More language choices for students with Taal naar Keuze

Interview with Karijn Helsloot from Taal naar Keuze

April 19, 2020

For TnK promotional text in Dutch, scroll to the end of the article. A Dutch version of this interview will be available later this year.


Which languages are studied in the Dutch education system in addition to Dutch and English? Most probably you will name German and French. But the Dutch education system actually allows for more flexibility than you realize when it comes to language education!


This is the message of Taal naar Keuze (TnK), a new stichting in Amsterdam working to expand students' linguistic horizons at primary and secondary schools across the Netherlands. The project was born in 2016, and from 2017 to 2019 they tested their ideas in collaboration with seven Esprit schools in Amsterdam. The TnK stichting has been official since October 2019.


We spoke with founder Karijn Helsloot to find out how this initiative got started and what services are provided to schools. In particular, at HLSE we are always curious to find out which support is available to heritage language students, who can benefit from formally studying a language that they speak at home.



What does the Dutch law say about language education?

In the educational law for primary and secondary education, there is nothing actually restricting the use of other languages in the classroom in addition to Dutch – and some ten languages can be studied and tested in secondary schools. We believe that this flexibility should be exercised and every student should have the right to choose which languages they want to learn.


How did Taal naar Keuze (TnK) get started?

Because my expertise is in the area of multilingualism and policy-making, I was approached by a school board to help create a language plan. They wanted to give attention to internationalization, which is a two-sided coin: on the one side, there are the Dutch students who want to take languages beyond just German and French, and on the other side there are the multilingual students with different home languages. I saw that there was a great need to strengthen and enrich the language policies and to give students more choice.


What is possible for primary schools?

In primary education, the approach is to give attention to all of the languages that make up each class' linguistic repertoire, based on what the students speak at home. Saying that children must only speak Dutch at school goes against everything that is good for a child – and against UN children's rights! It is my understanding that this is the theme of the symposium that HLSE has scheduled for 2020.


It has been proven that attention should be given at school to a child's home culture and environment, so-called "ecological pedagogy." This requires teachers to make an effort, but it also relies on the involvement of parents. We have created a guide book for primary school teachers for how to achieve this.


What can TnK do for secondary schools?

Our goal is to provide more language options to secondary school students than are currently available – preferably with the possibility to take an official final exam in the chosen language. We make sure that school directors are informed about the possibilities and the benefits, not only for the students, but for the school overall. And we help schools to organize the education, by finding teachers and by making it financially feasible through combining classes or putting students of different schools together in online classes. 


Our general advice to secondary schools is to give first-year students an 8-week program in language awareness during their Dutch or foreign language class. TnK can send a teacher to offer the course in collaboration with the students' regular teacher. Students are encouraged to think about what they already know about languages and to compare and contrast languages. In our experience this introduction helps open up students' eyes and sparks their interest in languages.


What is the process to expand the language curriculum, and does it require much time?

A language that is offered must be part of a school's official plan. The Medezeggenschapsraad (MR) – representing school staff and parents – has to agree, as well as the school board, and the new curriculum is then sent to the educational inspectorate. TnK is able to assist with this process. The process need not take a long time. It is more an issue that many people are simply not aware of the options.


A lot depends on a school's director. It is not our aim to make things complicated for school directors, rather we can assess their needs and assist with the practicalities.


For which languages are official final exam programs are available?

Right now the Dutch government offers an official program in 9 modern languages (Arabic, Chinese, German, French, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, and Frisian) – if we do not count English or Dutch, which are required subjects. If a student is interested in following one of these languages, TnK can help the school prepare the student for the official final exam.


Preferably, students can follow the language as a part of their regular curriculum, and not as an extra-curricular subject. Our experience with secondary students who take on the language beyond the regular package has shown that this situation is not ideal: it increase their workload and overburdens the student.


Do additional language options hold only for the vwo track?

In principle, the languages hold for all tracks (vmbo, havo, and vwo), but the exams are not  available at all levels. For example, for Chinese, there is only a vwo exam. For Russian, there is vwo and havo, but not vmbo. There is nothing in the law that forbids a Russian student at vmbo level to take an exam at havo level, but the exam at vmbo level does not currently exist.


