It is the season that we celebrate and gift wrap and make sure that we drive home to hug those we love the dearest. This year I have to miss a few people who in 2017 have moved away. Luckily is on Christmas day arriving a certain flight from NYC that carries three people that we surely look forward to fill up our glasses with. At the moment I am right on schedule. I only had to cancel my trip to beauty spa due to my painful feet, lower back and my eye that still is fighting back the eye cream that I three times a day squeeze in there. P tells me to be patient and so I am taking deep breaths. So we try to stay positive on the injured body frontier and kicking our selves into Christmas spirit.
Oh yes, it is starting to look a lot like Christmas at the moment. The Christmas trees and lights are all out and this year they surely make up for the lack of sun shine we are facing this month. Up till now we had only two hours of sun shine to enjoy and that helps to make December as the darkest month so far. Needless to say that it already has got that reputation but this year it decided to add a few extra extra grey and dark days. So it surely helps that it is the holiday season in order to survive the gloomy weather conditions. P even started us on Vitamin D chewing tablets.
On top of that I also survived my first long term of the school year. The teaching part I never ever grow tired of. Surely I have got those days that I wonder why I stay in the language learning business. Dutch is not the most straight forward language to teach to an international target group. I still consider it very worth while to learn a foreign language and I do envy those people who master more than four. Some of my students tackle a lot of languages in one day. They are considered sponges on the language spectrum. That my mother tongue is not on the short list of must-know-language-to-get-by-languages I surely understand. But please understand my point of view as well for once...please...pretty please!
Let us face it Dutch is not a language many of us globally speak on a daily basis. It is what it is. The last few years I have found out that speaking and understanding a language takes so much more than motivation and talent. Some people just do not manage. And in quite a lot of cases it has nothing to do with intelligence. More than ever I do realize that speaking a language also is connected to future aspirations and also involves some extra time and energy. Plus that my mother tongue is blessed with some very interesting sounds we produce with our speech organs. Believe me there are people who do not get their heads around that.
My coworker and I do not give up tough to teach young students a few words and expressions. No, we passionately share the Dutch language with others. It is our job and we both take our job description very seriously. Constantly we are looking for new ways to introduce vocabulary and also make them aware of how a language works. Language awareness is a central idea in our Dutch language learning. When a child in my classroom is able to make a connection between their mother tongue or any other language than fireworks goes off in my head. It is proof that the brain is active during a language lesson.
Oh yes, if I would be granted three hours a week to teach my mother tongue I would be able to do so much more. But it is what it is. I am granted 55 minutes a week to do my thing and expand the language awareness of my audience. So yes, I still miss my secondary classes and audiences and coworkers. It is what it is…and I try to make the best out of it.
That the last few months I have been a bit quiet even when the national press and politics had some very intense discussions, debates and words about language learning and education is due to the fact that I have also learned that I just do not see social media fit to have such a discussion. I am even very willingly to state that since I am not teaching in a ‘normal’ or should I rather describe it as being a less straight forward educational hot spot gives me less the ‘right’ to speak out my opinion. I tend to stand now a lot next to the field/fence when I read opinions about my profession but I never stop trying to get my head around the words and understand all the parties involved. Believe me I have been very busy.
At a certain point I even had typed a Facebook status that stated that I not wish to express my opinion out there but rather prefer a face to face discussion/educational chat in the company of gin&tonic. That is just me but honestly I do have some interesting teaching experience under my belt when it comes down to mother tongue in combination with learning an other language. I do think that any language deserves a spot in an educational setting. The languages we speak define us. Language is one of the strongest communication tools there is. It can built bridges and help to overcome prejudice. Yes, it does stimulate integration and cultural assimilation. It can create friendships that will last a life time.
But in the last few decades the world has changed. It has become more dense in many ways. That we are thanks to the internet able to ‘speak’ to each other is surely something very positive. I sometimes click for fun on the the translation tool that Facebook has to ‘translate’ messages people type there in their mother tongue. I challenge you to do this because it will amaze you what sometimes the translation tool with spit out. But it is also then that I do become very aware of how much our languages are different. It is what it is…
When I started out teaching at my educational work hot spot I found quite rapidly that banning a mother tongue of child is nefast for learning languages. Not only learning wise but even in general. My office is located next to the the room in which one of the most talented teachers I know introduces newcomers to the English language. Now if you think that in there is only spoken English the moment they walk in, you are wrong. I would rather describe it a language lab where all these languages collide and where the teacher needs to find a million ways to teach the dominant school language. Some kids pick it up in no time and others need some more time in order to express themselves in the English language. Time they are granted…
I now sometimes witness moments that blow me away. Oh yes, believe me have got students who in now time can pronounce challenging words and sometimes even catch up with those that might already have more years of any language learning under their belt. Now is this because they are banned from speaking their mother tongue at school? Well, most of students will speak their mother tongue at school but I also found out that they do tend to speak English the most. After all that is what we all in have common in school. The English language connects us in the most intense manner what so ever.
