Student - November 30, 2018

Blog: Stonecoal English

Geert van Zandbrink

Painful. That’s the word blogger Geert van Zandbrink uses to describe a lecture by a professor who is forced to teach in English, but who is far from proficient.

© Sven Menschel

‘Is everyone in the room Dutch?’, the lecturer asks in fluent Dutch. He only sees nodding heads and starts the introduction to the course – in Dutch. He does not get very far: two Chinese girls did not understand his first question one bit and are completely lost once he starts an anecdote about the structure of the course.

‘You are English?’, he asks, with a somewhat surprisingly surprised note in his voice. Well, Chinese, technically, but they do understand English. With a deep sigh, the lecturer starts from the beginning, but this time in English. Or at least, something that is in between English and Dutch; the amount of ‘stonecoal English’ (steenkolenengels – Dunglish) is painful, with ‘hold full’ used to express ‘volhouden’ (persevere, carry on) taking the biscuit.

A week later, the Chinese ladies do not attend the lecture. Their absence is noticed, both by the lecturer and the students. The international student next to me jokes that it wouldn’t surprise him if they had dropped the course because of the lecturer’s English prowess. My thoughts consider the high degree of probability that this joke might just be reality.

The amount of ‘stonecoal English’ is painful, with ‘hold full’ used to express ‘volhouden’ taking the biscuit.

When the lecturer, relieved and hopeful, starts teaching in Dutch, I conclude that the pass rate of the course will probably be much higher if he teaches in Dutch instead of English. After ten minutes, the ladies enter. The students chuckle, and the lecturer reverts to his improvised English.

Language barrier
Painful, that’s the right word for this. For us as the audience, but most certainly for the lecturer as well, who is so proficient in his field but is so limited by his ability to convey this knowledge. He is one of the old hands, and studied in Dutch himself, I suppose. I try to imagine how he had to dive into the English language to meet the requirements of the modern university.

For now, we will have to live with it. And by that, I mean not just us students, but the lecturers as well; they have to bear the pressure of dealing with the language barrier. The future does look bright, though, as English generally improves with each generation. We might just be one of last generations to suffer from bad English. Hold full, the future looks rose coloured!