We are celebrating our 75th anniversary as British Council in the Netherlands in 2021 by sharing 75 personal stories from people who have a special connection to both the UK and the Netherlands. Read the 75 NL-UK stories and join us in celebrating our 75th anniversary. Expand the boxes below to read the full stories by Carly Klein, Paul Franssen Koen Pennings and Helmi Sonneveld.
75 NL-UK Stories - English language
Teaching, learning, exploring the English language has brought me so much joy. While studying at University of Hertfordshire I realised that I was in love with the English language and therefore the British. And up till today it has been extremely beneficial to my personal life as well as my professional life.
Every time I visit the UK whether it is in a professional manner or for personal reasons it feels like coming home. Just being part of conversation in a local pub, listening to stand-up comedy in basement theatres, grocery shopping at Tesco’s, being a part of British life makes me so incredibly happy. I am in love with the nuances and euphemisms used freely in communication. I know that at times the British will imply the opposite of what they are really thinking which can sometimes be disconcerting for a second-language learner. To understand the British, you will have to learn to read between the lines. But once you grasp the system you will start appreciating the beauty of playing with language. Moreover, I love that fact that the British carefully control their emotions, tend to be more polite and more accommodating to others, I absolutely believe that these traits are something for most Dutch people to aspire.
During one of my many stays at The Black Pig in Staple I met a friendly and polite man. He visited the pub daily like his fellow villagers. We started talking and immediately got into a wonderful conversation about the peculiarities of the English language. You must know I have been jotting down words, phrases or proverbs for ages, so I showed him a small clip of my list. As said, I love language, love the magic of it. I am fond of words like dollyfied up and phrases like bucket of chuckles. We spent the rest of the evening talking about language. Many people joined the lively conversation and we ended up elongating my list. What touched me the most was the facial expression on the man’s face while telling me that I was being an anorak (using a new phrase, at least to me) which sounded unfavorable being a Dutch person however looking at his smile it was the greatest compliment I had ever had.
Many years ago, I was staying in a B&B in Oxford for a fortnight, for research in the Bodleian Library. The landlady was a very sociable Welshwoman, and she often invited her guests to the sitting room in the evening. One night, I was offered some coffee and asked whether I would like anything to go with it; I replied I would not mind a cookie. There was a howl of delighted horror: Not a cookie, that is American! A biscuit! As in those days I was trying to be more British than the Brits in my accent and word choice, I was a little embarrassed. I was the more surprised when, during a staff exchange with the University of Florida some 15 years later, one local student told me she was thrilled at being taught Shakespeare by a real Englishman. When I told her I was not, she replied, “well, at least you can allow me to pretend ..!”
How different the world has become since then. Having studiously avoided saying “guy,” as that, too, was supposedly an Americanism, I started noticing that my British colleagues did use that word quite frequently; and more and more, the boundaries between several national varieties of English started to blur. Ever since Fiona MacDonald’s Scottish voice was heard on the BBC World Service in the eighties, RP seems to have been losing ground as the sole standard of polite English, even in Britain itself. Students of English no longer necessarily strive for a posh UK accent. One of them even told me a few years ago that one reason for going on an exchange to Australia was that she wanted to acquire the cool local accent; when I met her again a year or so later, it turned out that she had succeeded, with a vengeance. Others proudly returned from a stay in Ireland with a brogue. All this, I concluded, should not be seen as a loss for the Queen’s English, but rather as a sign that English has taken over the world: the international community now sees it as its common heritage, with various models available. Nevertheless, as for myself, I still emulate a polite British accent: it puts me in the right frame of mind to discuss Shakespeare or Jane Austen with a group of students or interested outsiders.
Wall of Fame
The final English exam tends to focus solely on reading comprehension and does not necessarily reflect the other talents our students have. The English teachers of our school believe that is important to give students (who are willing) the opportunity to participate in the Cambridge English exams to allow them to show their talent for English. Instead of solely focusing on reading comprehension, they are given the chance to show their English talent in other areas as well.
As you can see in the picture, we have had more than enough students who passed. As proud English teachers, we have created a ‘Wall of Fame’ in one of our classrooms to show and remind our students that hard work does pay off by displaying a copy of every single certificate. Over the years we’ve been stacking the copies, otherwise there wouldn’t have been enough room, which says something about the success of the programme.
The relationship between the British Council, Cambridge Language Assessment and our school has resulted in VMBO students passing Preliminary (B1), First (B2) and Advanced (C1) exams and adding a valuable and internationally recognised certificate to their curricula vitae but above all, it has allowed our students to think more of themselves and to dream of a better future. Not just for themselves, but also for the next generation to come.
Teaching Cambridge English: more than language learning
10 years ago Goois Lyceum in Bussum started its Cambridge classes and courses. We became the first Cambridge English School in the Benelux and have been expanding the number of courses over the years and our team of teachers has grown with them. It goes without saying that we are extremely proud of our achievement because over the years we have handed out certificates at all available levels to hundreds of young learners who have made good use of their acquired knowledge. Some of them chose to attend High Schools, Universities and other teaching or sports programmes abroad ranging from the UK to the USA, Japan and South Africa.
Obviously, our success did not come to pass without trial and error. For how does one begin to explain to parents, who are eager for their child to be able to face the world packed with impeccable (British) English pronunciation, vocabulary and good manners, what the supposed difference is between “English and that Cambridge English”? Please note the underlined ‘that’ which implies (by the way, the word is pronounced in a slightly derogative fashion) that Cambridge English is a sort of magic language only spoken by the upper class or unintelligible intellectuals. Fortunately, this questions still comes up only incidentally. We have been able to spread the motto ‘No fear of Cambridge English’, but have maintained its still lingering feel of magic. After all, one day your child may meet a member of the upper class or a future nobel prize winning scientist and then they will know how to respond exquisitely and charmingly. Serendipity is the first word that we teach them, but we never tell them why.