English will be the dominant language when the university becomes bilingual, writes Chris Aalberts. Instead, we should teach Dutch to internationals.

Recently, the University Council held an experiment with meeting in English. Two members did not speak Dutch and therefore it would be a good idea to completely switch over to English. Everybody can surely speak English, isn’t it?

The experiment forms part of a wider trend: science, according to many, must become English entirely. Science written in Dutch is outdated. Yet what many had not predicted happened: the University Council took a few steps back and is meeting in Dutch again. A courageous and rightful decision: the EUR is a Dutch institution, which functions according to Dutch law, is paid for by the Dutch tax payer, and with a majority of Dutch students.

Now the realism has returned at the University Council it is time for the next step: do away with the ambition to make the EUR an officially bilingual institution. We only need to look at the equality principle to see that this goal is fundamentally flawed: foreign researchers will in many cases not have to learn Dutch, but support staff has to learn English. It is remarkable that the PVV – not my party – has not yet raised any parliamentary questions about this.

If the EUR will become bilingual, English will really be the dominant language. That is a process which has been completed in other places. An example is the ’24 Hours of Communication Sciences.’ Until a couple of years ago this was a largely Dutch conference. Of more than forty paper session the most are in English. Two (!) are completely in Dutch. A considerable part of the conference is ‘Dutch-English’, which suggests that the conference is bilingual. The same, thus, as a ‘bilingual EUR’. This is incorrect: it means, concretely, that researchers in these paper sessions are looked down upon when the present in Dutch. This way you get stale English presentations in front of a nearly totally Dutch room. That the quality of the discussion suffers is certain. If the policy is that some English speakers will not have to learn Dutch but some Dutch speakers do have to learn English, the dominant language is English.

The comparison with the Dutch policy regarding the multicultural society comes to the front: for decades, a lot of ‘allochtonen’ did not have to learn Dutch and the government adapted to them with Turkish and Moroccan flyers. Not until the societal discontent became really large, politicians started to realize that it is better if there is a common language. At the EUR, with the current policy, that can only be English.

Our executives think that the EUR can adapt to international researchers and that learning Dutch is unnecessary. It will fare the same as the multicultural society: some researchers will be of good will and learn Dutch because they feel their future lies in The Netherlands. But some others will refuse that and thereby make it necessary for the EUR to practically switch to English completely. With that, the incentive to learn Dutch in the first place, is gone.

It is more logical to be clear about the norm: the EUR is a Dutch university. Instead of the bilingual university, we had better invest time and money in facilitating everybody who is a part of the EUR to learn Dutch. With the language, people learn the Dutch culture and that will be an enriching experience for many, especially also for international students. The neighbors, the sports club and the supermarket will certainly not unthinkingly step over to English as the EUR.

Chris Aalberts is teacher and researcher in political communication at the department Media en communication (ESHCC). Lees dit artikel in het Nederlands.