High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands


High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands

Dutch Around the World Deserves Stronger Promotional Strategies

Dutch Around the World Deserves Stronger Promotional Strategies

Studying Dutch abroad signifies considerable economic and cultural added value. In a number of European countries, the introduction of a rather ambitious language and culture policy has had significant impact. However, when it comes to similar investments, the Low Countries are lagging behind, compared to e.g. Germany, Russia, Hungary, Poland, Portugal and Sweden. This implies that many opportunities remain unexplored. Are our governments truly aware of this untapped potential?

Remarkably, ever since 2010, Hungary has doubled the budget – which is almost entirely dedicated to establishing a strong network of teachers – assigned to funding the spread of Hungarian abroad. In the Netherlands and in Flanders limits have almost been reached. From 2010 onwards, budgets have been cut back considerably. It appears our governments do not realise just how useful and meaningful promoting our language around the world is. Their reactions are devoid of any ambition – pointing to a so-called “policy deficit” –, and they limit themselves to copying and supporting what is already happening abroad. A proactive policy, let alone a voluntarist one, is simply non-existent.

Nevertheless, field research carried out by the Taalunie (The Dutch Language Union) among students of Dutch in Poland and Italy, points to a set of clear economic and diplomatic benefits of those language programmes.

The Taalunie went even further and also analysed language policies in countries including Germany, Russia, Hungary, Poland, Portugal and Sweden. The results are quite revealing. All of those countries are much more involved with the active promotion and dissemination of their own national language abroad. Germany puts in the greatest effort. About 1,300,000 students are studying German across the globe, whereas about 730,000 people are learning Russian.

Admittedly, those are large countries, where ‘large languages’ are spoken. Still, 40,000 students taking up Swedish classes are in stark contrast with almost 14,000 people studying Dutch. You might think that is actually a decent number. However, from those reports we learn that a targeted and ambitious language and culture policy could pave the way towards a much brighter future for Dutch.

We should applaud the Taalunie’s efforts. It remains a unique organisation. We should be grateful for its existence, seeing that nowadays, I fear, it would no longer be founded. Nevertheless, these studies clearly illustrate that even the Taalunie is an institution that had its wings clipped.

Other countries apparently did get the memo that a commitment to spreading the knowledge of their own language – and, hence, culture – throughout the world is not only beneficial in a political or an economic way, but could also strengthen diplomatic ties and raise cultural awareness. It is, in fact, part and parcel of an efficient and intelligent foreign policy.

Will the Dutch government and Foreign Affairs, and the newly installed Flemish government, which has its own foreign policy, finally get wind of this message?

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