Academy: The Netherlands urgently needs a national language policy

3 February 2018

The Netherlands has become a multilingual society and must deal more judiciously and efficiently with the languages spoken within its borders. That means making clear-cut choices and developing an appropriate national language policy, writes the Academy in its report Talen voor Nederland [Languages for the Netherlands], published today, 3 February 2018.

More robust basic training in Dutch is required. Refugees, immigrants, expats and international students should not encounter barriers to learning Dutch. In addition, the Netherlands should look beyond English and make better use of the linguistic expertise within its borders.

There are 2.5 million people in the Netherland who have grown up speaking a second language in addition to Dutch, and that number continues to grow. How can we maintain and promote social cohesion, and what does our language diversity mean for the way government and other sectors of civil society communicate with the public? 

These were the questions addressed in interviews with professionals working in health care, law enforcement and the courts, trade and international relations, all sectors that deal regularly with foreign languages and cultures. The interviews reveal the need to pay closer attention to communicating in clear and comprehensible Dutch with the increasingly diverse population of Netherlands.

On the other hand, Dutch society can also make better use of the enormous knowledge of inhabitants who speak German, Mandarin or Arabic, for example. 

In its report, the Academy argues that policy and language teaching must be designed in such a way that all inhabitants of the Netherlands are in any event able to read and write Dutch and have a basic level of oral language proficiency and listening comprehension. That involves making language training in Dutch more accessible and allowing for much more differentiation between levels of competence.

The humanities faculties at Dutch universities already have considerable expertise in a variety of languages, but they also know how best to teach them and what software is most appropriate. The university language sector should set up a National Platform for Languages that can concentrate that expertise and liaise with occupational groups that would like to make use of its knowledge.

The report Talen voor Nederland was authored by an Academy committee chaired by Pieter Muysken, Professor of Linguistics at Radboud University Nijmegen.