Do you speak English? Yes, we do! The recent EF English Proficiency Index placed the Netherlands first when comparing the English skills of 72 countries.
‘Why is that?’ I’m wondering as I look for my native Austria on the list, which only came in at number 8, behind a bunch of Scandinavian countries and Luxembourg. Apparently, next to ranking among the tallest people in the world, the Dutch are also better at speaking English than any other non-native country. According to research, between 90% and 93% of the Dutch population claims to be able to hold a conversation in English. How do they do that?
1The Dutch don’t dub
The Dutch are surrounded by the English language early in life through television. They don’t dub any movies or series. Contrary to other European countries like Spain, Germany, or France, you can watch everything on TV in its original language while reading the subtitles in Dutch.
This means that the kids in the Netherlands have a much more natural approach when it comes to learning and speaking English. It propels them well ahead of their peers in other countries. Although, being glued to your TV for hours binge-watching US series can sometimes result in developing a weird ‘murican accent (ya’ll know whad I’m talkin’ ’bout).
2A global mindset
This small-sized country, with 17 million inhabitants living on 41,543 square kilometres, beats many larger economies and ranks number 17 worldwide as far as their GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is concerned.
Being the business-friendly culture that it is, the Dutch have had to master the English language in order to compete in the global market. The Dutch East India Company, for example, was founded in 1602 as the first multinational company in the world. Today, many global companies like IKEA, Unilever, or Philips have their European headquarters in the Netherlands.
The Dutchies’ high rank in English proficiency also results from exploring the globe during their vacations. This nation of former seafarers has always been a country of adventurers. Abel Tasman, for example, was the first known explorer from Europe to reach today’s Tasmania and New Zealand in 1642. And, sailor Dirk Hartog was the first to land on Australia’s west coast. He’s now honoured with an island named after him (Dirk Hartog Island) off the coast of Shark Bay, Australia.
Ever the adventurers, many Dutch students fulfil their dream of studying abroad. They often enrol in a language course, complete an internship, or spend a gap year working as volunteers. At the same time, they work on perfecting their knowledge of the English language.
Last but not least, the Dutch can thank their ancestors for their exceptional ability to speaking English. The Dutch language is part of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family, just like English. This means that the two languages share the same roots and have similar characteristics, making it easier for Dutch people learning English. Dat is goed nieuws! (That is good news!)
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Feature Image: 534131/Pixabay
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in January 2017 and was fully updated in September 2020 for your reading pleasure.