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Wrong to impose Luxembourgish on foreign pupils

Wrong to impose Luxembourgish on foreign pupils

by Bill Wirtz 2 min. 02.03.2019 From our online archive
Whether your child learns Luxembourgish or not should be a free choice, not a pre-made government choice, Bill Wirtz argues
'Nothing holds expats back from sending their children to regular schools' Photo: Shutterstock
'Nothing holds expats back from sending their children to regular schools' Photo: Shutterstock

Education minister Claude Meisch in a Luxembourg Times interview recently said he would require international schools to teach Luxembourgish. This is part of a coalition plan to reform the international school system, and to add affordable public international education in an effort to foster "social cohesion".

What's not to like for Luxembourgers? Children learn languages easily, and we'll add yet another generation of students able to the language, which many believe is declining. But there is much that is wrong with Meisch's proposal.

International schools attract a different population than regular secondary schools. People send their children there either because they offer a more interesting curriculum, or because they value education in English. Some parents may not intend to stay in Luxembourg for much longer. What need is there to teach a language to a child that it will only speak clumsily after five years, and will then never use again?

Luxembourgish readers may think my view is typical for an expat who doesn't speak the language. But I happen to be Luxembourger myself, and a native speaker. I still don't see much sense in the idea. I get myself into similar discussions in Belgium, where Flemish people bemoan the inadequate education of Dutch in French-speaking Wallonia. It is just a reality that French is internationally more useful than Dutch. Nor is Luxembourgish an international language. If you ask a Luxembourger abroad how many languages he or she speaks, you'll often get answer such as "four, if you count Luxembourgish".

And it's not like you cannot learn Luxembourgish if you want to. Most international schools offer the language as an option. And nothing holds expats back from sending their children to regular schools. In fact, parents wishing to stay in Luxembourg would be ill-advised not to teach their children the national language. They will acquire it easily, and despite it not being essential to daily life, it is an asset in many areas, including the financial sector. But these should be free choices, not pre-made government choices.

The unfortunate reality of this proposal is political. Part of the Luxembourgish electorate is concerned with an alleged decline in language use. Claude Meisch is attempting to appease them. The fear of these voters is however unsubstantiated. The reality is that, according to a TNS Ilres poll, Luxembourgish is the language of 77% of the population, and of 94% of those aged 16-24. Meisch knows this too, but instead of fulfilling the onerous task of explaining this to voters, he puts a policy into place that won't help the language, parents, or students.

Nor is the plan a win for culture either. There is no emergency for the national language, and even if they were, it wouldn't be solved by the few hundred students acquiring it in international schools. Learning Luxembourgish is about taking part in things such as culture or politics, which are made much easier through the language. Wanting those things isn't something that can be mandated by the government. People who do not wish to be a part of it should be free to be guests in this country. Those who desire to become deeply connected to the country won't need mandatory classes.

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