Study in Luxembourg

A case for a higher education language focus

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Blogger Mindful Mimi describes the challenges of a school system in Luxembourg without a primary language focus.

When I was pregnant with our first baby, an important question popped up: how do we raise our kid language-wise? I am a native Dutch speaker; my other half is a native French speaker. Together we speak French, and we live in a country that has another, third language: Luxembourgish.

After some research and reading of books, I came to the conclusion that information contained on the Web and in books is helpful, but that each situation is different and particular. Hence, there is no one-solution-fit-all.

I was born and raised in Luxembourg, but up until the age of four only spoke Dutch at home. Getting to Kindergarten, I did not understand a word of what the kids were saying.

Back then (early seventies), the community was much less international than it is now, so I was in the minority. I do not remember feeling left out for long though. I do not remember having any difficulty language-wise.

The particularity about Luxembourg is that Luxembourgish is only an official language since the 80s, and that French and German are the norm when it comes to written language. Our schoolbooks were in German, so after learning to speak Luxembourgish, German was the next (at age six) and French shortly thereafter (at age seven).

I had no problem with German, as all the books were in German, Luxembourgish (in which I was by then fluent) is very close to it and most television was in German. I had a bit more difficulty with French, but so did everyone else.

Eventually English was added (at age 13), with which I had very few problems compared to my fellow students. Later, during my career, I also came to learn Italian and Spanish.

When asked which language is my mother tongue, I have a hard time choosing between Dutch and Luxembourgish.

Dutch because it was my first language, but I never properly learned how to write it and, being a kid of expats, the language the parent's speak is not always up to date.

Luxembourgish because it is the language I was most immersed in during childhood (I count and most of the time think in Luxembourgish), but it was never taught in writing and there is hardly what can be called ‘literature’ available in that language.

Over the years my brain has gotten so used to all the languages that switching from one to the other is not a big deal. I speak much more English and French nowadays than I do Luxembourgish, so I find myself thinking in the language I speak.

We have decided to raise our son with the OPOL method: One Parent, One Language. I speak Dutch to him, my other half French. My parents, who watch him a lot, also speak Dutch to him as well which means that currently his most strong language is Dutch and his first words (he is almost 16 months now) are mainly Dutch.

But he understands my other half perfectly, and the day care speaks French to him, too, so the first French words are coming as well.

When he goes to school (at the age of three) he will be immersed into the Luxembourgish environment (as I was when I was little), and will learn German in primary school. He will already have perfect knowledge of French by the time his friends are starting to learn it, so that's one less to worry about.

What we do still not know is how we deal with education after primary school. Luxembourg has a variety of schools on offer (European School, International School, French School), all of which are far away from where we live. So logistically it would be a drag.

Financially they are also quite a burden. And to top it off, these schools are hard to get into because priority is given to European Community workers, French nationals and so on.

We do think however, that higher education that focused more on one language (French for example), with books, teachers, literature in that language (instead of German and French and English) would be an advantage.

We believe that raising a bilingual kid is easy on the home front, but difficult in an international environment where the school system does not have a primary language focus.

Reprinted with permission of Mindful Mimi.

Mimi is a working mother of two little boys who likes to out her creativity through writing, painting and photography. She blogs about self-improvement, creativity, her hobbies and much more at Mindful Mimi.

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