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Quitting English in the Netherlands


Nijmegen, The Netherlands, December 2004* —

I Refused to speak English at the grocer....

— 18 December, 2004

I've had to quit speaking English.

It's a bad habit in Holland, and hard to break.

It's easy to speak English with the Dutch. It's always acceptable, and you don't have to ask. The Dutch speak English, punt uit.

Which means that if you stay, people will speak to you in English. But it also means that they will insist on speaking English. They don't even think about it — they're not even aware of it.

And they know who you are. You speak English. The sound of an English-language accent in Dutchis easy. It's familiar, not unlike the sound of American English to the Irish.

"Confronterend! Ik zal meer geduld hebben met mijn Engels-sprekende collegas die Nederlands proberen te leren."

— Gijs, from my guestbook, April 2008

They learned English in school. And they know you don't speak Dutch—the odds don't even calculate. This means that in the early stages of learning, which lasts long, a whole lot of people are going to ask you "do you speak English?" [when you speak to them in Dutch.] It'll make you crazy.

And if your Dutch is especially poor, they might even deride you: "I speak English too, you know."

The result — to get to the point — is that you have to force the Dutch to speak Dutch with you. You have to kick English long, long before Dutch is the most-practical common language.

Two days now, no English. Yeah, I know — that doesn't mean I've kicked it. It's a beginning.

  — Nijmegen, 31 December 2004**


*Edited for brevity etc., 9 May 2015


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** I left Nijmegen, and The Netherlands, on the 17th of January 2005.

I spent the evening of the 31st of December at a New Year's Eve party, where I spoke only a small bit of English.

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