Case Study: Taaltaske (‘Language Pack’) – Early Language Learning in Friesland

Language Rich Europe promotes the sharing of good practice in the area of multilingualism. On our website, you can read and submit your own case studies.

In this post, we focus on one from the Dutch province of Friesland, which is actively promoting early language learning.

Many recommend learning languages as early as possible – improved literacy skills, increased confidence, more effective cognitive skills and a broader cultural understanding are just a few of the benefits often mentioned. New research even suggests that we can begin learning languages before we are born.

In Friesland, the bilingual province of the Netherlands, they take early language learning seriously – issuing a language pack (Taaltaske) to all parents when they register a birth. The pack contains information on raising a bilingual child, a Frisian children’s book and CD with children’s songs.  As the case study on the Language Rich Europe website explains

Young/future Frisian parents in the Province of Fryslân are often not aware of the possibilities of raising their child bilingually. The Taaltaske is a way to explain to them how they can go about raising their child bilingually.

This early introduction to Frisian is supported by formal education, with the language being a compulsory subject in primary schools and many using it as the language of instruction.

Submit your own case study now!

New Multilingual Synopsis of the European Training Thesaurus

We have just heard about this exciting new tool for training professionals and wanted to share it with you. This article originally appeared in Europa news on languages.

New Multilingual Synopsis of the European Training Thesaurus – Are you a training professional? A new multilingual toolkit for you.

The European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) has recently published the new Multilingual Synopsis of the European Training Thesaurus for all those working in education, training and employment.

The publication, which is available online, is a selection of 1,207 terms and concepts which appear frequently in literature related to European vocational education and training. The tool, which is the basis for the complete online thesaurus CEDEFOP is currently preparing, allows for quick navigation by language, term and topic.

The terms/concepts cover several topics such as lifelong learning, vocational education and training policy, assessment and certification of learning outcomes, recognition of certificates and diplomas. Each term is presented in 11 languages: Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, and Swedish.

To download the thesaurus, click here.

Language Rich Europe launch in the Netherlands

On 31 May the results of the Language Rich Europe project for the Netherlands and Fryslân were presented in the Geldmuseum in Utrecht. The research showed that in a period of increased language variation, the Dutch government puts more and more emphasis on the importance of the Dutch language. Especially for immigrant languages there is not much room.  In the province of Fryslân, Frisian is an official language and is therefore especially present in the educational domains. There are no formal educational provisions for the other regional languages in the Netherlands. Please read below the whole article about the launch (in both English and Dutch), written by Saskia Benedictus, Research Assistant at Fryske Akademy, our partner organisation in the Netherlands.

Despite the fact that the Netherlands could be more multilingual, there are also some positive examples. The city of Utrecht, for example, presents itself as the ‘multilingual hotspot’, and in Fryslân there is an increase in trilingual primary schools where children are not only taught in Frisian and Dutch, but also in English.

In Utrecht presentations were given by Martin Hope (Director, British Council Benelux), prof. dr. Guus Extra (Professor emeritus in language and minorities, Tilburg University) and Saskia Benedictus (Research assistant, Mercator Research Centre/Fryske Akademy). After the presentations a panel of experts discussed with the public about different statements. The panel members were: Martin Hope, Dr. Jacomine Nortier (Professor at the department of Language Studies, University of Utrecht), Prof. dr. Gerard Westhoff (Professor emeritus didactics modern foreign languages,University of Utrecht and independent educational adviser) and Drs. Tsjerk Bottema (Senior policy adviser languages and media, Province of Fryslân).

One of the issues that was discusses was the exact meaning of the term ‘multilingualism’, since it can have different meanings. Within the Language Rich Europe project, multilingualism is both about individual and about societal multilingualism. Societal multilingualism refers to the presence of several languages in the society, regardless if it is about national, foreign, regional, immigrant  or minority languages.

Prof. dr. Gerard Westhoff introduced the term ‘first aid-language’ which is first aid for meeting people. He meant that in a time of globalisation it is useful to have a lingua franca to be able to communicate. Besides, you also need to speak the languages from the countries and regions within your range, which, in the Netherlands, are German, French, and (in some cases) Frisian. English is much further away.

The focus of the discussions was mainly on the economic value of multilingualism. One of the attendees called this  the ‘Dutch approach’ and indicated that this was just one of the aspects of multilingualism. It is also important to look at multilingualism and identity.

Other issues that were discussed were…

… the importance of databases on language diversity for the development of language policy. In the Netherlands the province of Fryslân is the only province where this kind of data is collected.