English is the fastest way from A to B in my school. It is the most powerful tool that empowers students to work together and create successful learning moments. Does this mean that students are not allowed to use their mother tongue inside a classroom when tackling certain math problems or when they studying the Romans? No,…I have picked up French, Dutch, German, Swedish, Turkish, Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, Hungarian, Russian, Spanish, Italian and many more in a classroom. Has this caused problems for the teacher or/and students involved? Not that I have been aware of it. I have seen many children been able to cope faster with certain things if they were allowed to use that one thing they consider that one tool that can save them. They seem to use their mother tongue rather as a way to make sense of their learning.
I do think that education is one of the most essential rights a child has. Globally there are still too many children that do not have the opportunity to learn. That in my nation there is compulsory learning till 18 I do call a blessing. And yes that new comers are as quickly as possible send to a school I do think is essential in the integration process. That now some schools have found out that the languages their students speak can help them to assess and stimulate learning I do think is very positive. It proofs that educators and school boards have come to terms that the 21st century comes along with a few extra challenges.
Now I can’t deny that learning the dominant school language involves energy and time. On top of that you do need educators who learn and teach the target language. My own capital still faces many challenges and education is surely one of them. Brussels is the highest tower of Babble in many ways. And it inhabitants not only speak French or English. Some of them will go to an international school where they are educated in English or French by people who master this language. Some of them will even end up in a school that facilitate the education in their own mother tongue. Yeah, there is a for example a Swedish or Greek school in Brussels. After all some these children will move back after three years to their home country and chances are very likely that they will follow higher education in their mother tongue than rather in English, French or Spanish.
There is one thing that all schools need in order to function optimal and offer high quality education and that is that they need teachers and also students who speak mother tongue the educational language. Many local French speaking parents in Brussels prefer to send their children to Dutch speaking schools and this for very obvious reasons. But what if less and less people speak actively the language inside the school? When the instream of the students who attend the school consists mainly of people who never outside school speak Dutch or Well, then I do think that the language learning aspect will be more challenging. After all do children not only learn inside a classroom where one person speaks the language they need to study in order to pass their exams.
You learn a language by putting it into practice. Now the less and less a language is spoken by people in the context where they learn it the more important it is they speak it when they are suppose to speak it. Dutch is one of those languages that you do not learn easily by listening to songs from K3 or binge watching ‘Thuis’. In the 21st century Brussels and other major cities of this tiny nation many children speak more than one language and is Dutch not there mother tongue. Not that this is such a big issue but it gives the learning process an extra dimension.
Any learning needs context in order to make sense of the meaning of learning. It is always much simpler to explain why you need to know or being able to do something when the destination is clear. Just learning something for the sake of it is not that motivating in itself. Surely you do have these learners who just love to learn anything. Now do not take me wrong but I even had a hard time to come to terms that learning how to fill out American tax papers. After all chances were very unlikely that I would ever move there. My American government teachers used the words ‘you never know’ but inside of my head I surly did not agree with her.
In Brussels we face the most challenge language learning there is in Europe and honestly I do think that momentarily many schools are not equipped for it. Sorry, it is what it is. This is not criticism it is rather that in the last three decades so much globally has changed. That the skills a millennial needs in order to feel well prepared are ‘slightly’ different than when we were their age. You do surely learn things that we question and find out about wonder why we had to learn them in the first place but still…
Yes, nowadays society demands a lot of a teacher. The list is long and distinguished what they think a young adult needs in order to be a global citizen. Is learning foreign languages a demand of the youngsters itself? From what I see around me I can state yes but it is only of the skills they need in order to ‘survive’ outside the classroom. Yes, I do agree that it is vital that teachers speak the target language as much as possible. But believe me that all parties will benefit from a child who will explain it in their that is able to help out when a student does not understand something. It speeds up the process in an 21st century classroom where so many more obstacles are to come over come than understanding the language most people speak in the room.
Yes, please give our children the education they deserve and wish for. Invest in school facilities that are eco-friendly and that stimulate learning. Give students the tools that they feel safe and brave enough to try new things. Let a school be the setting where not only the teacher teaches but where children find out that they also are actively involved in the learning process. That you therefor need highly qualified teachers is beyond any doubt. So what are we waiting for to come up with a different way of educating the teacher? In this nation we still fail to do so. Many still argue about the 'power' they wish to have in the whole decision making process but we are loosing precious time here....believe me! Millenials are the ones who are going to rebuilt the world that others are now putting under pressure but they need to be equipped for the gigantic challenge ahead!
