Maybe it is because I am English and the stereotypical politeness that comes with it that courses me to ask a Dutch person “Spreekt u Engels?” before I bombard them with the language. Whatever the reason may be a lot of them reply with a very simple, “Yes, a little.”
However, when a Dutch person suggests they only know a little bit of English it is usually the equivalent of Albert Einstein claiming he only knows a little bit about mathematics or Steven Hawkins saying he only understands some Physics. In contrast to this when most English people say they can speak Dutch it’s usually the equivalent of claiming to be a gourmet chef when all they can do is burn toast.
English seems to come easy to the Dutch but most (not all) expats struggle with Dutch. Attempting to learn Dutch often feels like returning to school. This isn’t because every Dutch person runs around in school uniform, scraping their nails down any available chalkboard and making out with the girls from the neighboring country behind the bike shed (although some probably do). It’s because it’s like trying to learn reading, writing and speaking all over again (especially if you are dyslexic like me).
Counting has to be re-learnt. The system for telling the time is different. There are new names for the letters of the alphabet. You even have to learn how combinations of different letters make new and unfamiliar sounds that will course you to talk like a Klingon with a cold.
During the first few months of learning a conversation with a Dutch person is like trying to understand Scooby Doo. You might be able to figure out what they are saying from their hand gestures and the noises they make but the words themselves are impossible to understand.
Every conversation becomes an exam that you have not studied for enough, possibly because the X-Box or PS2 provided too much of a distraction. A simple solution to this might be to write the answers on your arm and have a sneak peak when no one is looking.
If you get caught however you might end up getting sent to the head masters office along with the Spanish kid who did not realize his Dutch friends were only teaching him swear words (which would make him seem to have Dutch tourettes) and whenever he thought he was asking for directions he was in fact asking for something that would make most prostitutes in the red light district blush.