Walking on the EUR campus, one is increasingly likely to hear a mixture of Dutch and English. By 2018 Erasmus University is supposed to be completely bilingual. With well over two years to go to attain that goal, EM decided to take stock of the situation. Just how bilingual is EUR?

If a fire alarm goes off in a building on the Woudestein campus, visitors to the building in question will be requested to vacate the premises. Not too long ago, the University Council asked whether it would be possible to have that alert in English first and in Dutch second. Their reasoning? Everyone will understand an English-language alert, whereas a Dutch-language alert will slow down foreign visitors in their attempt to leave the building.

More and more EUR students and staff hail from abroad. In 2012, 12 percent of students pursuing a bachelor degree hailed from a non-Dutch background. By 2018 this will be 15 percent. There are no signs that this trend will be stemmed.

In order to keep Erasmus University attractive to foreign students and faculty and not to make them feel excluded on campus, we will need more English-language communications. The most-discussed sentence from the university’s 2014-2018 strategic plan might just be this one: ‘All internal and external communications shall be made in English and Dutch.’ All EUR support staff underwent English proficiency testing and were offered a course to brush up their skills if necessary. The university is taking globalisation seriously.

Erasmus University has chosen to give English-language communications equal status as Dutch-language communications, thus creating a completely bilingual university. It’s been two years since it was announced that EUR was to become completely bilingual, and we will have two more years to try and attain that goal. Time, in other words, for EM to take stock. Just how bilingual is our university really?

For English, see below

A quick tour of the university’s digital communication channels shows a varying picture. The university’s Facebook page is entirely in English. However, e-mail messages tend to be completely bilingual. Invitations to formal events such as the official opening of the new academic year or the university’s Dies Natalis typically start with ‘For English, see below’. A channel such as sin-online (let’s leave aside the fact that this name will conjure up images of porn sites for most foreign students and faculty…) presents a mixture of Dutch-language, English-language and bilingual messages.

It may take a little while, but one is generally able to find most of the information presented on www.eur.nl in two languages. With a little effort, one is able to locate information, forms or documents about one’s workplace, labour affairs or the registrar’s office. And if one isn’t able to find these documents, it’s more likely because a hyperlink was lost in hyperspace than because there is no Dutch or English translation available. For instance, try to switch between Dutch and English on the directory’s sub-pages. The system is a long way from being completely bilingual, but as far as digital communications are concerned, the university is doing a pretty good job.

Rules of conduct at meetings

Events present a different picture. After all, live subtitling is a lot harder to achieve than having your newsletter translated. For example, look at the items on the SG Erasmus programme, which tend to be in either Dutch or English, the sole exception being subtitled films.

The 2015 academic year was formally declared open in English, although subtitles would not have gone amiss for some lectures. At the official opening of the Polak Building and the subsequent reception, the language of communication was Dutch.

Events such as the Erasmus Recruitment Days tend to be mainly in Dutch. However, several workshops are taught in English, by companies which are looking to recruit foreign employees.

Meetings are now subject to rules of conduct. If a meeting is attended by anyone who is not proficient in Dutch, discussions shall be held in English. Some Faculty Advisory Boards having been doing this for a while. The University Council has been doing it since this summer, following trials involving interpreters and entire cycles in English. If all parties present are able to speak Dutch, conversations will be in Dutch, although minutes and other documents will generally be made available in both languages.

Bilingual meals

Walking on campus, one comes across an interesting mixture of languages. Sign-posting is entirely in English, as are all maps. Even suppliers are greeted in English with a sign posted at the main entrance. Of course, it doesn’t matter whether a sign says ‘Polak Building’ or ‘Polakgebouw’: as long as the sign points in the right direction, everyone will find the building in question. On the other hand, signs such as ‘rijwiel in de stalling plaatsen’ (park bicycles in the racks) or ‘nooduitgang, deur vrijhouden’ (emergency exit; do not obstruct door) tend to be exclusively in Dutch.

Generally, one can order a meal in two languages. At Tosti World, descriptions of toasties are bilingual, but Spar tends to announce its lunch deals in Dutch, whereas the Erasmus Paviljoen generally only has English-language menus.

Posters and flyers issued by student associations can be found in both Dutch and English. Whereas STAR generally communicates in English, JFR tends to communicate in Dutch. When Histartes became ACE, English became its dominant language. For their part, ERA’s philosophers hardly speak anything but Dutch: until the Faculty of Philosophy began to offer its double degree, fairly recently, there were hardly any overseas philosophy students.

So how bilingual is our university?

With a bit of goodwill, one could call the Woudestein campus bilingual. There are two languages of communication. One comes across Dutch as well as English, and increasingly both. On the other hand, communications are increasingly in English only, so one could not call the university strictly bilingual. Dies invitations may be drawn up in two languages, but one is likely to be encouraged to join the university gym in English, and to try to find an emergency exit in Dutch.

As for the fire alert that the University Council would like to hear in English first? It’s been in English first for several years now.