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  • Writer's pictureMerel Elsinga

Have you heard about "Denglish"?

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

Dutch people often get compliments about their English skills from native English speakers. The Dutch happen to pick up English language because they are exposed to it in their daily life. Songs on the radio, TV programs and movies which are subtitled (in Dutch), and English classes in school from an early age. I know this, because I am Dutch myself.

It becomes a little harder when all of a sudden a Dutch person has to write in English, particularly when they have to come up with business content. When this Dutch person has been getting all those compliments they think it is OK to translate their website to English and that it is time to "Grab the cow by the horns". Only to find out (or worse: not!) that the cow should have been a bull.

Missing the mark in translation

Since I have an interest in boats, I regularly look at Dutch boat brokers' websites that have been translated into English. I have to wonder how an English customer rates the expertise and trust level that is boasted when they read the heading: "our offer" where an English website would say: "boats in stock". Or: "The name of the ship does it right" instead of: "The name of the ship does it justice". Would an English speaking customer still consider that broker as professional when they state: "The interior has few user tracks" instead of "The interior shows few signs of usage" or mentions: "Defaults or renewals" instead of "Original parts or upgrades". It's quite a muddy introduction to a potential client.

The words in my examples are English, but they are not the right words. What has happened is that the Dutch translator has used an inappropriate synonym. Now we have a mixed language: Denglish.

Boat brokers are not the only ones that use Denglish; it can happen to any Dutch professional. Exposure is not enough; you need to be immersed in English to know the right words and when to use them. And it doesn't stop there; grammar and punctuation in English do not follow the same rules as in Dutch. It is also not customary in English to glue nouns or verbs together; space between words is rule, rather than compounding.

Tips for translating your Dutch website

If you want your English website to sound professional:

  • look for alternative meanings in the dictionary

  • use online dictionary resources to determine whether the word is used in the right context

  • double check to see whether you need space between English words that in Dutch are compound nouns or verbs

  • if you don't feel comfortable with these tips, hire an editor with experience on the subject matter to check or translate your website for you. A small fee goes a long way.


Merel Elsinga is a proofreader and copy editor who works mostly with non-fiction works. She has been living in an English speaking environment since 2000.

She loves to improve works that are translated from Dutch into English. Merel has a background as a lawyer and has been a professional sailor who also provided fine dining experiences for guests on board.

Merel is a member of Editors Canada

Visit her website at or connect on linkedIn.


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