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Another myth busted: Northern Europeans DON’T only speak English to you

| 49 comments | Category: particular languages, positive mentality

 

There are many myths about language learning that I’m trying to dispel as nothing more than lazy excuses on this blog.

The fact that you are too old, your destiny (genes, background etc.) is against you, you can’t afford to travel and there are no opportunities to speak where you live or systems to speak with natives online, you can’t roll your Rs, you already spent years learning and got nowhere, and many many other excuses.

But there will always be more excuses. Lazy people are imaginative in that way! :)

Today I want to tackle one that isn’t quite unique to Northern Europe, since English speakers will be lazy everywhere despite the advantages of English-free travel, but it is especially prominent here: “Northern Europeans will only ever speak English to you. Why bother even learning their language?”

While I will be focusing on my Dutch experience, I have been talking to other successful language learners living in Scandinavia who confirm that these observations work there just as well.

Yes, it’s true that you can live mostly by English here

The first major reason to not even try is that they all speak English anyway.

Although I have barely used any English at all, I can confirm from seeing tourists using it with them that their level is generally excellent.

Pretty much all of them still make mistakes, many of which I recognise as Dutch-influenced (such as I am sitting here/in school etc. instead of simply I am here/in school , since “to be” is used way less in Dutch) and if they haven’t lived abroad they still have an accent, but this will never hinder conversations. So yes, you could live your life entirely through English here.

And many do; I have met a staggering number of foreigners who have maintained the most impressive collective English-bubble I’ve seen anywhere. I met a man in Prague who had lived there for a decade without learning Czech, but here that actually seems to be more the norm than the exception!

The reasons for this working so well (apart from people’s downright laziness to learn the language of the country they live in), are actually an interesting long-term aspect of Dutch culture that I’d like to discuss in another post; basically they are very welcoming and open minded about world cultures, but leave them to do their own thing with no pressure or encouragement to integrate.

The philosophy of living apart together seems to be huge here, so people not learning their language is not just tolerated, it’s accepted as almost the obvious thing to do, by the locals themselves.

Because of this I met very few foreigners seriously learning Dutch (mostly Germans, Eastern Europeans etc.). It’s no wonder locals were shocked when I started speaking to them in their own language.

Once you try, there is no resistance

Yes, they were surprised, yes some of them were confused at why I’d want to learn Dutch, and yes they were amazed at how quickly I could speak at the level I was.

But you know what? Despite hearing the excuse for years, and people warning me many times in advance when I announced plans to come here, if I spoke Dutch to someone they NEVER replied in English. Not once. Not even a SINGLE time!!

I’ve heard this excuse for years about Northern Europeans. I didn’t get it my first week in Berlin either.

After 8 entire weeks here, there’s no way this can be pure luck. The 25 people I met in one night, those I’ve talked to in the street and in restaurants and bars, the many people I’ve met in parties and various social events, and even the few friends I’ve somehow managed to convince to squeeze me into their agendas on a more regular basis; they’ve all spoken just in Dutch with me.

There are exceptions, but these were when I didn’t begin in Dutch. For example, after a quick intro with some English, I only spoke Dutch with one flatmate who was away for my first week. However, with the other flatmate, I started speaking in English with him and continued for the first and second week and found it incredibly hard to get out of that routine with him for the whole stay.

I also met up with a good Dutch friend of mine from Esperanto meetings shortly after I had arrived, as well as another language blogger who is Dutch and didn’t even try to speak Dutch to the two of them. I was used to using other languages with them in the past.

But this just proves that if the learner is lazy, they will get no results. It is also incredibly hard to break a routine with someone once you have set it and “what language our relationship will be in” is an incredibly important decision to make from the start! So I’m really glad that I got into the routine from the start with the vast majority of people.

The only other times I spoke in English with the Dutch was at Couchsurfing meetings, while other foreigners (who know no Dutch) were present. To speak Dutch in this case, even when there are five Dutch speakers and one foreigner, would be very un-Dutch-like.

Why some people MAY get answered in English, and what to do differently

I didn’t get answered back in English (apart from the examples above where I wasn’t even speaking in Dutch) because of a few factors that are entirely up to the learner. Do not blame the local culture for this!

There are many good ways to learn to speak quickly and it’s up to you to be convincing. The following points are especially what I did differently to many other foreigners here:

1. Work on reducing your accent, especially your R!!

I’d say this is a priority; way more than when you should study grammar. I spoke terrible Dutch from the start, and slightly less terrible Dutch after a few weeks, but I did it with no strong accent.

People here simply associate an English-accent with laziness or unwillingness to learn and may make the switch even if you are genuinely trying, because they have met so many others with your accent in the past who simply were not really interested in learning.

This is even true when they know you are an English speaker! I pretty much always told people I was Irish, but the accent told them otherwise and that’s what helped keep them from switching. I’d say this is more of a subconscious tendency than a conscious decision.

The Dutch R that is rolled at the back of the throat is quite unique, and I didn’t put in the work to learn it this time. But I found my rolled R from Spanish/Italian to be a useful substitute, especially since they do use this R in some dialects of Dutch. I’ve been told that my accent sounded Icelandic or Italian or Eastern European, and since the tendency is to not speak English with these groups (at least the latter ones), they didn’t with me.

2. Speak in Dutch from the start!

There are many reasons I suggest a “speak from day one” approach. Efficiency in learning quickest is the obvious, but one I don’t mention as an important reason that really needs to be emphasised in this case is that it is very hard to change the language you are used to speaking with someone. As shown in the very rare examples above, I am as prone to this issue as anyone else, and I’m really glad I was very restricted in who I did use English with.

Yes, it will be frustrating – to be honest my time in Amsterdam has indeed been quite frustrating because I know that a huge amount of the city is partying in other languages and I could have simply joined them, and it was a challenge to make friends with the Dutch (more on that in a later post).

Not speaking Dutch would have been the easy road, but then I would not have made genuine cultural discoveries. If I was living here long term, the sacrifice of a few months of intensively learning Dutch would enhance years living here dramatically. It’s worth the sacrifice. I made it before in my first foreign language and the pay-offs have lasted me almost a decade so far!

Start as you mean to go on; speak in Dutch (or whatever the language may be) with everyone you meet! And one way to do this is:

3. Give yourself a head-start

If you are already in the country, then you have to make the tough switch as soon as you can, but if you aren’t, you have a HUGE advantage of time to be able to prepare yourself!

While I like to move to a new country with zero preparation (I’m doing it again mid-June!) this is one aspect of my language learning that I highly discourage others to copy. I do it for the adventure and for the challenge, (it’s fun) but it is definitely not helping me learn the language. You will never see me advise people to wait until you get there before you start. When people email me and say “I’m moving to Spain etc. in six months” I always reply to say, then why haven’t you started speaking already now??

While I didn’t do it with Dutch, I had an interesting head-start anyway thanks to my German, which I could use as a crutch to get me into the flow of a similar language (I won’t have this advantage with my next language). That was my head-start; although I certainly wouldn’t suggest you learn German in order to learn Dutch ;) The point is that you need a head-start. If you are going to these countries, try and study the right basic materials, and then when you have some ground-work, after a few hours or a few days, look for online or in-person spoken opportunities immediately to get you into the flow of using it with a native.

The secret is to hit the ground running when you get to the country. As a polyglot, I have a different head-start in that I’ve done this before in general so I have no hang-ups about the whole experience, but you will find it incredibly hard to arrive in a country and just switch to a foreign language with no experience in doing so already. If you have time to prepare, use it. Do not squander months before moving; use them to speak now.

4. Be convincing and confident

Even in my first days speaking Dutch, I could still keep people interested in following me as I desperately tried to think of simple words to use. My strategy is to inject a lot of personality into my conversations. In my first weeks I generally don’t have a clue how to say so many things, but I say the little I do know with incredible confidence.

Hesitating, umming, second guessing yourself, thinking too much, squirming and generally showing through your body language that you are having a terribly uncomfortable time speaking their language, will mean that since they are nice people they will speak English to you! It’s them being generous to save you from this torture.

Don’t torture yourself, think of something quickly that may have some mistakes in it and spit it out. The only people I find that grammar mistakes in natural conversations truly annoy are some language teachers or pedantic other learners. The vast majority of the population you will meet are happy with hearing you try hard and don’t mind if you make mistakes as long as you do it well enough to get the message across.

When you start well and keep up this flow, within a few months you’ll be making dramatic progress towards fluency!

————-

My time in Amsterdam is coming to an end! I still have a few other observations to share though, about the Dutch and their language. Hopefully this point about how they will NOT reply to you in English if you do it right will be taken into account by other learners; if you try a little harder you can speak in their language to them all the time!

When you do this, you will open doors to many cultural discoveries that are simply not possible through English alone. I hope more try; despite frustration in trying to get to know Dutch, who tend to be more closed off than other cultures I am used to, I am very glad I stuck to it. I’ve learned so much in the last 8 weeks, and will share some of that with you in more posts soon.

Your thoughts on this appreciated in the comments below!

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  • WC

    It’s apparently quite common in Japan to have English-bubble groups, too.  When I visit, it’s going to be really hard to not join them, but I certainly intend to try.

    As for accent…  Any tips?  (A entire post on the subject is encouraged!) ;)  I find in Japanese that if I put on my best fake Japanese accent (meaning I feel like I’m faking an accent instead of using my own voice) that things actually work out quite well.  I haven’t tried it with any other language, though.  I was wondering if that’s normal…  If it’s a good way to start…  Or what?

    Thanks for another great post, Benny!

  • WC

    It’s apparently quite common in Japan to have English-bubble groups, too.  When I visit, it’s going to be really hard to not join them, but I certainly intend to try.

    As for accent…  Any tips?  (A entire post on the subject is encouraged!) ;)  I find in Japanese that if I put on my best fake Japanese accent (meaning I feel like I’m faking an accent instead of using my own voice) that things actually work out quite well.  I haven’t tried it with any other language, though.  I was wondering if that’s normal…  If it’s a good way to start…  Or what?

    Thanks for another great post, Benny!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Yes, putting on a good “fake accent” is really helpful! If I can think of a blog post I will, but it’s really just mimicking them as well as you can, in body language and all! Otherwise I’ve discussed in other posts how I found that SINGING lessons can actually be really helpful for accent reduction :)

    • http://joop.kiefte.eu/ Joop Kiefte

      My experience is that in the beginning it’s a very good step to fake the accent. You are simply not accustomed to the natural flow of the language yet, so you have a better shot at getting it right by faking the accent. Over time you won’t be able to maintain the fake voice however, because you are getting a better feel of how the locals really speak the language, and it will fade into a more natural way of speaking for you. At least that’s how it worked for me with Brazilian Portuguese. Nowadays it’s sounding very natural for me how they speak here, but the first impression was definitely an over-the-top way to speak the language.

    • http://joop.kiefte.eu/ Joop Kiefte

      My experience is that in the beginning it’s a very good step to fake the accent. You are simply not accustomed to the natural flow of the language yet, so you have a better shot at getting it right by faking the accent. Over time you won’t be able to maintain the fake voice however, because you are getting a better feel of how the locals really speak the language, and it will fade into a more natural way of speaking for you. At least that’s how it worked for me with Brazilian Portuguese. Nowadays it’s sounding very natural for me how they speak here, but the first impression was definitely an over-the-top way to speak the language.

  • http://twitter.com/americancloggie Tiffany J. Jansen

    I know what saved me is my ability to mimick the Dutch accent. I think in your case, it’s the fact that you sounded strongly eastern european in the beginning and then more hispanic towards the end (and your constant use of the German ‘und’ instead of ‘en’).  Based on what I heard in your videos, I imagine people generally assumed you didn’t speak any English. The people with the real issues here in having people speak English to them even if they try in Dutch are those with really strong Canadian/American/British accents when they speak. I have friends with very excellent Dutch, but strong northern American accents. When that’s detected is when the switch occurs. Not all the time, but definitely with greater frequency. Perhaps, as you suggest, because of the reputation those nationalities have of being lazy language learners. What I love most about the Dutch ability to speak English is that you can just use the English word and they can automatically tell you what the Dutch word is (like the girl helping you out with samenvoegen in your most recent video). I’ve learned so much vocabulary that way!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Yes, I highly suspect it’s their accents causing the switch and that a few days intensively focusing on that rather than learning words or grammar would help them immensely.

      It certainly is handy that the Dutch can be your own personal walking dictionaries. It’s good when applied as you do it, but it could also lead to potential laziness, with the English word used and not replaced at all.

      In other languages I’ve learned in the past, it’s been helpful that I’ve had to explain the word I want using other words as this means I can keep English entirely out of the conversation and not drift into thinking via English.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    I’ve had bad experiences with linguists (from many sub-fields) in the past when it comes to language perfectionism. Perhaps it’s just the two or three I’ve met in person and then a small extremely voicy group that are assholes online independent of being linguists. Although I did meet a very friendly bunch of them when in Austin. I’ve rephrased that part.

    Hopefully I’ll meet less aggressive linguists in future who will make sure I don’t drop such comments in posts.

  • http://jessdoesstuff.blogspot.com/ Jessica Peter

    I was impressed through Germany how many people would speak German back if I started in German. But I have to say, I still find it terrifying to start! The easiest time I had, however, was with one of the (apparently) few people in Berlin that swore they didn’t speak any English (working at the bahnhof, of all places). And she ended up complimenting my poor German.  Maybe she was faking for my benefit ;)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      I also met quite a few people in Berlin with poor or very little English. From them compliments are genuine since you are doing more than they dare to if you can use the little you have confidently ;)

  • http://anamericanlinguist.wordpress.com/ Dave

    Great post. I’m glad I read this one, because before I was under the impression that you encourage people to go in with zero experience in the language. I completely agree that being well prepared and having a solid foundation in a language is crucial to traveling. People don’t switch to English to be mean, but to be able to communicate better! Which is really our goal in language learning too, is it not? But if you’re confident, and can communicate without problems, I find others to be very happy to speak in their own language in their own country. I also would lump reducing your accent in with giving yourself a head start, that should be something that one practices constantly (while I admit, I don’t sound perfectly like a native in any of my languages, its what I strive for).

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      I don’t believe I’ve ever encouraged people to wait until they get to a country before starting. Hopefully mentions like this make it clearer.
      However, I disagree with the reason why people change. Pretty much every single person I have spoken Dutch to would have better English than I would Dutch. We stuck to speaking in Dutch because I was convincing enough, not because it was the better means of communication.
      Best of luck with your accent reduction!

  • http://youcangetfit.wordpress.com/ Brooke

    I hate to say that I was just so terrified (yep, I was one of those) during my 6 weeks in Denmark a few years ago–the locals all seem to speak from the back of their mouth, hard to understand…that rather than trying to come across as “ignorant American”, I just stayed silent so many times. I attempted the standard phrases but couldn’t get much farther than that.

    I promise you that next time, in another country, I’ll do much better! :) (Yes, there will be a next time!)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Good! All the fear really is in your head! I hope you can get over it next time :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/ilanartist Ilana Schwartz

    All of this is so useful. I can’t wait to start traveling so I could finally put my academic studies to use! Awesome job, Benny.

    I wish I could roll my R’s though :/

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Read my post linked to here about that, it’s really not that hard with a bit of practice!

  • Anonymous

    Considering your title including northern europe, and yet the main article referring to Dutch as the focus language, I can only come to the conclusion that you’ve missed that Holland is not a Northern European country.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Europe 

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Considering you are leaving a comment for the sole purpose of nitpicking, “I can only come to the conclusion that you’ve missed” that Holland is not a country at all! Annoying when someone is so pedantic isn’t it? ;)

      Also, that map is a terrible guide. The entirety of the Netherlands is clearly at about the same latitude range as England and yet it isn’t “North” like England? It’s also further east than England and yet it’s Western Europe and England isn’t?

      There are commonalities that Northern European countries share, culturally and geographically. The Netherlands is a Northern European country in my book.

      • Anonymous

        Actually, I thought Holland was a valid reference to Netherlands and I have been using it wrong. I didn’t find you setting me straight annoying at all, on the contrary, i feel enlightened to a fact.  :)

        Being from a scandinavian country, I thought it was very odd that the Netherlands was considered Northern Europe, so I looked it up on Wikipedia.  

        Disagreeing with the map doesn’t make it correct. Those regions aren’t just opinions.

        Anyway, thanks for setting me straight on Holland :) And thank you for the article, I enjoyed reading it, and I apologize for being annoying and nitpicking. 

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

          Holland works if you are talking about the football team mostly, but it’s wrong to call the country that, since Holland is a subset of the Netherlands. It’s almost like saying “England” when referring to the United Kingdom.

          I’m not using a North-South-East-West divide when I talk about Europe, so I’m not referring to the map. Referencing a map with a political division system “doesn’t make it correct”. I’m referring to north versus south, and in this case the Netherlands is definitely north. Whether it’s west or east too is irrelevant when I’m only talking about latitude.

          Glad you liked my correction, and thanks for taking it so sportingly. But I still don’t care much for that map you gave when we are talking about different things.

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

          Holland works if you are talking about the football team mostly, but it’s wrong to call the country that, since Holland is a subset of the Netherlands. It’s almost like saying “England” when referring to the United Kingdom.

          I’m not using a North-South-East-West divide when I talk about Europe, so I’m not referring to the map. Referencing a map with a political division system “doesn’t make it correct”. I’m referring to north versus south, and in this case the Netherlands is definitely north. Whether it’s west or east too is irrelevant when I’m only talking about latitude.

          Glad you liked my correction, and thanks for taking it so sportingly. But I still don’t care much for that map you gave when we are talking about different things.

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

          Holland works if you are talking about the football team mostly, but it’s wrong to call the country that, since Holland is a subset of the Netherlands. It’s almost like saying “England” when referring to the United Kingdom.

          I’m not using a North-South-East-West divide when I talk about Europe, so I’m not referring to the map. Referencing a map with a political division system “doesn’t make it correct”. I’m referring to north versus south, and in this case the Netherlands is definitely north. Whether it’s west or east too is irrelevant when I’m only talking about latitude.

          Glad you liked my correction, and thanks for taking it so sportingly. But I still don’t care much for that map you gave when we are talking about different things.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Keep guessing! ;) Answer coming in just over a week in the e-mail list!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Yes, modern communicative language learning is, and that’s the precise approach I promote on this blog ;)
    However, I have met a few linguists who are against the communicative approach, and they are terrible people to use it on as they will do nothing but remind you how terrible your level is. Luckily it’s a unique exception.

  • Niamh

    Benny how do you deal with having to memorize the genders of nouns in German? Do you know of any methods Besides straight up memorization?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      I discussed memorising genders of German nouns in great detail in a guide I wrote specifically about German grammar and vocabulary here: http://fi3m.com/why-german-is-easy/
      Otherwise, you can get the gist of what I do in general for all languages when it comes to gender in this blog post: http://fi3m.com/gender-issues/
      Straight up memorisation as recommended in many language courses is a terrible way to go about it!!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Excellent addition! I personally never needed to use that phrase here, but I have had to on occasion in other cultures specifically when I meet someone who wants to practice their English (more urgent for countries with a weaker level than the Netherlands). It’s definitely an important addition, since I can see how simply asking nicely would change their mind if you DID have the accent.

    I discussed it in more detail here actually: http://fi3m.com/how-to-convince-natives-to-speak-to-you-in-their-language/

    Great job on improving your pronunciation! :)

  • Anonymous

    Great advice Benny! Especially in combination with this article of yours http://www.fluentin3months.com/how-to-convince-natives-to-speak-to-you-in-their-language/. I wish you had written that over one year earlier, would have helped a great bit :D. When I was in Scandinavia I should have made more use of the “fake it till you make it”-approach. I think what you wrote about lets say “linguistic confidence” is quite true. Of course you will still always find people that just are not willing to “cooperate”…I remember a bilingual conversation I had in a Swedish gym at the counter when the lady there was not willing to give up with her English, while I was not willing to give up with my Swedish… :D

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      I always win in linguistic “chicken”. Stubbornness is an excellent quality for any language hacker ;)