… the difference between cities like New York and Melbourne on the one hand and cities like Amsterdam and Berlin on the other. The former two cities are proud of their diversity and see it as a characteristic of the city, while for the other two cities this is not the case. In the Netherlands diversity is always connected with deprivation and special needs.

… the challenge of raising interest and enthusiasm for multilingualism. Policymakers often say that there is no money for multilingualism.

… language policy in the Netherlands is either about Dutch or about Frisian.

… the importance of Germany as trade partner for the Netherlands and the added value of doing business in German (or Dutch) and not having to use English.

In short, there was plenty to discuss. The discussion will not stop here, but will be continued at a series of 3 workshops which will be organised in the Netherlands from September 2012 onwards. We will then look at the Language Rich Europe results for the Netherlands and Fryslân, and also at the results of the other countries to see whether we can learn from each other. We will also formulate recommendations for the further development of language policy and practice in the Netherlands and Fryslân.

On the internet and in the newspapers attention was paid to the presentation of the Language Rich Europe results in theNetherlands:
Leeuwarder Courant
Friesch Dagblad

For more photos about the event, please see the British Council Netherlands facebook page.

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Nederlandse versie:

Nederland taalt niet naar taal  

Op 31 mei werden de Nederlandse en Friese resultaten het Language Rich Europe onderzoek gepresenteerd in het Geldmuseum in Utrecht.  Uit het onderzoek bleek onder andere dat in een periode van toenemende taalvariatie de Nederlandse overheid de nadruk op het Nederlands legt; met name voor immigrantentalen is er weinig ruimte. In de provincie Fryslân is het Fries een officiële taal en als zodanig vooral in de onderwijsdomeinen zichtbaar. Voor andere regionale talen in Nederland zijn er geen formele onderwijsvoorzieningen.

Ondanks het feit dat Nederland dus best wat meertaliger zou kunnen worden, zijn er ook een aantal positieve voorbeelden te noemen, zoals de stad Utrecht die zich profileert als ‘multilingual hotspot’ en de toename van drietalige basisscholen in Fryslân.

In Utrecht werden presentaties gegeven door Martin Hope (British Council Benelux), prof. dr. Guus Extra (emeritus Hoogleraar Taal en Minderheden, Universiteit Tilburg) en Saskia Benedictus (Mercator Kenniscentrum, Fryske Akademy). Daarna werd er door een panel en het publiek gediscussieerd aan de hand van verschillende stellingen.

Aan de orde kwam onder andere de vraag wat meertaligheid precies is; de term kan verschillende dingen aanduiden. Binnen Language Rich Europe wordt meertaligheid opgevat in der ruime zin van het woord: het gaat zowel over meertaligheid van de individu als van de maatschappij. Bij meertaligheid in de maatschappij gaat het dan om de aanwezigheid van meerdere talen in de maatschappij, ongeacht of het om nationale, vreemde, regionale, minderheids- of immigrantentalen gaat.

Prof. dr. Gerard Westhoff (Universiteit Utrecht) introduceerde de term EHBO-taal, waarbij EHBO staat voor Eerste Hulp Bij Ontmoetingen. Daarmee bedoelde Gerard Westhoff dat het, in een tijd van globalisering, handig is om een lingua franca te hebben om met mensen te communiceren. Daarnaast betoogde hij dat je actieradius bepalend moet zijn voor de talen die je in ieder geval beheerst. De ‘taalradius’ van een Nederlander omvat dan al snel Duits en Frans en in aantal gevallen ook Fries. Het Engels is dan verder weg.

De focus van de discussie lag op de economische meerwaarde van meertaligheid. Eén van de aanwezigen noemde dit de ‘Dutch approach’ en gaf aan dat dat slechts één aspect van meertaligheid is. Er moet bijvoorbeeld ook gekeken worden naar meertaligheid en identiteit.

Tijdens de discussie werd er ook gepraat over…

… het belang van gegevens over taaldiversiteit voor het ontwikkelen van taalbeleid. In Nederland worden alleen in Fryslân dergelijke gegevens verzameld.

… het verschil tussen steden als New York en Melbourne enerzijds en steden als Amsterdam en Berlijn anderzijds. Eerstgenoemde steden zijn trots op hun diversiteit en zien dat als een karakteristiek van de stad; bij laatstgenoemde steden is dat niet zo. In Nederland wordt diversiteit altijd verbonden met achterstand.

… de uitdaging om mensen te interesseren en enthousiasmeren voor meertaligheid. Beleidsmakers zeggen vaak geen geld beschikbaar te hebben voor meertaligheid.

… het taalbeleid dat in Nederland óf over het Nederlands gaat óf over het Fries.

… het belang van Duitsland als handelspartner voor Nederland en de meerwaarde die het heeft als je dan zaken in het Duits (of Nederlands) kan doen en niet hoeft terug te vallen op Engels.

Kortom, er was genoeg stof voor discussie. Die discussie zal voortgezet worden tijdens de serie van drie workshops die vanaf september in Nederland georganiseerd zullen worden. Aan de hand van de Nederlands en Friese resultaten van het Language Rich Europe onderzoek én de internationale vergelijking die gedaan is, zullen concrete aanbevelingen gedaan worden voor de verdere ontwikkeling van het taalbeleid in Nederland en Fryslân.

Na afloop van de discussie kregen alle deelnemers een exemplaar van de publicatie ‘Language Rich Europe – Trends in Beleid en praktijk voor meertaligheid in Europa (conceptversie)’ met daarin de internationale vergelijking en de Nederlandse en Friese resultaten.

Op internet en in de krant werd aandacht besteed aan de presentatie van de Language Rich Europe resultaten in Nederland:
Leeuwarder Courant
Friesch Dagblad

Voor meer foto’s van het evenement, bezoek de British Council Netherlands facebook pagina.

Today’s launch: The Netherlands and Friesland

The Netherlands 

Did you know that…

“In the Netherlands there is a lot of importance given to Dutch as well as the English language in general. Other than English, foreign languages are not that often available and there is little space given to immigrant languages.”


Did you know that…

“Upon registering the birth of their child, parents in Fryslân are presented with a language pack (‘Taaltaske’). This language pack is offered by the province of Fryslân. The aim is to point out the advantages of plurilingualism. The materials in the pack include a brochure about plurilingualism, a Frisian children’s book, and a CD with children’s songs (Provinsje Fryslân, 2011b).”

The Netherlands and Friesland launch will take place on 31 May 2012 in Geldmuseum, Utrecht. Utrecht is, after Luxembourg and together with Malta, the second multilingual hotspot in Europe. For more information, have a look at one of our previous blog posts. It also boasts one of the best practices mentioned in the Language Rich Europe research.

Speakers at this launch are:

  • Martin Hope, Language Rich Europe Project Director (opening)
  • Prof.dr.Guus Extra, Emeritus Hoogleraar Taal en Minderheden aan de faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen, Universiteit Tilburg (about the goals and results of the LRE projects overall)
  • Drs. Saskia Benedictus-van den Berg, onderzoeksassistent, Mercator Kenniscentrum/Fryske Akademy (about the Netherlands and Frisian results of the LRE research)

After the presentations there will be a panel discussion with the following panel members:

  • Martin Hope, MA, directeur British Council Benelux & EU office en directeur van het Language Rich Europe project
  • Dr. Jacomine Nortier, universitair hoofddocent bij de afdeling Taalkunde van de opleiding Nederlands, universiteit Utrecht
  • Prof.dr. Gerard Westhoff, emeritus hoogleraar didactiek moderne vreemde talen, Universiteit Utrecht en zelfstandig onderwijskundig adviseur
  • Drs. Tsjerk Bottema, senior beleidsmedewerker taal en media, provincie Fryslân

Language mixing in youth language use – an exception or a rule?

A couple of weeks ago I overheard an interesting conversation while sitting in the park. Afterwards, I started to wonder if what I heard was just a one off example of special kind of language use or nothing special these days, and that’s when I decided to discuss the matter here in the hope of getting some comments from our readers!

This is what happened: There were three girls speaking in English (well, that’s what I first thought). They didn’t have a strong accent and they could’ve well been foreign (i.e. not Belgian) as that park is often frequented by foreigners. After a while I realised that they were speaking in Dutch after all, with a Flemish accent. I listened further and thought I heard English again. Then I thought one of them must be English-speaking while the rest are Dutch-speaking. They kept talking and then I got it: They spoke mostly in Dutch but sometimes, out of the blue, they said something in English. When one said a sentence in English, the others usually answered in English, too, and at some point they switched back to Dutch. An extract of the conversation was something like this:

“Toen ik thuis zat, weet je wat ik plots zag?”

”No, tell me.”

”A huge spider, it was like this big!”

”Oh my god, what did you do?”

”I just looked at it and screamed!”

”Ik zou het niet aankunnen – zo groot!”

”Het was vreselijk, hoor.”

