Dutch as a Foreign Language vs Dutch as a Second Language

The Minister of Education reported the level of success among Aruban students accepted into higher learning institutions in the Netherlands is 25%. A shockingly low number.

I asked around and one of my friends, a school principal, sent me a recent research-paper title: “What do students from the ABC islands need to be academically successful in Dutch higher education?”.

And the answer to this question is complex.

We need to intervene, and offer assistance in many ways, because students who leave their island cocoon encounter many challenges in the Netherlands: Linguistic, social and academic.

I can send you the report, by Elisha V.M. Geerman and Nihayra Leona: Het Studiesucces van Studenten uit de ABC-eilanded. The paper suggests eight different interventions.

What struck me the most in the issue of the language.

In Aruba Dutch is taught as a second language, assuming students already know the basics. That program is supposed to raise their level of Dutch mastery and facilitate academic study in that language.

But in reality Dutch is no longer the second language here, it is the fourth or fifth, depending where the students’ parents are from.

 Kids speak Papiamento, Spanish, Chinese or English at home, then Papiamento on the street, they watch TV is English and Spanish, and when they are introduced to Dutch at school, it is their fourth or fifth language.

They should be studying Dutch as a FOREIGN language. But for some reasons educators are stuck in past decades and teach it as a second-language assuming the kids already speak some.

Big difference in the approach: Dutch as a Foreign Language (DFL) is the practice of studying Dutch in a country where it isn’t the dominant language, such as Aruba.

Dutch as a Second Language (DSL) is the practice of learning Dutch in a country where it is widely spoken, such as the Netherlands.

No wonder we are setting our kids up for failure if we teach them assuming they already know. We should teach them from scratch, and from early on, because according to what I read the window to fast language-skill acquisition closes at 12. We should get the Dutch done before that, then they have a chance to handle study in the Netherlands successfully.


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December 03, 2020
Rona Coster