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Proposal: Amsterdam must become bilingual

Amsterdam newspaper Het Parool, which publishes more Amsterdam-related news items than any other newspaper in Holland, today posted a story in both Dutch and English on its website:

AMSTERDAM – English is to become the official second language of Amsterdam. In public transport, the police force and City Hall English should become the official language, after Dutch, according to the proposal in Amsterdam made by Jan Paternotte, member of the Amsterdam City Council for the liberal-democrat party D66.

”In Amsterdam English is accepted everywhere, except at City Hall,” says Paternotte. ”Reporting a crime to the police can only be done in Dutch and local taxes are imposed solely in Dutch. However, English is undoubtedly the second language of the city, simply because it is the world language and a lot of American and British people live here or come over here for their holidays.”

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No Service? Sign on a café across from Amsterdam Central Station
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Public information from the city council and local boroughs should be available on the internet, according to the proposal by Paternotte. This way, foreigners could, for instance, find out when to put out their garbage bags.

Paternotte also wants Amsterdam to follow the example of Barcelona and put up a police post in the city centre, where tourists can report a crime to the police in English twenty-four hours a day. Such a post exists in Barcelona on the Ramblas. Paternotte wants a post where police officers also speak French, German and Spanish.

Other proposals by the liberal-democrats

  • Information at tram stops and tube stations within the A10, the ring road, will have to be in two languages. Public announcements like ‘please keep away from the doors’ will also have to be made in English
  • Tickets for public transport will get sub labels. The stop ‘Dam’ will have as subtitle: ‘Royal Palace’;
  • English speaking police officers will have a small ‘Union Jack’ on their uniform;
  • Filing a complaint about the police will become possible in English.

– Source: Amsterdam must become bilingualoffsite, Het Parool, Aug. 8, 2008

It is indeed ridiculous that a world class city like Amsterdam — in which, according to the guidebooks ‘just about everyone speaks English’ — does not provide English-language information for its international citizens, tourists and business visitors.

That said, some tram conductors do on occasion announce key tourist stops — such as Dam Square (Royal Palace, Madame Tussaud, Bijenkorf/Beehive warehouse) or Westermarkt (Westerkerk church, Anne Frank House, Gay monument) — albeit with varying degrees of success where pronunciation is concerned.

By the way, knowing how Amsterdam’s city officials work, we suggest you simply learn Dutchoffsite. You’ll probably master the language long before City Hall spends oodles of money on bi-lingual signs (after a ‘study trip’ to Hawaii for 24 officials and their wives to see how such a program could be implemented).

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This post was last updated: Sep. 25, 2011