”I can totally believe it.”

I was so surprised to hear the girls speak like this that I wanted to investigate the subject a bit further. I know I mix languages myself, too but I thought it was just because we’re a multilingual family and are used to speaking in many languages. I came across an interesting research entitled National survey on the English language in Finland: Uses, meanings and attitudes, 2011, which found that this language mixing (or, code switching), and in particular, using English alongside with your mother tongue is quite a common feature also in Finland – especially among youth. What startled me is that according to the survey, most people (76.4%) don’t even realise they’re mixing languages! What’s more, this mixing also occurs in writing, which puzzles me even more, in the sense that when you write, you normally take more time to consider what you say whereas speech is more instantaneous and somehow that makes it more fitting for language mixing. Then again, come to think of it, I might stick in a sentence in English myself when writing an email in another language.

According to the article ”[mixing] takes place especially in everyday informal speech situations and in occupational language use” and “Mixing English and the mother tongue was more common in cities than elsewhere”. Both of these findings seem logical.

There’s also the question of mixing words or entire sentences; yet another thing is to use words that have derived from English but have become part of the national language, be it officially or unofficially, such as in this case (see point 36 “English alongside the mother tongue” please). In my experience, this seems to be quite a common kind of usage of English words in another language. I hear it often and use words like this myself; in fact, I don’t consider words like ‘organisoida’ or ‘kompromissi’ as English words anymore.

Still, I’m left to wonder: If this kind of mixing is common language use these days, how common is the kind of use I overheard in the park, in which entire English sentences where used in otherwise Dutch conversation? And, if people use another language in their speech/writing to this extent, can they still be regarded as monolinguals? Where do we draw the line – or, do we even have to draw a line?

Are bilinguals smarter than the rest?

Lately there has been an increasing amount of articles written on the subject of bilingualism. Some argue that people brought up bilingual are smarter than the rest of us. Others tell tales of hardship caused by loss of identity, loss of belonging, loss of friends. According to a recent article written by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee for The New York Times, there is enough evidence to show that

Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.

It’s all down to interference:

– – in a bilingual’s brain both language systems are active even when he is using only one language, thus creating situations in which one system obstructs the other.

This was previously considered a hindrance but in fact, it makes the mind work harder and thus strengthens its cognitive muscles. The bilingual brain actually improves the brain’s “executive function” which directs things like problem solving and planning. One of the processes this influences is remembering things.

According to the article, the main difference between bilinguals and monolinguals is that they have a “heightened ability to monitor their environment”:

Bilinguals have to switch languages quite often — you may talk to your father in one language and to your mother in another language,” says Albert Costa, a researcher at the University of Pompeu Fabra in Spain. “It requires keeping track of changes around you in the same way that we monitor our surroundings when driving.

This monitoring is certainly visible in our 2-year-old daughter’s everyday life. She constantly switches between her two languages, Finnish and Dutch, while talking to people. This is an extract of a conversation which took place recently:

Me: “Sanopa papalle, että kahvi on valmista. Nyt voi tulla syömään aamupalaa.”

She: “Papa, koffie klaar! Eten.”

Also, she switches between languages even within a sentence if, for example, she happens to hear her father come in:

She: “Kohta pyörällä… buiten fietsen.”

I often wonder how much she understands of the situation she’s in, that is, that she speaks two languages whereas many other people around her don’t. It does seem that she recognises the fact and says things like “papa zegt ‘baby’, äiti sanoo ‘vauva’”. She has also learned to know which relatives and friends speak which language.

When it comes to bilinguals having a good memory, I must say that our daughter seems to have an incredibly good one. When she sees a book she hasn’t seen in months, she instantly remembers what it’s about. Or, when she sees a car that resembles her Finnish grandparents’ car she’s seen only a few times in her lifetime, she always shouts “mummi pappa auto!” Also, she seems to remember everyone’s names – even if she’s only seen them in a photo – and she can connect things like berries with her Finnish grandparents.

I could be inclined to say that our daughter is a good example in proving the claims in Bhattacharjee’s article right. On the other hand, I haven’t done many comparisons, so it might as well be that this is completely normal behaviour of a two-year-old, or that this is just how she is and has nothing to do with her being bilingual. Somehow I do think though, that this constant increased brain activity makes bilinguals more active, more alert. Whether this is always a good thing, I don’t know. Our daughter seems to have her head full of things constantly and cannot sleep easily or talks in her sleep – in multiple languages. So maybe this constant language switching and monitoring your environment has such a profound effect that it can even cause restlessness. Then again, maybe it’s just how she is. Whatever the case, I think I wouldn’t go out of my way to make my child bi- or plurilingual, but if it’s possible and comes naturally (like in the case of parents with a different mother tongue), I think it’s certainly worth it.

