October 23, 2013
Late September, some of Brussels’ political figures and blue-sky thinkers got together and discussed a new language approach for the capital of Belgium… and of the European Union.
Participants at the Marnix Plan launch event, organised on 28 September, could feel an optimism hanging in the air: there was a general willingness for politics to move closer towards multilingualism, and work together on the language issue – always sensitive in Belgium.
To meet Brussels’s exceptional linguistic challenges, the Marnix Plan wants to mobilise Brussels’s diverse linguistic competence into an exciting collaborative project. Trilingual education is on the agenda as well, with English as a third language for the Brussels’ community to come together.
The recently appointed minister-president of the Brussels region Rudi Vervoort created a buzz by calling for bilingual schools. His call to build bridges over the French-Dutch divide in the city is exceptional in a country were most politicians avoid the prickly subject of language learning.
Proper teaching of both national languages (French and Dutch) is a challenge, given that half of the children born in Brussels don’t actually speak one of these two at home. Often times, Arabic, Turkish and many other languages are spoken at Brussels dinner tables.
But Brussels has a great English-speaking community, notably the people working in the European institutions, or ‘eurocrats’. English is key to allow the city of Brussels to develop a market for international services around the EU and multilingual corporations.
Interestingly, it is two Flemish politicians who called for a trilingual – and not bilingual – school system, putting English up on the pedestal together with national languages French and Dutch.
Three interviewees reacted both with interest and caution to this idea of trilingual education in Brussels:
- Pascal Smet, minister of education in Flanders;
- Rudi Vervoort, minister-president of the Brussels region;
- and Julie de Groote, Brussels parliamentarian and president of the Christian-democrat cdH group in the parliament of the Wallonia-Brussels federation.
Read the interviews here:
Pascal Smet: “English should be official language of Brussels” (link, EN)
Rudi Vervoort: « Il faut avoir cette idée ambitieuse, surtout dans une région comme Bruxelles » (link, FR)
Julie de Groote : « Nous insistons d’abord sur la réalité sociologique bruxelloise » (link, FR)
[UPDATE]: On Wednesday 23 October, we published an article on EurActiv.com, based on the interviews above. Read the article via this link: English should be Brussels’ official language, Flemish minister saysMedia4EU