Multilingualism, a minister and a policy paper (Urban Education, 6)

translated from dutch Onderwijs in Brussel is… urban education: meertaligheid, een minister en een beleidsnota (6)

On multilingualism in multilingual Brussels

I have written about multilingualism and metropolitan education before (read it here).Today, I would like to focus on the “Promotion of Multilingualism 2019-2024” orientation paper published by the minister for the “promotion of multilingualism” in Brussels, Sven Gatz.

Policy paper

This paper concerns a new area of competence and serves to open up the debate, to inform and to inspire.

In the analysis of the environment, Brussels is presented in terms of its traditional multilingual history (French, Dutch) on the one hand, and its transformation into a multilingual, urban and international society (migration, international institutions, etc.) on the other. This reality requires and deserves a multilingual Brussels policy, because linguistic diversity is an essential part of the identity of the city’s inhabitants and ensures social and economic mobility and cohesion, etc. It is therefore essential that, in addition to developing their knowledge of the language spoken at home, the people of Brussels are able to use Dutch, French and English.

The policy paper envisages a key role for education by reinforcing existing initiatives and encouraging partnerships between the language communities. Businesses and civic organisations can also play a significant role when it comes to the language skills of their employees. Culture, youth, sport, welfare and care should be used as tools to further stimulate and support multilingualism among the inhabitants of Brussels.

The paper aims to portray Brussels as a multilingual region, ‘a laboratory and a pioneer in the field of multilingualism’.

… and metropolitan education

Teachers in Brussels are confronted with this multilingual reality on a daily basis: the linguistically diverse nature of the student population, the languages used in the environment, the different languages spoken by parents, etc.

On the one hand, school teams need to think about how to deal with this multilingual reality and even how to capitalise on it. On the other hand, schools should also focus on their pupils’ development of different languages (the language of instruction at school and foreign languages).

Dealing with the multilingual reality

It is crucial that teachers in the city develop a multilingual way of thinking and a multilingual perspective. You cannot treat multilingual pupils in the same way as monolingual pupils. A key didactic principle here is to “activate and use the pupil’s prior knowledge”. Activating and/or utilising the pupil’s prior linguistic knowledge must therefore be included in Brussels’ approach to education.

This means…

  • …that teachers in the city need to acquire knowledge of and insights into language acquisition and multilingual language development among children and young people;
  • …that teachers in the city need to make strategic and integrated use of the linguistic resources (e.g. the language spoken at home, metalinguistic awareness) of multilingual pupils (functional multilingual learning);
  • …that teachers in the city need to develop their pupils’ and their own knowledge, attitudes and skills with regard to dealing with language and language diversity (language awareness).

Acquiring multiple languages

Furthermore, education also has the task of “teaching” pupils several languages, in other words, foreign language education. Here, too, a multi-track approach is needed in a metropolitan context. The complex and diverse linguistic reality of our Brussels pupils requires a diverse approach, which needs to be reflected in the school’s own language policy. There is no single model that works for all schools and in all contexts. If the objective is that ‘all Brussels children should be proficient in at least Dutch, French and English by the age of 18’ (Gatz policy paper, 2019), then a combination of forms of bilingual and multilingual education, immersion education, native language support, intensive language proficiency education, forms of early and late start language learning, language-oriented vocational education and language stimulation outside school (hours), etc. will be required.

Read the orientation paper “Promotion of Multilingualism 2019-2024” in full:


Gepubliceerd door Piet Vervaecke

Directeur Onderwijscentrum Brussel

5 gedachten over “Multilingualism, a minister and a policy paper (Urban Education, 6)

Geef een reactie

Vul je gegevens in of klik op een icoon om in te loggen. logo

Je reageert onder je account. Log uit /  Bijwerken )


Je reageert onder je Twitter account. Log uit /  Bijwerken )

Facebook foto

Je reageert onder je Facebook account. Log uit /  Bijwerken )

Verbinden met %s

%d bloggers liken dit: