Dutch primary schools will soon be able to conduct 15% of lessons in English, French or German in an effort to boost language skills. Junior Education Minister Sander Dekker wants to extend the use of other languages following successful trials that shows young children pick up foreign languages more quickly. It’s no secret to anybody that I’m learning Dutch. I’m in my 20’s now and fitting in as many Dutch hours as possible but it’s hard!
I am British and went to English schools. I was never even introduced to another language until I went to secondary school when I started learning French aged 10. At age 14 I did one academic year of German, most of which I have completely forgotten (Geburtstag means Birthday right?)! Is my French any good? Meh. Well I lie; I can watch Engrenages rather well only refereeing to the subtitles occasionally and still get the gist of what’s going on. The truth of the matter is that learning a language is hard. I have talked on this topic many times on my blog, about my motivations and my methods but in actual fact, and science has proven this, learning a language from a young age improves recall, memory and future prospects. I have many friends speaking many different languages and it has set them all up really well now we in adult life.
Mind your language
Of my Dutch friends ALL of them speak at least 2 languages; Dutch and English. Of those the good majority either speak or at least understand any combination of the following: German, French, Flemish, Spanish, Portugese, Italian etc. This is impressive by any means. Learning a language in school is an integral part of the Dutch Education System. A lesson us English people should be taking on board. Throughout my education there was never a focus on language learning as much as it was ‘desired’ there was very little funding made available for it. Maybe the langauges offered to English students just aren’t appealing. Until I was 16 I had only ever holidayed in Spain, did I ever learn any Spanish? Nope. Apart from what you pick up whilst over there I was never formally taught anything useful for me. I had never been to France until I went on a school trip aged 12 and to Paris aged 21. I only went to Germany for the first time last year! The point I am trying to make is that for English students in school we don’t see the need to have/ us of other languages. Yes that is a lazy excuse and in many ways a sweeping accusation but it is in many way the fundamental difference in attitude between the English people and Dutch people. Maybe its due to the fact that we are an island and can’t really drive across the boarder as easily as mainland Europe. I don’t know but the Dutch value their education, they value their languages and most importantly they encourage them.
Is it all just too much pressure?
Some Dutch MPs are more critical of the language suggestion with worries regarding the implications for children with learning difficulties or those who don’t speak Dutch as a first language. I can fully understand the question about learning difficulties, for some learning to communicate is hard in itself without pressuring them to learn a whole host of different ways but as for children who don’t speak Dutch as a first language this is surely adding yet another string to their bow! It can’t be denied that encouraging children to learn foreign languages at an early age will boost the Netherlands’ competitive position with 86% of the Netherlands having English as a second language already a third or fourth one wont hurt! Another possible issue I can see with this is ensuring a common benchmark in their foreign language ability. For example if 15% of lessons will be taught in a foreign tongue and their knowledge and ability in said foreign tongue isn’t up to scratch then that will cause detrimental problems across the board. I don’t think this is what they mean. I think 15% of lessons will be about learning a foreign language, not exactly being taught algebra in Spanish or The Classics in German.
It will be up to schools themselves whether or not to make use of the language option but I would suggest that they do. Should it be at the cost of another subject, I’m not so sure. I did 3 years having 7 hours a week of Science. I would have happily exchanged some of those classes to learn a new language! In England some language lessons are becoming increasingly more prevalent and from September 2014 British primary schools must offer some form of language training to pupils aged 7-10years however there is concern that primary school teachers in the UK aren’t qualified to do this. Stamford University along with many other are conducting studies into children’s language learning. The video below explains some of their findings in more detail.
Either way I see NO harm in encouraging learning a foreign language from an early age, it will help with brain function (some argue that it can prevent Alzheimers!), add diversity to the jobs market, add scope to future personal development, help with holidays and building networks around the world. How is that not appealing?! After age 10, learning new words becomes progressively difficult into adulthood. The older you get, the more you use your native language and the more it comes to dominate your linguistic map therefore I think the Dutch have hit on to a really smart idea here!