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How to choose a Dutch to English translator

Small country, large language ability

Anywhere from 90-93% of the Dutch population claims to be conversant in English. Its small size, dependency on trade, and use of subtitles for foreign media have all contributed to fluency in English. In addition, the Dutch language is a cousin of English—both languages are closely related West Germanic languages. Occupations requiring knowledge of English are also abundant in the Netherlands. Finally, English is an official language of Amsterdam and the Caribbean municipalities of Sint Eustatius and Saba.

So why is it so difficult to find a good Dutch to English translation? Blame Dunglish.

Dutch document translation


Dunglish is a mashup of the words Dutch and English (in Dutch, steenkolenengels, literally: “coal English”). It is a popular term for the mistakes that native Dutch speakers make when speaking English.

Common Dunglish errors involve pronunciation, word order, meaning, false friends, and false cognates. Because the level of English is so high in the Netherlands, this can lead to a false sense of security. However, even the best Dutch speakers of English can make mistakes. Former Dutch ambassador and prime minister Dries van Agt famously asserted “I can stand my little man”. This is a translation of ik kan mijn mannetje staan, Dutch for “I can stand up for myself”. The former leader of the Dutch Liberal Party, Frits Bolkestein, repeatedly referred to economic prospects as “golden showers,” unaware of the term’s sexual connotation.

Incorrect meaning of words

Dunglish is rife with false friends, incorrectly translated words for understandable reasons. Examples include:

• The Dutch verb solliciteren means to apply for a job, which can lead to some hairy situations when someone claims they have come to solicit!
• Former prime minster Joop den Uyl once famously remarked that “the Dutch are a nation of undertakers.” The Dutch verb ondernemen is literally the English undertake (as onder means under and nemen means take). The noun ondernemer is therefore literally undertaker, but in idiomatic English we use the French loanword entrepreneur. In English, an undertaker is someone who prepares dead bodies for funerals.

Word order

Some Dutch speakers may use syntax inappropriately in English, creating errors like What mean you? instead of What do you mean?.

Dutch and English do not follow the same word order. English follows subject-verb-object word order, Dutch only partially does, along with a verb-second order. This is a particularly vexing challenge for native Dutch spe
akers, and all the more reason to seek a native Dutch to English translator.

Compound nouns written as one wordDutch translation company

In English, only certain compound nouns can be written as one word, while in Dutch the default is to write a compound noun as a single word. This can be seen in errors in English text on signs—at Schiphol Airport, for example, one can see signs for “boardingpass,” “traintickets,” and “meetingpoints.”

How to find an excellent Dutch to English translator

It cannot be denied that the Dutch are excellent speakers of English. However, with possible errors in pronunciation, verb conjugation, usage of false friends, and compound nouns written as one word, we advise that you choose carefully when selecting a Dutch to English translator.

When seeking to have your documents translated from Dutch to English, you want your native English-speaking audience to fully understand your message. You want your English to be idiomatic, precise, culturally relevant and error free. That’s why it is vitally important that you either hire a native English translator working out of Dutch or, at the very least, a Dutch translator working into English with a native English proofreader checking the translation before it is handed off.

At Go Dutch Translation, we follow best industry practices by using native target language translators. But we go even one step further: as an opposite pair translation team, we have two translators working on every translation at one time. Each translation is handled by two translators going Dutch and sharing the burden—one native in the source language, and one native in the target. This ensures complete bidirectional understanding and a flawless end result. And the best part is that as a translation team, we have lower overhead than costly large translation agencies to save you money when you need it most.

Contact us today for more information regarding Dutch to English translations.