5 Reasons Why Monolingual Universities Will Fail  9

thumbnail image

Last November a celebration was held to laud 25 years of bilingual education in the Netherlands. A month earlier a so-called “Manifest voor het behoud van het Nederlands” was published by four Dutch university professors making a plea to stop the development of English language university programmes. This “manifest” obtained some support in the Dutch media, for example in Volkskrant writer Aleid Truijens’ piece “In het Engels haalt niemand zijn niveau”. As bilingual and international education researchers and teacher educators at Iclon, we want to share with you 5 reasons why we believe monolingual universities are doomed to fail.


1. Economically irresponsible
An argument often made is that Dutch universities are promoting more English language Bachelor programmes to attract more foreign students. The authors of the manifesto make the point that most Dutch students eventually find employment in the Netherlands. They cease to point out that these jobs often necessitate communicating in another language, with others across the globe.

2. Fails to promote global and local understanding
We live in an increasingly globalized world and increasingly multi-cultural societies. To think of language only in terms speaking and writing and to make statements such as that if you don’t have the correct “level” or “ability” of using a language you shouldn’t use it, completely misses this point. Understanding and learning another language allows one to also understand the culture and behaviors of others better. It goes without saying that having the opportunity to interact with other students in another language is priceless, especially in such a formative period of one’s life. Learning in another language allows you to become more critically aware, communicative and socially intelligent.

3. Against the trend of increasing bilingual education
In 2014 the Dutch celebrated 25 years of bilingual education. Having started in pre-university secondary education, bilingual education is now also spreading to other levels of secondary education and to primary schooling. It is hence not only students from abroad that higher education institutions will cease to attract if they only offer monolingual Bachelor programmes, but also this group of local, Dutch students.

4. Bad for universities
Almost all Master programmes at universities are offered in English or another “global” language. Students who miss out on the opportunity to study using these languages during their Bachelor studies will have difficulty adapting to these Master programmes. Moreover, there are only few Dutch language journals in which academics can publish.

5. Unintelligent
Research on bilingual education has shown that the ability to master multiple languages is good for the brain – bilingual secondary school students achieve the same or better results than their peers in monolingual education. Why would this not be true for higher education? The Dutch language ability of students will certainly not get any better by simply reverting to teaching in Dutch.

What should we be doing?
Instead of wasting our time on discussions about whether the primary language through which higher education is provided ought to be Dutch or English, we should embrace the concept of multilingualism. As is the case with bilingual education, this of course needs to be done well in order to be effective. On this front we believe there is much still to be done. What specifically will be the subject of our next blog.

Mandi Berry & Evelyn van Kampen

Please feel free to post a comment or start a discussion about this topic.

Share This Post!Share on LinkedIn0Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Facebook0Email this to someone


We’re interested in bilingual education from a family perspective. Many of the kids we volunteer with have parents who cannot read in their native language, let alone English. Working on learning English together as a family can build both the family relationships and educational opportunities. Some of the materials we have developed are here:

You tried something. You feel like a wehigt would be lifted if you stop. It’s not useful to you. You won’t ever use it again. You could be using all that time and frustration on learning something you would actually like to do. You’re not a failure, you’re deciding to do something more efficient and worthwhile with your time. If you were going to live your life here you would learn it to the best of your ability. Also you don’t have to stop you can slow down a bit so it’s not so stressful. It’s ok to try something and decide you don’t want to do it.

I have to disagree. Your teehcar is being honest, and knows the difficulty that foreigners have here when trying to speak Danish. It’s not at all uncommon for total strangers to mock foreigners’ efforts, from my experience, and it’s all too common that the Dane won’t understand what you’re saying. My best friend is Danish and she can’t understand a single word of my spoken Danish.With that in mind, why go to the trouble and struggle to speak something spoken only by 5 million people? Norwegian and Swedish is extremely similar in rules and structure to Danish, but how telling is it that most Norwegians and Danes communicate through English? Believe it or not one Norwegian man even DIED because his accent was misunderstood at Rigshospital’s E.R. Admitting desk. Yep, he tried to tell the receptionist that he was a hemophiliac, and was very rightfully worried for his health as a result of being hit over the head with a bottle. The receptionist assumed he was drunk and was telling her he was a homosexual (which sounded close to hemophiliac, apparently), and sent him home. (To die of his injuries, actually, which he did.)So yeah, keep up with reading it and trying to decipher those Jysk accents, but seriously, why waste valuable time on something which ultimately won’t really be useful?These days I speak Danish to the retarded customers in my shop who are not billingual, a recovering stroke victim, and to polite elderly Copenhageners who seem to understand my pronunciation better, for some reason. Everyone else gets English, and they treat me more respectfully than when I struggle with Danish.

