Op-ed: Welcome vs welkom

More international students at the RUG? Great! But does the Anglicisation of education automatically follow? Internationalisation should mean that other languages besides English have a chance to shine. Especially, Tjeerd de Graaf argues, Dutch.
By Tjeerd de Graaf / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Since I retired in 2003, I’ve enjoyed spending my time working for the Centre for Russian Studies at the UB, and I’ve been following the developments at the Groningen university with great interest. One of these developments is the so-called internationalisation, which has brought about so many changes over the past few decades.

I am gladdened to see so many international students participating in the activities at the university, and the Arts faculty in particular. It appears they often receive proper guidance, and Dutch students have plenty of opportunities to broaden their international horizon, many more than we had when I was a student.

In my view, internationalisation should mean that other languages besides English get a chance to shine, and Dutch in particular. So many educational activities take place in English, even when everyone involved is Dutch, or internationals who either have a proper command of the language or are willing to learn. This will certainly be the case at the Arts faculty, where many international students are interested in the Dutch language and culture. If the Anglicisation is implemented to excess, these students will be denied the opportunity to acquire the necessary knowledge.

Public spaces

Another aspect of Anglicisation is that part of sociolinguistics that (Dutch) literature calls the linguistic landscape: the written use of language in public spaces such as government buildings and advertising on the street. It’s particularly striking that English is increasingly taking over from Dutch. One example is the UB, where people are being WELCOMED at the SERVICE DESK with the slogan MAKING UBETTER!

Yet there are many places that use a correct form of Dutch-English bilingualism. I would like to argue for this correct use of language to be implemented as much as possible. The UB and the Art faculty could play an exemplary role in this correct use of multiple languages.

In that sense, the abovementioned Centre could also bear a Dutch or Russian name, such as Centrum voor Ruslandkunde and not, as it is now called twice, the Centre for Russian Studies (English only!) Speaking of correct use of language: in the centre’s hallway, there is a display case containing Japanese books, some of which have been positioned upside-down.

Criticism

Last week I was talking to a few Dutch students of the Faculty of Science and Engineering (previously called the Faculteit Wiskunde en Natuurwetenschappen), who were asking about our contacts in Japan. English is used a lot at this faculty, and rightly so, but I inferred from their responses that there, too, people are critical of the excessive implementation of English in education. They told me they thought it was fine if English became the official language, but only if it didn’t interfere with the quality of education.

That does not currently appear to be the case. There are indications that Dutch-speaking students’ proficiency in discussions and essays is diminished when they are forced to speak or write in English. Besides, the question remains whether future maths or physics teachers even benefit from their education being entirely in English. The same goes for the education at the Faculty of Arts, and I was happy to learn about the faculty board’s standpoint about making the faculty bilingual.

My remarks can be placed in a bigger context concerning the university’s Anglicisation, and society in general. It is gratifying to hear that the organisation for Better Education (BON) recently wrote an extensive letter to the government formateur, in which they request that the new government puts a stop to the – what they call – financially motivated internationalisation and over the top Anglicisation of higher education at the expense of Dutch taxpayers.

Tjeerd de Graaf, Fryske Akademy and Foundation for Endangered Languages

 

 

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