Dunglish at its best

These past couple of weeks my students have been taking exams and that means that I had to do a bunch of grading. Grading can be quite a tedious task, but not when you find the creative solutions an linguistic oddities I encountered during this round. Many of my students are not good at English. Some of them are quite dreadful, but even if they are quite proficient, the occasional mistake is easily made. The reason: using their Dutch brains. Sometimes it goes right and sometimes it goes wrong. Here are some examples of what you get when you mix Dutch and English, in other words: Dunglish.

Now some of the mistakes you’re about to see are caused by bad grammar, others by spelling or a confusion of words. I will try to give the Dutch sentence for each of them and also give the correct English translation if possible, because of some of these I sort of get the gist, but not exactly. Hope that Dutchies learning English can learn something from this, but I’m hoping this may also be useful the other way round.

1. “Now we have to sell a no to our customers”.

Dutch: Nu moeten we nee verkopen aan onze klanten. English: Now we have to give our customers no as an answer.

This is a classic example of idiomatic expression gone bad. When learning a language, it’s best to leave the idiomatic expressions for what they are and not use them at all. These expressions can hardly ever be translated one on one. If you want to read more of these, I can recommend the book “I always get my sin” by Maarten Rijkens.

2. “The problems that confront us…”

Dutch: De problemen die zich voordoen… English: The problems that occur…

Here there is a case of mistranslation. This usually happens when people misuse the dictionary and simply pick the first word they see when looking something up. Different contexts, however, can create different meanings and so you will need a different word.

3. “Lastly, I would like to generate an obligation concern this problem.”

Dutch: Als laatste wil ik u wijzen op uw verplichtingen met betrekking tot dit probleem. English: Lastly, I would like to stress your obligations concerning this problem.

This sentence has multiple problems: concern should be a gerund (with -ing) and on top of that there is a mistake in referring to the problem, as well as a mistranslation.

4. “A few roses became to could during the way to us.”

Dutch: Een paar rozen zijn te koud geworden op weg naar ons. English: A few roses became too cold during shipment.

This is mainly a spelling problem (to = too and could = cold) combined with a nice expression gone wrong.

5. “We will not let fall our cooperation.”

Dutch: We willen onze samenwerking niet laten vallen. English: We wish not to end our cooperation, or: We would like to continue our cooperation.

In this sentence I would like to point out ‘will’. In Dutch, willen, means English want. Now in letter writing, want is deemed not that polite so students have to use would like or wish to make it more polite. Obviously, English also has will, but that means zullen, which indicates future or a promise or intend.

6. “We had to dissapointed our constumers who placed orders.”

Dutch: We moesten onze klanten die bestellingen geplaatst hadden teleurstellen. English: We had to disappoint our customers who placed orders.

Here it’s first of all spelling + grammar in dissapointed. After ‘to’ you usually get an infinitive in English, not past tense and there is something that’s doubled in disappointed, but it’s the p, rather than the s. The real interesting and, dare I say, creative mistake here is of course the word: constumers. Often times, people think they know a word, while they actually don’t. I have this all the time. Not too long ago I mixed up the expressions I am in need of and I have a need for. Pfff the differences are just so small!

7. “We also think that it will be proper if we get the money from this order back.”

Dutch: Wij vinden ook dat het netjes is als we het geld voor deze bestelling terugkrijgen. English: We also think it is appropriate if we get the money back on this order.

There are again several things going on here. Proper vs. appropriate is a mistake easily made, either by finding the wrong word in the dictionary or because someone remembered the wrong thing. The second part of the sentence shows a common word order mistake. In Dutch you often place verbs at the end of subclauses, where as in English you do not.

8. “We recommend that you should introduce an abolish membership.”

Dutch: ??? English: ???

This is one sentence I cannot translate. Here someone obviously misunderstood the phrase abolish membership and interpreted as a certain type of membership. Now abolish (Dutch: afschaffen) cannot be used in this way, so you cannot introduce an abolish membership. There is simply no such thing.

9. “There is seeing in The Netherlands a increase of impulsive humans.”

Dutch: Er kan een toename van impulsieve mensen waargenomen worden in Nederland. English: An increase can be seen in impulsivity in people.

Again, this sentence is a mixture of problems. First there is the problem of the ‘There is’ construction. About a year ago, I wrote a post about There is/ There are constructions in Dutch and English, so the explanation for this mistake can be found here. I also love the phrase: impulsive humans. Again, a result of mistranslation.

10. “It’s the first cut back and the worriest one.”

Dutch: Het is de eerste terugslag en de ergste. English: It’s the first throw-back and the worst one.

Last but not least, we have another case of: ‘I sort of know what that word was, but not quite’. Especially worriest is confusing to me. Still, if you look at English grammar it might be explicable. Obviously whoever wrote this confused bad-worse-worst with the word worry, which according to the rule of comparison would become worry-worrier-worriest. Unfortunately worry cannot be used in comparisons in this way as it’s a verb, but when turned into an adjective you would get: worry -> worried, more worried, most worried. Almost there!

What do (or: did) you find difficult when learning a language?

8 Comments Add yours

  1. AWO says:


    1. indiequeen84 says:

      I know right!