Hi Wesmor,

But it might even be more than language per se. If you live in particular community it seems respectful at least to try to speak their language. Although most of them can also communicate with you in English.

This is a nice start to discuss the role of language in academe. I agree with the need for multilingualism, which actually also implies that international students and scholars studying and working in the Netherlands should learn to use the Dutch language, together with a language that is used in their learning or working context (English or other).

Thank you for this overview on arguments that have been given pro monolingual education, enriched with arguments pro multilingual education.

I myself think multilingual education should indeed be encouraged, even it is only for your last sentence under point 4.: ‘few Dutch language journals in which academics can publish’. Recently, I have given it some thought that there are countries where academics still publish a lot in their own language. It is a pity that for this reason, it is harder for us (researchers from different countries) to get to know their research and their viewpoints on the subject matter/concepts of our interest. I do not think that we should also be educated in those languages, but I do think that Dutch researchers have less trouble with this point, as by being educated bilingual or multilingual, we already get comfortable with writing in a language that many researchers from many different countries will understand. And of course it is easier for us to read those papers published in languages that are familiar to us (like English).
So, I think it enriches our points of view and provides us with more insight on topics of our own interest.


Is it mainly the spelnilg differential that’s messing you up? What I’m getting at is – when we’re born, we know nothing about spelnilg words; we just imitate and learn that way. It’s much less stressful to learn only the speaking, instead of both speaking and spelnilg. When we can talk fairly well, we go to school and learn to spell and read. If you could focus on just the speaking part, do you think you could pick it up quicker? A few years back I tried to do some language tapes, but the quizzes and memorizations weighed me down. I stumbled on the Pimsleur technique and really liked it. Unfortunately, other things came up in my life and I couldn’t pursue the languages, but it was learning it the way we learned English as children.Just a thought, Sage.

Having lived near Montre9al I was always ameazd & humbled how kids switched back & forth between multiple languages with ease. To wit; dining in a Vietnamese resto and seeing the kids at one table talk in English amongst themselves, French to the parents & Vietnamese to the elders- never missing a beat. I can switch back & forth between English & French but only with considerable effort and I’m sure I make grammatical mistakes of varying degrees. If I had kids I would make sure they were immersed in at least one foreign language immeadiately.

Ik lees het toch goed: ICLON RESERARCH Blog? Dan stelt deze bijdrage mij erg teleur.

De argumenten waaraan in de inleiding gerefereerd wordt worden namelijk in het stuk nauwelijks systematisch ontkracht, er worden gewoon wat stellingen tegenovergesteld, zonder enige verwijzing naar wetenschappelijke literatuur. ‘Unintelligent” vind ik het treurig dieptepunt van de vijf. Een discussie lijkt mij juist wél op zijn plaats in een wetenschappelijke omgeving. “Instead of wasting our time … ” is de mening van de twee auteurs, maar klinkt nogal denigrerend tov andersdenkenden.

Ik heb zelf mijn (natuurkunde)studie in het Nederlands genoten, inclusief mondelinge tentamens (literatuur was wel vaak in het Engels) en daar valt nog steeds veel voor te zeggen.

Ik heb overigens geen uitgesproken mening over het onderwerp, ik wil alleen laten weten dat ik teleurgesteld ben dat het ICLON-onderzoek van tegenwoordig kennelijk bestaat uit boude en brutaal-geformuleerde beweringen.

HW, oud ICLON-medewerker

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *