Research summary: Language policy and language education in the Netherlands and Romania

Kuiken, F. & Van der Linden, E. (2013). Language policy and language education in the Netherlands and Romania. Dutch Journal of Applied Linguistics 2(2): 205–223

Aim:

  • To explore and compare language policy and language education in the Netherlands and Romania. Countries may learn from one another’s practices and experiences, so investigating their similarities and differences in case studies can be instructive.
  • Questions: what are the linguistic rights of the minority groups, which languages are taught to whom, and to what degree is multilingualism present in both countries?

Data & methods: Historical overview and comparative policy analysis between two countries that have clear differences yet also similarities:

  • Geographically the Netherlands and Romania are situated at the far ends of the EU from one another.
  • Historically, the Netherlands is one of the oldest EU states, whereas Romania one of the newest.
  • Yet they have comparable numbers of native speakers of their respective national languages (23 to 25 million), and some 20 minority languages (NL also has an additional official language, Frisian, as well as two recognised regional languages)

Results:

  • Romania has a longstanding multilingual tradition, whereas the Netherlands — despite a long history of inhabitants with a migrant background — is considered a mainly monolingual country, with the exception of the bilingual province of Friesland.
  • In the Netherlands, instruction in minority languages in public schools was discontinued in 2004; “no effort is made to maintain knowledge of immigrant languages and cultures among their native speakers”. More recently arrived minority languages have no place in the education system. Information provision from the government in languages other than Dutch (or English) is decreasing.
  • In Romania the official attitude towards the traditional minority languages is mainly positive. Children of larger monitories and even some smaller minorities receive mother-tongue instruction in schools. The largest minority, Hungarians, receive education in their language even up to university level. (By contrast Frisian plays a role in NL mainly at primary level)
  • In both countries, the dominant majority “does not have much sympathy for the language and culture of the minority groups”.
  • Young minority speakers increasingly identify with the majority; the trend is towards a strengthening of the majority language
  • English is in a privileged position in both countries in terms of foreign language teaching: at upper secondary level 100% of Dutch and 98.7% of Romanian pupils learn English at school. For French and German these numbers are 86.3% and 11.8% in Romania, 33.2% and 43.5% in the Netherlands. Bilingual education with English is on the rise in both countries, although in Romania German and French are also present in bilingual education.

Conclusions:

  • EU language policy adopted in 2004 that each citizen should master his or her mother tongue plus two other languages has had a limited impact since each member state controls the content of its educational system.
  • Despite differences between the two countries, there are also some striking similarities.
  • In both, minority languages are under pressure, the majority language is seen to hold benefits and therefore speakers of minority languages may underestimate “important cultural contribution to their lives of the minority language or the advantages of a bilingual education”.
  • English plays a comparable role in both countries: (almost) all students learn English at school and more and more bilingual education with English is being offered. The language attitude towards English is very positive.

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