  2. Wesley King says:

    Yeah, some are pretty funny. I was surprised to find that even with my limited Dutch skills, I understood a lot of the material here. I must be learning something after all…

    One thought that came to mind here that continues to fascinate me is that there seems to be quite a difference between comprehension of something in a 2L, and an ability to translate it accurately into one’s 1L. While I’m curious to hear what you see in your experience teaching English, it almost seems odd to use translation exercises as a testing tool.

    The reason is that I find quite often that I can more or less grok a Dutch sentence I read, but I stumble (badly) attempting to construct a translation of it to English on-the-fly (e.g., when telling someone about a Dutch language tweet I just read). If I really work at it, I can manage, but it requires real concentration, real effort, and time—far more so than I’d expect. It’s as if my brain can’t quite manage to slide easily between Dutch mode and English mode.

    Of course, I also have a lot of trouble following stories when I read Dutch; as if my brain is working so hard just trying to decode the language that once the meaning is understood, it’s discarded the moment I start decoding the next sentence. Sort of frustrating.

    I can certainly begin to see how and why researchers conclude that bilingual (or multilingual) individuals are “smarter.” You’re developing all sorts of cognitive skills that have application in lots of other domains.

    I always love your language posts in particular. Keep ’em coming. 😉

    1. indiequeen84 says:

      Oh I think I didn’t clarify this enough in the post but the assignment was to write letter of complaint or an analytical report. Assignments were completely in English, no translation needed. In fact, I always tell my students that they should never try to translate anything as it leads to mistakes. The examples in the post are pretty much them coming up with what to write in Dutch first and then translating it into English.

      Translation is something that is soooo difficult. I took a course on Dutch – English translation at university and man was it hard. Especially if it’s on topics you are not familiar with (i.e. contracts/ legal terminology or worse: poetry). So you’re not the only one! Translation really is in a league of its own when it comes to skill, comprehension and proficiency. Many of my colleagues will ask me to ‘quickly’ translate something, but I usually tell them no as I am not a trained translator. It’s such a common mistake to think that if someone is highly proficient in a language that they can then also translate it perfectly.

      As for the frustration: that’s probably because you are not yet at a level where you can actually read, read. Your mind still has to work too hard to understand the language, let alone what’s meant and put it into context. But the more you practice the better you will get. It’s a matter of training really. And yes, bilingualism, or just knowing a second language at a highly proficient level, will enable you to do all sorts of things you can’t do when you’re monolingual.

      Thanks again for the compliments.

  3. geekchicde says:

    I was just thinking about something the other day. In English class my teacher sometimes asks me to explain things to the other people in class (yeah, I know). But I can’t explain that to anyone. When you’re a teacher and you STUDY the language, you have a whole different perspective on the language and you are able to explain why certain things are the way they are. (if you get what I’m saying?) I find that pretty cool. You have the technical knowledge behind the language.

    Anyways, now that I am learning German, there’s a bunch of things that I find really difficult. First of all: it’s my insecurity. I know that my German is good. But once spoken to in German and I know that I have to reply back, I start to stutter. Mostly because I want to do it perfectly. I’d hate to have an accent, even though I know that’s not a bad thing to have when you first learn a language. Reading is going perfectly fine now, watching tv, listening to the radio, all perfectly fine. Even writing is starting to get close to perfection. It’s really the speaking I have problems with. Also, because my brain just does overtime, trying to translate from English, then thinking “no, it’s probably closer to Dutch” so then I’ll switch to Dutch grammar, but that’s also kinda off… I’ll get there. It’s a process!

    1. indiequeen84 says:

      Your teacher really does that? Wow! I also let my students explain things, but only to test whether they actually know it, not to do my job. 😉 I guess that since you’re pretty much a native speaker you have never learned English the way it is taught as a second language. You don’t have to know about past simples and passives to make your way. You don’t need rules and standard phrases, you just do it. That’s why it’s so difficult for you. If you learn everything from scratch (like I did) and you learn how to tell a group of students about it, then you have the tools to teach the theory. Add to that that I’m a language geek and actually enjoy doing these things and you have the right mixture for a language teacher.

      Insecurity is always difficult. I am starting a presentation course next week with my first year’s students and I know that most of them will hate this course more than the letter writing one, because they are ashamed of their accents. For some reason most people are more nervous about speaking than about anything else. Probably because you run the risk of being judged straight away and people do not like being judged. The fact that you do this double translation thing sounds familiar. I do it too when I have to speak anything other than English. My brain is wired to think: oh foreign language, English! Whereas for German it definitely helps to keep it as Dutch as possible. And you’re right it’s a process. You just have to find a trigger that makes you feel comfortable and confident enough to get going. Try to start with familiar surroundings (just your boyfriend) and then expand from there (shops, his parents, doctors etc).

    2. Wesley King says:

      You are clearly farther along with your German than I am with my English, but we have one thing in-common: When someone tries to speak to me in Dutch (or since I’m often “speaking” via IM, it’s really written), I tend to freeze-up and stutter. I’m terrified of saying something stupid, or being unable to think of a word right-off and being very slow and broken as a result. Everyone says it’s all about practice, and I suppose it is, but man is it frustrating sometimes…

  4. Rachel says:

    Hmm interesting! Grappig.

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