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Dutch language lessons at all-time low among Walloon pupils
Dutch has reached an all-time low in Wallonia as a language study choice for pupils. In the 2019-20 academic year, only one in three first-year secondary school pupils chose to study Dutch, Belgium’s majority language.
You don’t have to look too far to see why the numbers are dropping: Because English is more popular every year. Some 64% of pupils in the region chose to study English last year. A decade ago, the Dutch-English figures were much closer to half and half.
“Dutch has always had a tough time in Wallonia, but now it’s even worse,” Christophe Deborsu, RTL journalist, told VRT. “Dutch is a difficult language to learn, and English is of course popular on social media, the internet and in IT.”
But he also sees that the north-south political divide is taking its toll. “The breakthrough of N-VA is playing an important role,” said Deborsu. “A lot of Walloons have the opinion that there’s no point learning Dutch if the country is going to split apart. I hear that a lot.”
Out of balance
Dutch is required in French-language schools in Brussels, and French is required in all Flemish schools. So this has long begged the question: Why is Dutch not required in all French-language schools? Considering the size of the country and future employment options, it would seem quite useful to speak Dutch proficiently.
“I know many 20-somethings who are sorry that they didn’t study Dutch in secondary school,” revealed Deborsu. “They know that they didn’t choose to study it because it’s a difficult language, so now they wish they had been forced to.”
While it could prove to be an uphill battle, there are signs, said Deborsu, that the political winds are changing. “The parties are beginning to share their thoughts on this. MR chair Georges-Louis Bouchez, for instance, has said that he finds it unfortunate that he did not get a single hour of Dutch at school. The only party that is really still in doubt is PS, but the process of considering requiring Dutch has begun.”
Image: ©Ron Dale/Shutterstock