Different Donderdag: English

There’s a newish bartender at the Potdeksel these days. He’s very charming and friendly, and despite having a very Dutch name, he has a very English accent. If I didn’t know he was Dutch, I would have thought he was from England.

It’s not unusual for Dutch people to have a touch of an English/British accent when they speak English, because they are often taught “British” English rather than “American” English. However, with the numerous American films and television programs available to them, their accent becomes fairly neutral, other than any residual Dutch accent. I should point out that movies and television programs are almost never dubbed into Dutch here; they simply have Dutch subtitles.

Last week, while complementing Ruud on his excellent English, we found out that English is his major course of study at university. It turns out — and this is something I find fascinating — that when you choose English as a major here, you can also choose whether to have a British or American emphasis. Now I’m curious if they do something similar with other languages, especially those that have some differences depending on which part of the world they’re spoken. For example, if someone is studying Spanish, do they have the choice to learn the version spoken in Spain or the version spoken in the Americas?

Regardless, I think it’s an interesting approach to take when teaching a foreign language, perhaps especially when it’s such a widely used language. I’m curious if this is fairly universal in Europe these days or if it’s a Dutch/Utrecht thing.

8 thoughts on “Different Donderdag: English

  1. I had no idea that here you could choose with a Brit or an Am emphasis. Does it mean that, for example, they get trained to speak a particular variety or that the subjects have to do with either Britain or America?
    Back home, the training we got was in standard British English. If you wanted to do a TEFL diploma, you had to take two courses in British Culture and two more in British literature against just the one of American Culture and one of American Literature. Then in Phonetics III or IV (can’t remember now!) we would study the different varieties of English in depth.
    I think it might have to do with the syllabus offered at that particular university? I remember revising courses in different unis or schools here and I was surprised to see that the study material was in Dutch.

    • They definitely end up with an American or British accent, depending on the emphasis, although I think it’s more Queen’s English or the standard newscaster American English, rather than specific regions. I suspect they get an emphasis on British or American literature, culture, etc. I’ll probably ask him more about it at some point.

  2. Or French as spoken in France or as spoken in Canada.

    That’s amazing to hear. I always thought there was only English English courses.

    I once had a Dutch co-worker that I did not realize was Dutch for two years because his English accent was so good (and his name was Joey, not very Dutch). I found out he was Dutch when I complimented him on how good his Dutch was.

    • I did think about the France/Canada difference, too, but I suppose that might be a bit too specific unless you’re planning on working/living in the French-speaking part of Canada.

      I once almost asked a fellow American where in Britain she was from, which is funny since I’ve had fellow Americans ask me the same question. Now that I’m here and surrounded by a variety of accents, I feel like I sound glaringly American, although at least to some Dutch they ask if I’m English before American.

  3. Hubby is a translator and they automatically do British English in the courses, if you want American English you have to elect for that as a separate specialty.
    Despite being fully Dutch he also has travelled widely and his English is accent-less, but that said he’s very good at listening to the nuances of language and speaks great French, German, some Spanish and a lot of Portuguese and Kiribati and can even do a rather wicked Irish brogue as well… which he tried out on two unsuspecting English ladies as a joke on day, which then backfired as they absolutely wouldn’t believe he was Dutch LOL!
    Even France has language differences within it’s own regions, ditto Spain, Portugal and probably most European countries…of course here with Dutch/Frisian, Vlaams variations too, and Afrikaans is a spin-off from Dutch too.
    Then on the other side of the coin you get someone like my Father who after decades in New Zealand still has the solid Dutch accent he left here with LOL.

  4. Cool! I didn’t know very much about this. I learned a lot in the comments as well. I agree with you about their [for most] neutralized accent when speaking English. With some Dutch, when they speak English to me, I sometimes can barely hear an accent. Sometimes I feel they even speak better English than most of the adult native English speakers who I’ve known.

  5. I teach English at a Dutch high school. When I was getting my B.Ed. I was picked on in my pronunciation class because of my American accent (born and raised in Ohio). I was actually used as the ‘not what to do’ example. I was ‘allowed’ to keep my accent, though. Gee thanks.

    My first teaching position I had a colleague who actually wanted to count Americanized spellings of words, like color instead of colour, wrong. Most Dutch schools use British based textbooks. I tell my kids I don’t care what they do, but I’d prefer English over Dutch. When I worked at the university (Groningen) we asked our students to choose an accent and spelling and be consistent. Students from business were very pleased to have an American teacher, whereas students from Arts and Humanities very clearly looked down on me and gave me negative reviews because they ‘expected a British native speaker’.

    This was all something I never thought about until I entered the ESL world here. To be honest, it still aggravates the crap out of me. I sometimes dream of moving to Mexico or China where I would be much more appreciated. But I’m ingeburgerd (integrated) now so whatever.

    Sorry for the long comment, but I wanted to share.

    • Dear Emily,
      I understand that you may be aggravated, but the honest truth is that you are no longer in Ohio and different rules apply here, just as they would if a European were to be teaching in America.
      We would be compelled to integrate and use USA standards in the visa-versa situation so is it so hard now that the boot it on the other foot?
      Personally I also am expected to do things the “dutch way” but heck it’s part of living here and if I don’t like it then I know what I can do about it.
      Sucking it up, dealing with it and adapting is what *anyone* who lives in another culture has to do. Not just once or twice, but all the time.
      I can tell you that I know that in the wider business establishment here, that the use of American English *is* frowned upon and *will” be counted as errors, so I can completely see where your colleague is coming from… if all these people are wrong or right with that opinion isn’t the point, the point is that that’s how things are here, and you, me and every other expat is expected to do in Rome as the Romans do.
      In light of this I was very disappointed to see the “so whatever” ending to your post.
      I do think that employers of an ESL teachers *do* have the right to choose between the American and British styles because what you pass on to your students *will* make a positive or negative impression on these people’s future employers. It’s not personal, it’s not a criticism, it’s just a fact.
      I know that this reply probably won’t suit or please you, but I have been here almost 20 years and I’ve learned a lot and sucked up a lot more. It’s the way it is, no matter what country you emigrate to. You aren’t at home any more and it doesn’t work like it does at home.
      Not liking it or agreeing with it doesn’t change that fact.
      Either you will need to take the chip off your shoulder about it and let it go so that you can be truly happy here or indeed you do need to go to Mexico or China where you feel you would be better appreciated. But bear in mind they would expect just as much integration into their little personal ways of doing things and you’d be expected to be flexible and fit into *their* requirements too… living abroad is never easy… and sadly after 20 years I still haven’t found anyone or anywhere here that promised that LOL. Welcome to the Club.

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