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Brussels aims to promote multilingualism with updated rules

09:20 10/02/2024

The Brussels Council for Multilingualism is calling for updated language rules, pointing out that existing legislation dates back six decades and is in need of major changes.

The council says the capital’s population can no longer be seen as the co-existence of a French-speaking majority and a Dutch-speaking minority. For one, the proportion of pupils in Dutch-speaking schools who do not speak Dutch at home has soared from 4% to 74% in 40 years.

Today, the council argues that Brussels should be viewed as “an extremely diverse and fluid population that needs to be better served and better equipped”.

At the federal level, it is recommending the authorisation of the use of languages other than French and Dutch in all contact with the public in all municipal and regional public services in Brussels, whenever this might be useful.

“This means that, in addition to French and Dutch, we can also use English, which is a language well known to European civil servants and refugees,” said council chairman Philippe Van Parijs.

“But there are many other languages that civil servants master, and we are proposing that they should be able to use these to make contact with the public.”

For the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, the council recommends, among other things, the use of various strategies to remedy a shortage of Dutch language teachers.

For the Flemish community, the council recommends reforming the school calendar to reduce the loss of language skills due to much longer summer holidays than elsewhere, for example in the Netherlands.

And for the Brussels region, the council recommends the introduction of an annual multilingualism week, mobilising schools, public institutions and civil society to disseminate knowledge about learning several languages simultaneously, and to raise awareness of the many ways of improving language skills.

The council, set up on the initiative of Brussels minister for multilingualism Sven Gatz, aims to provide recommendations to potential candidates standing in Brussels for next June’s elections.

Written by Helen Lyons