Teaching English In the Netherlands and Scandanavia

I worked in the hotel industry most of my life, so I’ve run across a lot of interns and people from other countries. One thing I noticed is the interns or workers I’ve run across from the Netherlands and Norway, Sweden and Denmark, tend to speak English VERY well when the arrived in America.

For instance, we had an intern from Greece and Belgium and while both had, what I would call a basic command of the English language, they had trouble speaking it. (I will say after a year in America, it was amazing how fast the folks from Greece and Belgium picked it up and became more or less fluent).

But the workers from the Netherlands and the Scandanavian countries seemd to have a near (if not total) fluency when they arrived. And this was the first time in an English speaking country for all of them.

This has been my experience wherever I am. My question is do they start teaching English earlier in the Netherlands and Scandanavia, or is it they are just exposed to it more or maybe my experience is just incorrect.

I can see in Belguim why English would take a backseat to learning either Dutch or French, (as whatever your native tongue is you’d want to learn the other official language first).

But I’ve noticed even when I go to online message boards, the users from Scandanavia and the Netherlands never seem to have the English problems others do.

I don’t mean this as a rap to other nations, I was just wondering if they teach English any special way or do people in those nations just have more exposure to English.

I’m an Icelandic who grew up in Sweden.

I’d say it’s early exposure. Only kiddy movies are “dubbed”*, so you get it on TV and the cinema, and at least I read english books from age 12 or so.

I started learning English in school at age 10 and had it every year until I graduated “high-school” at age 18.

*translated into Swedish/English

In Sweden we begin to learn English in school at the age of 7-9, and read English from then on. In high school most literature is in English. But perhaps more importantly, just about every TV show or movie we watch are in English, nothing is dubbed in Scandinavia, and just about all music is English/American. It’s also very common to read English/American novels untranslaed, and if you’re a young artist with ambitions, you write your songs in English; Scandinavians are moreover very active on the Internet, and so forth. English is almost as a second language, it’s sort of everywhere.

I don’t know about other countries, but most Swedes have little difficulties getting along in English. I might be an exception. I just came back from a party, so this port might be… contradictory…? I’ll check back tomorrow.

In my experience as an ESL Swede, teaching and studying English play a lesser part than exposure.

Scandinavia and the Netherlands have these things in common:
[li]We’re part of the “western world”, i.e. there are few cultural barriers to overcome for people of these countries to enjoy anglophone culture.[/li][li]Our national languages are linguistically closely related to English.[/li][li]The numbers of speakers of our languages make small markets.[/li][/ul]
The last one is a very (if not the most) important issue. If I buy a new text/speech-heavy game for my Wii (e.g. Zelda), I’ll get to choose between English, French, German, Spanish, and possible some other languages, but seldom Swedish.

In the early days of Hollywood cinema in Europe, dubbing into our languages wasn’t economically viable. Swedish schools shifted from teaching German to English as a “first second language” after WW2 for political and practical reasons. That’s were it all began. As Swedes got more proficient in English, the incentive for translation decreased.

I’ll tell you, it’s still a weird feeling being able to express your thoughts in a foreign language as I am doing right now. I’m somehow still not able to understand most user comments on Youtube, though. :wink:

The rest of your post matches my experiences, but this point does not. In high school nearly all literature was in Swedish when I was in high school. Did this change recently? If you would have said university level rather than high school, I would have agreed.

Regarding the translation of movies. I am soo glad that we don’t put Swedish voice tracks over foreign movies, and use subtitles instead. There’s nothing that takes you out of the experience more than voices not matching lip-movement and being recorded separately, not feeling “in” the scene.

The fact that all foreign movies are subtitled in Swedish probably helps learning a great deal, letting people pick up words and expressions from early on. I agree that exposure has a greater effect than education. Personally I learned most English by myself from movies, games, books, online conversations with foreigners, etc. Of course school helps too, as it lets you learn the foundations more solidly and teaches you to write and formulate yourself in English instead of just passively learning from movies and other media.

Still, there are many that don’t have a very good command over spoken English here in Sweden, as they have mostly been passively learning and never having to use the language much at all. Such people often understand more than they can communicate by themselves, but will relatively quickly pick up the spoken part if put in a situation where it is necessary.

While working in an international facility in Europe where the lingua franca was English, I also noticed that the Dutch and Scandinavians spoke the best English out of anybody (except for native speakers of course).

I believe this is because the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries are wealthy countries whose own native languages aren’t spoken much outside those countries. This is related to Bagistan’s last point, but not only are the “markets” for these languages small, historically these countries would have greater access (b/c of greater resources) to English media and instruction than other countries like Greece or Poland.

You mention a Belgian who wasn’t as fluent, which in my experience with Belgians hasn’t really been true. However, this may be due to two reasons if it’s the case, despite Belgium being a relatively wealthy country:
[li]French-speaking Belgians (Walloons) are already native speakers of a major world language (and a quick look at Wikipedia shows that Walloons, who are also on average poorer than their Dutch-speaking compatriates, have much lower levels of multilingualism)[/li][li] Many Belgians speak both French and Dutch, so adding on a third language to that is probably more difficult than learning English as a second language[/li][/ul]

I wouldn’t be so fast to place them behind the natives. The ones I encounter often speak BETTER English than natives.

You actually have hit on a point. I noticed non-native speakers tend to use less slang and don’t slur words. For instance, American say “junno” instead of “Do you know,” or “Ienga” instead of “I ain’t got.”


Like everybody else said, we learn from watching TV with subtitles.

Also, Dutch people have lots of uses for English even before they visit an English speaking country. English is the gateway to movies, literature and the Internet. But English is also our “poetry language”.

Thoughts that are too personal, or too intimate, sentimental, embarrassing…to form or utter in our blunt mother tongue, become acceptable to ourselves if we say them in English, our language of Cool and Stories. A Dutch youngster will whisper “I love you” to their crush in English, rather then say “Ik hou van je” in Dutch. Fifteen year-olds make their first (bad) poetry, song lyrics or their first graffiti in English.
So, that is a great incentive for learning English for youngsters.

Related question; whats “Dutch” courage in Dutch?

The standard answer I give echoes the above:

Small native tongue. Must learn others to have a route to most entertainment, literature, art, science etc.*

Subtitling on TV. Probably 80% of the programming on Finnish TV is Anglo-American. Nothing is dubbed. Kids constantly hear native speakers of English while simultaneously reading the translation in their own language. This has an influence way beyond anything school could offer.

Finland has been dubbed “the most Americanized country in the world” (Sweden, too). It’s simply thought of as cool and savvy to speak good English. I don’t think the same applies in places like France or Italy. Certainly not as pervasively (not a word, I know) as in here.

*I’ve noticed many American books on even obscure hobbies, sports etc. translated into German (c. 80 million speakers). The Finns, Swedes etc. have to read the same books in English. How’s that for education?

Yes it is :slight_smile:

Well, my 1800-page English dictionary doesn’t have it. :mad:

Not even as the adverbial (?) form of “pervasive”?

I don’t know that that is evidence of the non-natives speaking “better” English. People who say “d’ya know” are perfectly capable of saying “do you know”. That they also have other options is a sign of greater command of the language, not less.
Accomplished non-native speakers may speak a language very “correctly” because they have not mastered the slang.

Isn’t it also the case that Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, as wealthy countries with political centers of gravity far to the left of the United States, and somewhat to the left of most of the rest of Europe, tend to have damn fine public schools?

That’s because most of the user comments on YouTube are written in “imbecile” and not English.

Years ago I was friends with a couple of people on a mailing list and always read their interesting posts and interacted with them sometimes daily. It was months before I happened to find out that both were from Norway! I had no idea. That’s when I gained a healthy respect for Scandinavian English education. Picking up the basics of a language from movies and TV is one thing, but to write fluently, intelligently, articulately, with less spelling and grammar mistakes than someone who was born in an English speaking/writing family, I was very very impressed.

As someone who only speaks English, I have no idea how that is done. Do you switch back and forth in your head? Do you translate to yourself on the fly? The ability is fascinating to me, but I know less than zero about it.

[hijack]I don’t understand people who put up videos and then don’t tend their Comments section. There are “Remove” and “Post Comment After Approval” options available for a reason. Why oh why don’t more people use them? It’s baffling to me.[/hijack]

I am the same way. I noticed that in the people I’ve known from Belgium speak English well, but when you talk to them you can often see they are translating. You can see the “wheels turning” in their head to find the right word. And they do. Again I’m not knocking it, but I noticed with the Dutch speakers, you tend not to see this.

As one poster noted I would say because Belgians have French and Dutch as their languages, English may be a third language for them.

As for translating, I worked in a hotel owned by people from China, and what I found fascinating was they would hire Chinese people and I’d train them, and they’d take notes, and I’d be explaining how, say the PBX (phone) board works; and I’d be telling them in English, they’d be answering me in English and they’d be writing their notes in Chinese. And they’d do it so quickly, so they are obviously translating.

No I’m sorry as an English person who is very familiar with native English speakers internationally many of the people who slur or who have unitelligible accents and/or are heavy users of slang or colloquial speech are in fact incapable of speaking intelligent or lucid English.

They do not speak the way they do as a matter of choice or because they are expounding their heritage but because they seem to know no better inspite of the media barrage upon their ears.

And yes many Europeans speak much,much better English then us natives.

Related but not on topic,I always remember being in a backpackers hostel in Amsterdam where there was a Brazilian behind the counter serving an African customer and they both wothout thinking started the conversation in English,this in the Netherlands remember.

I’ve yet to see this in Mandarin Chinese.