      • Tyska

        And in my experience stubborness is really needed in Sweden! I’m from Germany, so my accent in Swedish is naturally not very strong (and not English anyway), but the tendency to switch in order to make it easier for you (and also to show off a little) was very present during my time there. But as you say, be stubborn and what I found helpful, try to get into groups of Swedes (like friends or in my case a family) who are used to speak Swedish to one another and they will not switch as often as they might when they’re alone.
        Thanks for the article though, it’s a good reminder for my stay in the Czech Republic soon ;)

  • lonutella

    Have you ever encountered the scenario of the native speaking English with you either in order to show off their level of English or simply because they just really want to speak English, as much as you want to speak their language? I certainly have, and I think that’s probably the most difficult obstacle to overcome as far as this “Northern Europeans only speak English to you” issue is concerned!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      I haven’t because my accent and persona gets across to them that I’m “not an English speaker”. Here in Amsterdam they have ample opportunity to practice English, so they won’t lose much sleep over me speaking Dutch to them. As stated here, not a single person cared to speak English with me if I spoke Dutch to them first.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks Ana! Glad to have another reader ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Are you sure they don’t do that anyway? Young people use a lot of English as they speak Dutch among one another.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Are you sure they don’t do that anyway? Young people use a lot of English as they speak Dutch among one another.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Well said! I have no doubts just reaffirming that you are learning the language will keep English at bay ;)

  • http://twitter.com/amy_burr amy elizabeth

    That thing about choosing what language your relationship will be in is so true! I have friends in another country where most people speak English (Israel) and it is very hard to get some of them to speak Hebrew to me. I always have to ask them, which I don’t particularly like doing for some reason haha. But I do it anyway cause it’s worth it!

    Although I do have one friend that used to speak mostly English with me, but since I asked her one time to speak Hebrew we have hardly ever gone back! Actually I have to ask her now to speak English haha. Even though her English is very good! So I guess there are some people that are willing to switch, but they are usually like my friend in that they really want to help you learn (btw, her mom is a teacher so maybe it rubbed off on her a little ;P)

    • Truthsayer

      I find it hard to believe that Israel is a country with predominantly fluent (to native standard) English speakers.

      I’ve not been there, but I know two Israelis who held professional jobs back at home, and came to the US for a short stint, and their English capability is 1) below average in speech with thick Hebrew accent 2) below average in writing, with poor grasp of grammar and very poor vocabulary.

  • Pär Andersson

    I like this blog but…

    The Netherlands & Germany == Northern Europe?

    If you are from Scandinavia then those countries are “on the continent”, far from Northern Europe :)

    • N le Roi

      Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia are often considered belonging politically and economically to “Northern Europe” (according to the context some countries may be in- or excluded). In this case it is valid to say so as well, because the attitude towards foreigners, foreign languages, etc. are to some extent similar in these countries.

  • http://www.facebook.com/keith.holmes.7311 Keith Holmes

    I really enjoy your blog, but I am truly amazed that no one in A’dam ever answered you in English. I have lived in NL for 16 years and I am fluent in Dutch, but it still happens to me. Once I was in McD’s and I only spoke Dutch to the girl behind the counter, and she continuously answered me in English. At the end of the conversation I asked her why she continued to speak to English to me. She was shocked! She had not even noticed that I was speaking Dutch and she was speaking English.

    Secondly, I live in Arnhem and people here hate to go to Amsterdam because people there speak English to EVERYONE. They go into a shop and the clerk says, “Can I help you?” They reply, “Ik ben Nederlander, hoor!” (Hoor means “hear”, not whore. It is not impolite.)

    Which brings up a question: Why do you always go to the capital city to learn a language? Paris for French, Berlin for German, A’dam for Dutch – but you tell people if they want to see the real Ireland got to Galway, not Dublin. Learning a language outside of the capital is not only easier, it is also much, much cheaper.

    • Truthsayer

      My comment for Israel applies to the Netherlands.

      I find it hard to believe that The Netherlands is a country with predominantly fluent (to native standard) English speakers.

      I’ve been there, and the only person I remember there who spoke English with the same fluency as me, was a young American giving free city tours as a volunteer.

