Every client is unique but if you analyse a group of people who all speak the same language, they tend to make the same mistakes as each other in English. As we are also based in the Netherlands, my main exposure is to Dutch speakers. The Dutch are renowned for their language skills and have recently become known as the country with the highest current English literacy levels in Europe.
It is true that most Dutch people, unless you are out in small villages in the countryside, speak pretty good English. However, due to the structural differences between the two languages, there are predictable errors that nearly every Dutch speaker of English makes. Here are my top 5.
- Mixing up the word order
English word order rules are actually not very flexible. For sentences in the present and the past, and the future, as well as negative sentences and questions, the basic, standard word order in English remains. Dutch word order is far more flexible and has completely different rules and priorities. While jumbling your word order is not always a huge problem in terms of being understood, it does tend to project an air of confusion which is highly unprofessional.
- Using Present Continuous instead of Present Simple
Every Dutch person who I have heard speak English makes this simple error. It has led me to believe that the term ‘continuous’ is partly responsible. But also, if you are speaking to someone face to face, it is easy to understand their real meaning. Using the continuous to talk about things that are regular and recurring instead of about things that you are in the middle of doing is not the worst error ever. However, it does tend to interrupt the flow of speaking and writing and easily identifies even a fluent, non-native speaker.
- Confusing Past Simple and Present Perfect
The present perfect tense in English is a dense and complex way of talking about the present, by referring to the past. But it is its physical resemblance to the Dutch complete past tense that causes the most headaches. Most Dutch people, seeing or hearing ‘has’ or ‘have’ before a past tense verb simply assume that the action is complete and that the topic is entirely in the past, completely missing the present aspect of this particular form of present tense.
- Leaving out future-indicating words
The way we speak about the future is not so much a tense as the present tense used with words that indicate a time in the future… such as ‘will’, ‘going to’ and so on. It is a regular Dutch tendency to just use present simple without these words, leading to some confusion as to what time period is being referred to.
- Directly Translating Prepositions
Prepositions seem to be selected based on cultural logic. Which is to say that, even if you know the exact word in translation (for example met = with) that word is not always used in exactly the same way and often a different preposition is required. There are no simple rules for prepositions, we kind of need to absorb them through observation and repetition.
Wirtschaftssprachen Language Learning Tip:
Sometimes it’s better NOT to focus on how your target language is similar to your current one. These similarities can lead you to see other similarities where there are none. As adults, it is often better to go back to the beginning of the logic chain and lay down new associations instead of trying to extend the existing ones.
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By: David Chislett
Trainer Business English
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