercial!

*Timestamp doesn’t seem to be working whilst embedding YouTube videos

18 thoughts on “The Horror and Embarrassment: Dutch Attempts at Speaking English

  1. The point is that Dutch people think they speak English perfectly, but they don’t. That’s embarrassing. It’s not just about the accent either: literal translations from Dutch to English and being ignorant about subtleties of the language are cringeworthy as well.

    1. That’s embarrsing for DUTCH PEOPLE. Not for other people who speak English appearntly.
      Also the schedule you present is not that accurate, you miss the emotion. When someone in Dutch say: ‘Goed gedaan!’ with a sarcastic voice, the foreigner doesnt understand it. When a Englishman say: ‘Hmm, thats Quite Good!’ they do mean it positive.

  2. Ook al hebben we een accent. Alleen Nederlands zelf irriteren zich hieraan. Native english speakers of mensen van andere landen die Engels als tweede taal hebben storen zich totaal niet aan het steenkolen Engels van de Nederlanders. Engels met een Nederlands accent is blijkbaar nog steeds zeer duidelijk voor buitenlanders. Ik zou zeggen, vraag eens wat rond aan native english speakers of zij zich storen als jij expres een zwaar nederlands accent opzet wanneer je Engels praat. Je zult zien dat ze je 9 vd 10 keer nog steeds begrijpen.

  3. As an English person myself, that man sounds absolutely fine. It’s a shame that this article seems so set on shaming and embarrassing peoples accents, it’s impressive enough that they speak a second language.

  4. Ruud seems to have picked up a bit of a Afrikaans accent during the world cup 🙂 I think it sounds quite charming to be honest- and perfectly understandable!

  5. Why be embarrassed…personally, I find the dutch accent charming. I find English spoken with most accents charming. I would be super proud to have that much command of another language. I don’t know why other cultures laugh at people’s attempts to speak their language. The fact that they can be bothered to try is delightful. I myself am very shy speaking in French because I know that French people think that we ‘murder’ their beautiful, musical language. I am embarrassed to get it wrong…but I think most English people find accented English perfectly lovely and exotic.

  6. I loved reading this! but the links to the videos don’t work for me.
    I’ve just started learning Dutch after studying French for a year and I’m loving both languages and I can understand where the embarrassment of having an accent or feeling like your speaking skills are inadequate in a foreign language come from because I get really anxious about speaking both languages.
    as Anne said above, I don’t think any accents in English are embarrassing, at least not to the vast majority of native Anglophones. I love Dutch accents! I don’t think there are any foreign accents I don’t like in the English language, especially as an Australian speaker, haha. I don’t think we have a right to judge other peoples’ accents, what with the way some of we Aussies speak…
    you Dutch are amazing, learning so many different languages and I think that’s something to be super proud of 😀

  7. I came across this article as hearing Mark Rutte speaking English in an interview made me curious about the Dutch-English accent. Actually, I got interested because to my foreign ears his accent sounded WAY better than that of the other international politicians speaking in the same video. So I was quite surprised by this article. In my view, the first step out of ignorance should always come from native speakers, as other people have already pointed out in their comments. Doing that will cost you very little effort, while opening so many doors. I very often hear people from Nordic countries talking to each other in their own languages, and I assume the same would be possible between Afrikaans and Dutch, maybe (correct me if I am wrong) mostly by getting used to hearing known words pronounced in an unfamiliar way. And that brings me to another point: do the Dutch accents heard in these videos that you presented deviate from standard UK English more than the Scottish accent differs from some US East Coast accent? This is my rule of thumb to define good or bad accents in general. In English that obviously gives us a very large span of “acceptable” accents and one might wonder what could be regarded as “bad accent” then. In that case, I would recommend searching for “Matteo Renzi speaks English” or “Matteo Renzi parla inglese” (disclaimer: I am myself Italian).

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