Is English in the hospitality industry destroying the Dutch language?

Last year, De Telegraaf published an article titled ‘Engels op het terras? No thanks!’ (English on the terrace? No thanks!), in which they discussed the readers’ opinions on English in the hospitality industry. To put it simply, the question revolved around the practice of being addressed in English when sitting in a restaurant or on a terrace.

Readers’ comments essentially fell into two groups of opinions. Those who felt they should immediately be addressed in Dutch and those that believe there is really no issue with being addressed in English.

The current state of English in the hospitality industry

At the moment, as tourism is growing in the Netherlands and is expanding its reach more substantially to cities other than Amsterdam, it’s not strange to see the level of English in the hospitality industry increasing as well. However, English is not a new language to the Dutch. Unlike many other European countries, the Netherlands has been built to accommodate the English language.


There exists an entire social infrastructure to support those that don’t speak Dutch. Not to mention that the vast majority of Dutch people speak English. In fact, a 2012 report from the European Commission indicates that 90% of the Dutch population speaks English well enough to hold a conversation, and that number is likely to be higher today. But again, that’s nothing new. English has been a staple in Holland for years.

The loss of the Dutch language

The concerns around the increasing use of English in the hospitality industry don’t seem to revolve around the use of the language though, but around the fear of losing the Dutch language. Some of the commenting readers even suggested that the reason for this is due to the fact that the Dutch don’t have pride in their own language.

I don’t believe that is the case at all, at least it certainly isn’t in my experience. Even so, having pride in the Dutch language isn’t going to solve the issues that the Dutch language faces. Ultimately, it’s just not a very useful language outside of the Netherlands, and in an increasingly globalized world, the use for smaller languages is decreasing.

The use of English in the hospitality industry is just one symptom of it. Of course, Dutch won’t be disappearing today or tomorrow, but it will probably happen one day. Languages change constantly and continuously adapt to the day and age, and as much as we try and want to resist that change, it will happen.

What is Dutch, even?

Even if that weren’t the case, Dutch is a language based almost entirely on a combination of German, English, and French. So much so, that we often use foreign words in lieu of our own. We’d rather drink a ‘jus d’orange’ than a ‘sinaasappelsap’. Just ask comedian John Fealey, who discussed the topic decades ago.

What is the real issue?

When it comes down to it, the issue really isn’t the use of English in the hospitality industry. After all, if you’re angry about having to take the two seconds to establish the fact with your waiter that you will be speaking Dutch, then you’re really quite petty. Even if the waiter doesn’t speak Dutch, which is a possibility, then the restaurant will almost always have someone who does.

Instead, the issue is about a fear of losing the Dutch language and being addressed in English is an indication of that happening. To be entirely honest, I have the same worry. If I ever have children, I want to be able to pass the language down to them and I want to continue being able to speak Dutch, but worrying about having to speak a word or two of English to a waiter before switching to Dutch isn’t going to help anything.

All in all, I do believe the Dutch language is in decline, but saving it doesn’t mean removing the English language, especially since it’s the liberal use of the English language that has largely been responsible for allowing the Netherlands to maintain its open and internationally-oriented stance.

Do you think English is destroying the Dutch hospitality industry? Or is it just a sign of the times? Let us know in the comments below!

Feature Image: Crystal Huff/Unsplash

Noah Bloem
Noah Bloem
Noah grew up in Dhaka, Jakarta, and New York City before finding his way to Rotterdam (and now back to New York again). Despite having recently snagged a bachelor’s degree at Erasmus University College, he is fully committed to postponing adulthood as long as possible.


  1. here is my advice: want to save the dutch language ? breed!
    the netherlands is a strong, wealthy, and stable country whose population is shrinking. There is a lot of immigration to fill the jobs the dutch don’t want to (or are not capable of to) themselves. This brings a shitload of foreign people to the country who dont speak the language, and which are only going to be able to speak after years.
    So if you are a dutch born person, and you want to see your language live the next 5 generations, make babies and teach them the language of Orange!

  2. It is a really strong concern for me. I xome from Ukraine which faces the same troubles but everything is far worse. It is going to be spilt between Russian, Hungarian and English (also Romanian and Polish in more distant perspective). And I really hate the ads like “Ukraine will speak English” in a centre of a town which doesn’t speak Ukrainian. And the worst is that we are not reviving the language but replacing Russian imperical language with English. It is now being put in some odd places where it is not even needed (e.g. an amateur football club which produces nearly half of its infographics in the worst English I’ve ever seen or all the infographics to our top-tier football games. And that’s despite the fact that no foreigners even have the normal opportunity to watch our football.)

    And I was really shocked when I knew that Dutch do not even have the foreign films dubbed. Just what? In the Netherlands there are only some cartoons shown in Dutch in cinemas (as far as I’ve seen). It was too hard to give an alternative: either English or Dutch. And from own experience: no one ever reads subs if they know that language which they hear. They are just useless. I wish people from the Netherlands will find a way to do something to save the language.

    P.S. There was one Ukrainian guy who wrote that there are 3 stages of linguistic imperialism. And Ukraine has now all 3 of them in different parts of the country while Belarus has the third throughout the whole country. And in my opinion the Netherlands now go from first to second (if they are not already there).

    P.P.S. Nederlaands is mooier dan Engels.

  3. Not only in the Hospitality Industry everywhere you hear more and more English words or even sentences.


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