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My Russian colleague Karina Nazaretyan asked me if I concurred with her theory that the Dutch speak English so well because we subtitle movies instead of dubbing them in our native language.

I think her theory makes a lot of sense. People learn a foreign language by speaking it actively, but I do believe that listening to a foreign language makes it easier to get familiar with a language and prime to brain to start learning that language. And reading subtitles helps of course, since they offer you the meaning of the words you are hearing in that foreign language.

There is another, possibly more important, reason that the Dutch speak at the very least rudimentary English. That is the fact that Dutch is a language that is spoken by very few people in the world. And since we are a trading nation, we need to speak foreign languages. English people have difficulty learning a foreign language, simply because they don’t need to. Almost everyone understands English. But dubbing a movie is what makes for instance the Germans “lazy” in learning a foreign language. It would really help, in my opinion, if they would start subtitling movies in their original language. This has another important benefit: you reduce the risk of herniating yourself from laughter when hearing Charles Bronson or Daniel Craig talk tough in German. The language is just not equipped for it.