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The differences between English and Dutch

Introduction: Dutch is part of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family. It is, therefore, closely related to English, German and the Scandinavian languages. Dutch is spoken as a mother tongue by about 23 million people in the Netherlands, parts of Belgium and in the former Dutch colonies.

The Dutch generally do not expect foreigners to know their language; they learn and are usually good at learning other languages, particularly English. This is only partly due to similarities in the languages themselves. It is also due to the pervasiveness of English in the everyday lives of Dutch people. In general, the Dutch do not try to resist the adoption of English words into their language in the way that the French do.

Alphabet: Dutch uses the same Latin alphabet as English.

Phonology: The Dutch and English sound systems are similar, so Dutch learners tend not to have significant problems perceiving or producing oral English. Mispronunciation of vowel sounds may occur, however, in minimal pairs such as sit-seat / sit-set / set-sat / not-nut / caught-coat. Many English words end with voiced consonants, for example /b/ (rub) or /d/ (bird). This feature does not exist in Dutch, so such words may be pronounced rup or birt. The English consonant sound /w/ is problematic for some Dutch learners, leading them to say vine instead of wine. Predictably, the /θ/ and /ð/ sounds are difficult; think may be pronounced sink or tink, and than pronounced dan.

The stress and intonation patterns in Dutch and English are similar. There is nothing to prevent Dutch learners acquiring accents that make it hard to distinguish them from native English speakers. A common problem for beginners, however, is avoid giving too much stress to words that English speakers swallow; for example: than and but in the following sentence: She's taller than her sister but shorter than her mother.

Grammar - Verb/Tense: The Dutch verb system has similar tenses to English and is similarly uninflected. There are differences, however, that may result in negative transfer. For example, Dutch does not use the auxiliary do in questions or negatives, so beginners may produce sentences such as: Where you come from? / I drink not beer. There is no progressive form in Dutch, leading to errors such as: I had a bath when he phoned.

A more significant and intractable problem is the lack of correspondence between the tenses in which certain meanings are expressed in Dutch and the tenses in which those meanings are expressed in English. For example, English requires the past simple where Dutch uses the present perfect or the present perfect where Dutch uses the present simple. Mistakes such as the following are common: I have played tennis yesterday / I am in Germany since 2003. Similarly, Dutch uses the present simple where English requires the auxiliary will: I meet you at the gate after school.

Grammar - Other: Dutch follows the same basic Subject-Verb-Object as English but there are many differences in the positioning of adverbials. Furthermore, Dutch shares with German the need to invert subject and verb if an adverbial or other element starts the sentence. Like German, it also sends the verb to the end of the clause after modal verbs or if the clause is subordinate one. Mistakes such as the following are common: I play often chess with my friend / I play everyday chess / That have I said already / I didn't think that he his homework had done.

Dutch uses definite and indefinite articles in much the same way as English. There are some minor differences that may negatively transfer, however. One example: My father is teacher. Dutch does not distinguish between adjective and adverb forms, resulting in interference errors such as She sings very beautiful.

Vocabulary: Dutch and English have a great number of cognates, basic Germanic vocabulary and shared Romance vocabulary. It is relatively easy, therefore, for Dutch learners to begin to quickly understand the English they hear or read. It is equally easy to choose a 'false friend' to use in their own speaking or writing. Example: I need some actual information (the Dutch word actueel means current, up-to-date).

Miscellaneous: Dutch is generally simple and consistent in its spelling rules. It is to be expected. therefore, that learners of English will experience frustration at the unpredictable spelling of English words. Conversely, they may be led to mispronounce the multitude of English words with silent letters, such as knife, thumb, solemn.

Differences in punctuation conventions between English and Dutch may result in 'run-on' sentences such as: I love Amsterdam, it's an exciting city; or the unnecessary insertion of a comma in reported speech or sentences with relative clauses: I didn't know, how to do it.

Differences in conversation conventions may make the Dutch speaker of English seem uninterested or even impolite. For example: This film is good! - Yes. (instead of Yes it is. / Yes, you're right.)

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