04 June 2013

"Spreekt u Engels?" "Yes, a little."

Us: "Spreekt u Engels?" (Do you speak English?)
About 90% of the people we come in contact with: "Yes, a little."

What's amazing about the "Yes, a little" answer is that the person is almost always conversationally fluent in English. This was shocking, yet extremely helpful, when we first arrived in Holland and at times I continue to be straight-out amazed by this. Anyone from store employees (very helpful when we purchased our washing machine) to even young kids (wanting to practice their English after they hear me talking to the Little Man on the playground) seem to have a familiarity with English.

Someone once put it this way to Mark: If you live in a country with a population of about 16 million people and you only speak one language, you are limited to the number of people you can speak to in an increasingly globalized world. To compensate, people learn English (and often German, French, Spanish, etc.) in school early on, and English is reinforced by its use in advertisements and by popular American and British television programming and movies shown on the European continent.

And this all makes a great deal of sense. In particular, it is a considerable concern for businesses. I recently attended a Cambridge English conference in Amsterdam for teachers of English as a Second Language, and heard from several people that emphasized how their clients are associated with the same company, located in different countries, speak different primary languages, and communicate with each other in English. I never quite appreciated that English is increasingly used as the language of business - it's not something you necessarily think about in America with a population of 316 million people - the majority of whom speak fluent English and are not making international communications. Knowing all of this now, it's amazing to think of how easy we've had it up until this point, living and working in a country where language skills are not considered all that important (excepting certain regions of America and Spanish fluency).

That being said, we still feel it's important to get a better grasp on the Dutch language (hence, the language lessons and sending Little Man to a Dutch school) - it makes daily interactions so much easier when you know the language. We'll continue to plug away at it, but I'll be the first to admit: It's comforting to know that if there is a real emergency, chances are pretty good we can work through it in English.


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