What if there is no official final exam available?

If a student would like certification in a language for which there is no official exam it is possible to take a certificate offered by an external agency. The result may be added to the final diploma, but will not be part of it.


At the moment, TnK is focusing on the languages for which there is already an official final exam offered by the Dutch government. We see it as a "waste" that, for instance, there are secondary school students who speak Spanish at home, but who are not taking a final exam in Spanish!


Which heritage language students has TnK supported so far?

Last year we had students doing Turkish and Arabic as a part of their official exam program package. This year we are supporting a group of Spanish-speaking secondary students taking their exam: Spanish has replaced another subject that they initially had to follow. These students are happy because they are able to study their mother tongue and successfully get a good score. This kind of arrangement is enormously stimulating for the multilingual students. We hope next year many more students will get this opportunity.


Is it correct that Dutch students and heritage language students would be in the same language class?

Yes, this might be the case, but not only for organizational or financial reasons. The pilot we ran had the beginners and mother tongue students all in the same class, which they mostly enjoyed. The teacher made sure that students received tailored material, and the better students sometimes helped the others.


Does TnK help find language teachers for secondary schools?

Yes, we can help Dutch secondary schools find teachers and arrange the courses. In fact, we would like language teachers in Eindhoven to be aware that they can register free of charge or obligation with us at TnK to be a part of our teacher pool. Freelancer status (ZZP) is necessary. We work with teachers who have an official "eerste-" of "tweedegraads" certification, as well as with language experts and mother tongue speakers without such a certificate. During the pilot we employed between 30 and 40 freelance teachers.


What happens if there is an Italian-speaking student here in Eindhoven who would like to follow Italian during secondary school, but there are no other students interested at his school?

Even if there is only one student who would like to follow Italian, in principle this could be arranged within the regular program. If there are no other interested students at the school, the Italian-speaking student would be placed in a digital class, and he or she could possibly join an Italian class at another school not too far away. As for "bovenbouw" (upper secondary), students are placed together in a two-year trajectory to prepare them for the final exam.


If there are twelve students in Amsterdam taking Italian and one in Eindhoven, they would all meet once per week online. Of course, it is better to have a group from secondary schools across Eindhoven, rather than from across the country, so that sometimes meetings in person can take place.


Does TkN currently have any working relationship with schools in Eindhoven?

We have some contact with Fontys, but we would like to reach more schools in Brabant. Please see our digital flyer for secondary schools and the promotional text below!

Meer talen in het onderwijs!

Meer talenonderwijs vergroot de sociale cohesie, de betrokkenheid en leermotivatie van leerlingen. Stichting Taal naar Keuze ondersteunt scholen bij het aanbieden van taalonderwijs. De onderwijswet laat Arabisch, Chinees, Duits, Frans, Fries, Italiaans, Spaans, Russisch en Turks toe, naast Nederlands en Engels, als school- en eindexamenvakken. Taal naar Keuze geeft leerlingen de kans hieruit te kiezen. Bovenschoolse samenwerking en flexibele inzet van docenten maken Meer talen in het onderwijs mogelijk. Kijk welke programma's Taal naar Keuze aanbiedt.


Belangstelling voor meer talen op uw school?
Wilt u weten welke mogelijkheden er zijn om vanaf schooljaar 2020-2021 meer talen op te nemen in het vakkenpakket van vmbo, havo of vwo? Kijk dan op Taal naar Keuze en meld u aan voor een gesprek!

Online training Meertaligheid

Met maximaal 5 docenten kunt u als school meedoen aan deze online training. In drie meetings van 1 uur met tussentijdse opdrachten begeleiden wij u door meertaligheid, door functioneel veeltalig leren. De training is bedoeld voor docenten Nederlands, NT2 en mvt, in de onderbouw van het voortgezet onderwijs. Ook basisscholen en het mbo kunnen deelnemen. De training kan overgaan in de Lessenreeks TnK - Alle Talen. Voor meer informatie: Online training Meertaligheid

 

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