Platform Onderwijs2032 is looking at the future of the education system in the Netherlands. One of the conclusions drawn from their work to date is that English should be taught from group 1, from the start of a child’s school journey.
According to an article on Expatica, just over half of Dutch children are taught a second language in primary school. This falls below the European average.
The government is busy with measures to rectify this situation. It is well acknowledged that children learn languages more easily from a younger age. The reality though is that many of them are not formally introduced to a second language until they are in secondary school.
It’s a story that surprised me when I first read it. Lagging behind in foreign language teaching and the Dutch isn’t something that struck me as going hand in hand. Let’s be clear, the Dutch, on the whole, have excellent foreign language skills. Most of the population can hold a decent conversation in English.
“Amongst nations where English is considered the best-known foreign tongue, the study noted that the Netherlands also had a high proportion of working-age adults “proficient” in the language (36 per cent). This places the Dutch fourth in Europe, with only Malta, Sweden and Cyprus boasting more proficient English speakers. An additional 45 per cent of Dutch adults rated themselves as “good” speakers of English. This means that over 80 per cent of the Netherlands’ working population has good English skills”
(Taken from a 2013 I Am Expat article)
But the content of the Expatica article certainly doesn’t contradict my own personal experience with three children in primary school.
My eldest son is in group 5, is eight years old, but as yet has had no formal second language lessons in school. My youngest son recently had a morning of singing English songs, and my middle son has had exposure to a few words of English vocabulary in the classroom. Their English skills are certainly not attributable to their hours in school.
However, they have classmates who are also adept at speaking some English despite not having the benefit of a British mother as my sons do. There are many five year old walking the school corridors with more than a sprinkling of English vocabulary – picked up from their parents, radio and TV. There is exposure to English outside the classroom, even if it is minimal. (I’m pretty sure you’d be hard pressed to find an eight year old who doesn’t know the word shit for example…)
The debate at the moment is about the teaching of a second language at primary school level, not about the overall ability of the Dutch to speak foreign languages. Somewhere along the way it comes good. There’s no mistake about that – something echoed by the Dutch respondents on my Facebook page to this issue.
My only concern is that if English was taught to the Dutch from group 1 by the time they reach adulthood their English would be more proficient than the English language skills of most English people…….
So over to you: at what age do children start earning a second language in school where you are? What language(s) do they learn? At what age do you think children should start learning languages in school?