Guus Extra: Ukraine is already practising trilingualism

Below is an interview with Guus Extra, Professor at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. He recently gave a series of lectures in the leading Ukrainian universities on the topics of language situation in Europe, multiculturalism, minority languages and other similar issues. The lectures were very successful and received positive feedback from more than 330 participants. Please find a shortened version of the article below (in Ukrainian) and a link to the full article at the end (also in Ukrainian). Professor Guus Extra was interviewed by Maria Fronoschuk.

Гуус Екстра: «Україна вже живе в умовах трилінгвізму»

Чим більше мов знаєш, тим більше шансів знайти себе у цьому великому світі. Але всіх мов не вивчиш. Аби зрозуміти, якими мовами говоритиме світ завтра, «Платформа» зустрілася з професором з Нідерландів, завідувачем кафедри мов і меншин Тілбурзького університету, Гуусом Екстра. Він завітав в Україну в рамках програми British Council «Багатомовна Європа». Пан Гуус Екстра спеціалізується на питаннях мовної адаптації іммігрантських меншин та освіти на національному та європейському рівнях. Користуючись нагодою ми також розпитали професора про його бачення мовної ситуації в Україні.

Як вирішувати проблеми, які виникають у багатомовних країнах?

В рамках свого візиту в Україну я провів лекцію для студентів Національного лінгвістичного університету. Я вирішив присвятити її висвітленню ідеї трилігнвізму, так званої «трилінгвістичної формули», яку сьогодні активно просуває Європейська Комісія. Що це таке? Як, власне, зрозуміло з назви, вона полягає у створенні лінгвістичної системи, у якій функціонувало б три мови. Якщо ми говоримо про Європейський Союз, то ця ідея втілюється таким чином. Першою, але, що важливо, не домінантною, є мова країни, в якій ви живете. Тут все виглядає дуже просто, але насправді воно таким не є. Річ у тім, що з глобалізацію значного масштабу набула і міграція. Тобто сьогодні для більшості (близько 60%) людей державна мова фактично є вже другою після рідної. Ця тенденція актуальна для усієї Західної Європи. Другою є мова «інтернаціонального престижу». Зрозуміло, що Комісія, намагаючись бути толерантною, відкрито не каже, що це англійська. Зроби вона так, наприклад, Франція одразу образилась би. Але всі ми розуміємо реальний стан речей. Навіть у початковій школі діти обов’язково вивчають англійську. І нарешті третя мова – «мова персональної адаптації». Вона, перш за все, актуальна для емігрантів. Це може бути турецька, арабська, сомалі та будь-яка інша мова країни, з якої приїхали люди. Ця формула є універсальною і може застосовуватися будь-де.

Як ви можете прокоментувати мовну ситуацію в Україні?

Україна, на мою думку, не є винятком із загальносвітових тенденцій. Після коректної оцінки ситуації, стає зрозуміло, що ви вже застосовуєте цю трилінгвістичну формулу. Тобто маєте свою власну українську мову як державну та офіційну, так само використовуєте англійську як мову «престижу», а домінантна національна меншина спілкується російською. І, на перший погляд, це абсолютно нормально. Наскільки я знаю, в Україні налічується близько 13 мов національних меншин. Але ваша проблема в тому, що кількість російськомовного населення значно перевищує кількість носіїв інших мов. Цим Україна чимось нагадує мені Литву. Там, як ви знаєте, російська довгий час була мовою «престижу» та домінувала над національною. Але зараз пріоритети змінилися, і тим, хто послуговувався лише російською, доводиться вчити державну мову. У випадку України – це цілковито політичне питання. І вирішувати його слід так само на політичному рівні.

Наскільки я зрозумів, в вашій країні зараз панівною патріотичною ідеєю є збереження тільки однієї державної мови – української. Жодних «українська + російська». Зараз ви намагаєтеся направляти людей, агітувати їх спілкуватися українською, робити так, щоб саме вона була мовою науки, політики тощо. Але треба пам’ятати, що мови національних меншин також потрібно підтримувати, хоча б на регіональному рівні. Маємо схожу ситуацію в Нідерландах. І в нас вона вирішується просто: представники національних меншин продовжують спілкуватися своєю мовою, можуть вільно робити це, але мусять знати і державну.

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