Don’t say ‘backside’ unless you mean it

Although clunky English lyrics from Dutch pop singers can generate enduring world hits (Una Paloma Blanca still pops up after 37 years at far flung village fêtes and in Chinese trains) a lot of writers could use a little help. The Volkskrant interviewed Buffi Duberman aka Buffi the Accent Slayer, language coach to the (pop) stars and English teacher at the RockAcademy in Tilburg.

‘I feel myself at home’ is not a mistake many song writers will make now Duberman has pointed out sexual self exploration in the living room is probably not quite what is meant, the paper writes. And Anouk may want to change the line ‘Your voice makes my skin crawl’ when she – presumably- means something like ‘Your voice gives me goose pimples’.


Duberman (44), a lively American who made her way to from the Bronx, where she worked as a counselor, to Den Bosch via the Czech Republic where she taught English to civil servants, and Barcelona where she met her Dutch husband. After eleven years teaching English to nuns in Vught, her fortunes changed. She was asked to become a language coach on a talent show. ‘I knew immediately that this was for me’, Duberman tells the paper. ‘to be the English teacher of young, creative, enthusiastic people willing to learn.’

After that people like pop stars like Dinand Woesthoff and Kane’s Dennis van Leeuwen knocked on her door and now she numbers Wouter Hamel, Racoon and Caro Emerald among her clients. Politicians and actors also come to her for help.

Initially, record companies didn’t rate her services very highly until they noticed the artists got progressively better. ‘Dutch people have a problem with ‘th’. It comes out as ‘dd’. I try to remedy that’, Duberman explains.

Other pitfalls for the Dutch include the tenses: ‘Don’t say ‘She’s always saying’ unless you feel annoyed at the person. If not, use ‘She always says’. If that doesn’t scan we try to find a solution’, Duberman tells the paper.


This summer, Duberman launched her own language learning method. Rock your English! uses pop songs to improve grammar and pronunciation. ‘If you tell people: we’re going to do the simple present they all begin to yawn. But if you say we’re going to look at the simple present in Under the Bridge by the Red Hot Chilly Peppers, the whole thing comes alive’, she says.

Duberman is discreet about her work with the stars but she does reveal who needed relatively little help: Bertolf, Janne Schra, Marinus ‘Mr A Balladeer’ de Goederen’. On other artists’ more embarrassing mistakes she keeps mum.

And although she is always careful not to be too brusque – ‘It is a privilege to be shown a part of someone’s soul’ – and doesn’t want to use the red pencil over much she will be ruthless when they say ‘backside’ when they don’t mean ‘bum’.








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