If anything, the Dutch should speak more English

Photo: DutchNews.nl

With national elections approaching, internationals seem like an easy target for politicians to blame for everything from house prices to education standards. But our regular columnist Molly Quell thinks the Dutch have no one to blame but themselves for how much English is spoken in the Netherlands. 

Last month I sat in a Dutch courtand listened to a bunch of Dutch lawyers in a Dutch case involving Dutch people concerned with Dutch law argue in English.

Not the entire time, mind you, but substantial parts of the discussion about the use of water canon against Extinction Rebellion protesters switched to English as lawyers quoted reports, read from technical manuals and cited relevant law from the European Court of Human Rights.

There was no translation. No interpretation. Just a roomful of Dutch people wholly expected to understand English, not at a dinner party or at a borrel, but in a court of law. 

Simultaneous translation

If those documents were in Farsi or Tagalog, translators would have been needed. Maybe interpretation would be needed to provide simultaneous translation of items being read aloud in court. You’d think that the notoriously cheap Dutch would revel in the cost savings.

Instead, we get Nieuw Sociaal Contract leader Pieter Omtzigt demanding that the Netherlands ban English at universities and Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema claiming people should be forced to speak Dutch in public.

The Dutch have been whinging about foreigners moving to their country and refusing to learn the language for hundreds of years. “Few students integrate to any degree into Dutch society, and there was little incentive to learn the Dutch language,” David Onnekink and Gijs Rommelse wrote in The Dutch in the Early Modern World. They are talking about students coming to Leiden University in 1575.

British accents

Those bloody foreigners aren’t the ones who started teaching their children English at primary school. You don’t get to 90% English fluency in a non-English country because of expats speaking in British accents on the Amsterdam highstreet.

But rather than taking some personal responsibility for the amount of English spoken in the Netherlands, we are subjected to column after column after column of someone offended that they went to a terrace and the wait staff doesn’t speak Dutch.

No acknowledgment, of course, that there don’t seem to be enough Dutch folks to fill those service industry jobs. If you want Dutch spoken at the cafe so badly, grab a tray and start taking orders.


A few weeks ago, I took a jaunt over the border to cover a case in a Belgian court. Cruelly the hearing was held in French, but much like the situation to the north, various bits of the arguments referenced English-language material.

In the crumbling and perpetually-under-renovation Palace of Justice of Brussels, however, the English usage was less than seamless. One judge asked a lawyer to translate on the fly an excerpt he’d read from a report in English. Another complained about the extra paper usage in providing the original documents in English together with a translation in French.

Perhaps this anecdote will convince the Dutch to abandon their War on English. After all, they don’t want to be more like the Belgians, do they?

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