      I know a Dutch woman who held a professional job in communications back at home, and came to the US for a short stint, and her English capability is 1) below average in speech with thick Dutch accent 2) below average in writing, with poor grasp of grammar, spelling and poor vocabulary. She spelt “prepare” as “prepair” and enrolled herself as an English as a Second Language teacher in the US to teach English to other foreigners!

      • Gus Mueller

        @Truthsayer: What you find hard to believe really really really really really doesn’t matter. Apparently you find accents in general “thick”.

        You sound like a picky Pete to me.

        • Truthsayer

          We just have different standards in what’s considered ‘basic’.

  • http://twitter.com/Brookelorren Brooke Lorren

    I don’t know about the Netherlands, but when I was in Germany, people assumed that I was German based on my looks. I spoke to everybody in German, and everybody except the guy at the hotel answered in German. It probably didn’t help getting him to respond to me in German that my husband only speaks English.

  • Tomos Burton

    I’ve always spoke to my Welsh-speaking family in English and the last time I saw my auntie was the first time I’ve spoken Welsh to her. It was a big step. Hopefully if I can make it less of a big performance next time that’d be great. I had someone there encouraging me to do it so that made a big difference.

  • John

    Interesting blog. I learnt Dutch whilst living in Maastricht and for many people living there at the time they would prefer to speak their dialect Limburgs/Maastrichts first, English second, if they thought you were a foreigner, and only then would they speak Dutch. My answer from the beginning was to speak only Dutch. If they wanted to exercise their foreign languages I would ask them in French, if they wanted to practice their French. Most Dutch people are rubbish at French and almost all of them would then get it that you were serious about learning their language.

    Just as they can hear that I’m not a native speaker I can tell a Dutch person within a handful of syllables when they start speaking English, and indeed Dutch. I now live in Belgium and for many here the Dutch accent in Dutch is not well received. It even grates on me now;-)

    I know some English people in the Netherlands who have lived there for years and years and still speak only a few words of Dutch. Benny’s message of starting to speak as soon as possible is even more appropriate in the Benelux. If you don’t you’ll never get started.

    I continued learning German when I went back to Wales and my German teacher at Cardiff University evening classes used to laugh at my habit of throwing in a Dutch word with a German twist when I struggled for vocabulary. However I got away with it far more often than she ever knew.

  • Sara Jones

    Hey! I’m from Australia and speak very broken Finnish from staying with a friend’s family in Finland for 4 months. The Aussie accent is not an easy one to hide but they didn’t mind. Nobody asked about it although it was very obvious I was not Finnish and was enduring a lot of pain trying to speak.

    What I can’t stand is the English, American and Australian attitudes to learning languages.

    I don’t speak any French and I was cramming myself with phrases before I went to Paris on holiday. My friend said “Don’t worry they all speak English!” Well they do not. In France’s capital city only 40% of Parisians speak any English! Considering that France is close to England and international relations, that just proves that English is not as popular as we think! If a Parisian doesn’t speak English, why the heck is someone in the Hungarian countryside going to understand you? We all need to really stop being so lazy and get off our arses!

  • Vladimir Georgiev

    I have almost the same experience in Denmark. I started to travel in the world by starting a full Bachelor degree here and now I’m in the 2nd year. The school is in English and even though I got some preparation from home, I got very much brushed off by having to solve accomodation problems and starting school in English + those English speaking bubbles. In international environments Danes are very willing to translate for the foreigners or will say “ohh, it’s in Danish :(“. After hard time finding people and resources I almost completely stopped speaking Enlgish to Danes(except from the teachers) and got quite good accent and good level. People get surprised and ask me how long I’ve BEEN here. But they will not force you, fx. today in the language school one girl told something in English to classmate and the teacher told her(in DK) “Wait for the classes to finish and then speak English” and I asked directly what is the purpose of going to the Danish language school if after classes you start socializing with classmates in English. here is For a native Bulgarian like me it was challange to fight with the soft d, the Danish r and all nuances of vowels.

    I got inspired from your blog to listen more Danish radio shows instead of music and got some books about culture.
    Generally, I’d recommend very much Northern European languages, because these are very high organised societies with traditions in education and very high wages and it’d be useful experience to explore culture like this.