Many people in the Netherlands overrate their foreign language skills. We actually fall short of the European ambition to ensure every school pupil attains a minimum standard of proficiency in two foreign languages. The Education Council recommends that children start learning foreign languages earlier.
19 June 2008
Based on educational achievement, we can assume that three-quarters of the population have learned two foreign languages at school. Yet only half the population are able to use those languages in practice. One quarter of school pupils learn only one foreign language at school, usually English, despite the fact that better foreign language skills are necessary for us to compete in the international economy.
The Education Council recommends starting earlier with English, German or French in primary education. Young children learn a foreign language more easily than when they are teenagers. Primary schools should be able to choose when they want to start teaching a foreign language: in either group 1 or group 5 (currently group 7). Various methods could be used, including total immersion. This involves part of the lessons (up to half a day) being taught with English, French or German as the language of instruction. Another option is to establish local language schools, along much the same lines as music schools.
Secondary schools would have to tie in their programmes to accommodate the two differing levels at primary schools. In senior secondary vocational education (MBO), at least one foreign language should be made compulsory; at the most advanced level, two foreign languages should be compulsory.
A focused, long-term policy is needed to achieve these aims. The policy should in the first instance focus on specialist training for school teachers.