The context in which I need to be the best teacher I can be is surely the world in which I live and sorry for the moment we still do not seem ready to make some brave and cunning decisions. That we Flemish-Dutch speakers have a very intense relationship with our language does not make it any less challenging. After all is Flemish-Dutch one of the most outspoken ways in which a Flame can express him or herself. It is one of the few things we do have to show what we stand for. The political and cultural fights that hide behind this language are so much more than a vocabulary list. The Dutch language is one of the few things that we have left to show the rest of the world who we try to be. It defines us but it is only one aspect of us. But where I do come from it is a bit more complicated. Believe me that we more than once will judge people by how well they are able to speak Flemish/Dutch. Our Royal Family has now understood that sending their children to a public Flemish/Dutch speaking school is rather important. Momentarily rumors are that our crown princess Elisabeth can speak more fluently Dutch than French. And this while her parents are known to speak rather French. (Again proof that the dominant language is the language of education combined with the language youngsters speak amongst themselves )
Well, believe me to many this matters. Why? Well..let us say that the majority of a tiny country does not always feel they are taken serious. Flemish people are deep down very down to earth and are the last ones to take themselves serious. In general many of us are so good at putting ourselves down. We hate to stand out and will always find a flaw. Many speak very softly and will rather whisper than shout even when in being in an ecstatic state of happiness. We will shut up easily when Dutch people suddenly enter board rooms and then will swallow down any arguments or opinion that might blow up the deal. It is only when many of us sit in a dark corner of pub and orders a ‘pintje’ that we open up. We gently and carefully use our mother tongue. Flemish people tend to over analyze what they say and will rather listen before opening up. We loose time...rather seizing the opportunity!
One of our exchange students from the States who managed to have full conversations with my grandmother. I have never seen my grandmother so happy that she was able to communicate with this vibrant girl who in less than a year was able to express herself in a language she would likely never ever again use in her future career. Unless she might end up fall in love with the Flemish person who had moved to the US or when she would start working for an international company who would send her to the Benelux. Still she stole all our hearts and this forever! And no, she might not have spoken it perfectly and gotten all the subtle differences and figurative speech but still she never ever gave up. It was then also that my mother became very much aware that learning Dutch was not easy for everybody.
If I do get into a debate with on other global citizen why ‘we’ make such a big thing out this I do try to tell him or her that we do not have something to show to the rest of the world what we easily can describe as ‘Flemish culture’. Or at least it is not as easy to define it in comparison as many other cultures that surround us. The dominance of other nations in the past have made it very challenging to express what Flemish people stand for and how they differ from others. But the language is surely the most straight forward one. Believe me that a Dutch-Dutch speaker will come up with many arguments why we 'Flames' do not speak the same language as them and that we sound so different than they do. Plus in the sixties we for sure made a very clear statement that we feel strong enough to take care of our own Dutch/Flemish higher education. People have put their neck out in the political arena to make this happen.
So in my personal opinion do Flemish people tend not to be most outspoken about what drives them and what they are proud of. In many cases what you see and hear is what you get. We speak a language that not many understand but it connects a small group of people who for centuries battled with their identity and their family and cultural heritage. In our language you can hear a lot of the internal battle we still daily fight. It is still about respect in the first place. Discrimination on basis of the language someone speaks is on the work floor present... believe me it is there... the stories are there... but you do not read them in the headlines...but the result of this discrimination is missing out life changing&saving solutions &changes! 'Pride&Prejudice' is a timeless tale! 'TheTale of Two Cities' as well!
Now please do not the get me wrong! I do think it is very essential that all Belgian citizens learn the languages we speak in our nation. People who choose to live long term in our nation need to learn a common language in order to make this a better place for all. Not only for the happy few. Or at least one or two of them. This does include becoming aware of the fact that many of them already communicate in other languages besides the language in which they have chosen to be educated is essential to get the most out of the learning process. Yes, we need more teachers in Brussels (even tempted to say globally) that are up for this challenge. That city has got the people & the know how in order to become a true educational hotspot globally where many educational innovations can be put into practice but then we do need to make some tough decisions in order to make it work for all parties involved.
The past, present and future colliding in a classroom demands people who are ready to face the language of many involved. Do you honestly wish to live in a world where we less understand each other or rather in one where we find common ground or rather in place where we find risk takers who might be the ones who will come up with the next ground braking idea, invention, technology, design, theory, operation, that will make the difference in the lives of many? I think that is a very straight forward choice. They might not speak the language most of us speak in this country. But our lives might benefit from it as well in so many other ways. Learning a languages is about becoming aware in what way we all differ but also what we have common. It connects and builds bridges. It creates and stimulates to make connections in a structured and adventurous way. The tower of Babble is being built in my back yard but I do hope it will not end up collapsing like it did in that one particular story.
I did pick out no songs in my mother tongue to go along with this entry because I realy wish to get my point across. It is thanks to like people like Celine Dion (and I know many do not like her voice but still) that I did start to fall in love with one of my national languages. Her winning Eurosong made me aware that I wanted to know what she is singing about. And I love this song because we need to seize the opportunities when they show up also when it comes down to languages