The Linguist

The Linguist 53,6

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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28 The Linguist DECEMBER 2014/JANUARY 2015 OPINION & COMMENT What happens when a non-Anglophone country promotes English in higher education? To find out, Vincent Doumayrou looks at the Dutch model W hen, back in 1989, the Netherlands Education Minister suggested more university courses in English, public outrage caused parliament to pass a law making Dutch the official language of education. Yet the Netherlands is now Europe's biggest non- Anglophone provider of university courses taught in English; it is used in most Masters degrees in Life Sciences, Engineering and Economics, though to a limited extent in BA courses and MAs in applied subjects. In law, Dutch has no constitutional status, and the legislation (passed in 1992) permitted so many exceptions that it has had little real effect. The Netherlands has a very open economy and speaks a Germanic language related to English and shared only with Flemish-speaking Belgium and Surinam. This makes achieving greater international influence via Dutch unlikely. And knowledge of English is widespread: the Education First consultancy ranks it third out of 60 countries in use of English. The idea behind the promotion of English in education is usually said to be the easy transmission of knowledge that is 'international by definition'. 1 No language has ever achieved such global predominance, 'if we're generous about what we mean by English', as journalist Christopher Caldwell writes. 2 In reality, the promotion of English in universities is mostly about competitiveness in a knowledge economy 'characterised by the commercialisation at global level of the products of research and teaching'. 3 The Dutch journal Transfer claims that 'institutions choose English on auto-pilot, because they want to appear to be international players. Universities… fear they'll be relegated to the provincial league if they address only the domestic market.' The EU's Bologna Declaration of 1999 was intended to create a single European domain for higher education. But as the rector of Maastricht University, Luc Soete, told me, "Education has become an export product." University authorities regard national languages as an obstacle to student mobility, like customs barriers, so creating a free trade in English is another way for them to sell their educational products. Culture has not collapsed Many French scientists believe that 'the health of intellectual output from the Netherlands, which doesn't impose any linguistic restrictions, is proof that their culture has not collapsed by opening up to English', 4 and think France should follow suit. Mind your English AALAIN, 16/6/08 VIA FLICKR (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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