Sue Goosens (U. Libre de Bruxelles)

Linguistic friction at a self-declared multilingual school

Dutch-medium education in the officially bilingual but predominantly Francophone Brussels capital region is becoming increasingly linguistically diverse. As Dutch language skills are deemed to increase job opportunities, especially in the capital’s service economy, Dutch-medium schools have become popular with pupils from varying linguistic backgrounds, who consider it to be an unofficial route towards French-Dutch bilingualism. For some schools this means that the number of pupils who are native speakers of Dutch is quite low, and in some cases virtually nil. This has often resulted in Dutch-medium schools in Brussels adopting an strict and punitive language policy. This research, however, aims to describe the language policy and practices of a school that has decided to implement a multilingual curriculum and language policy, combining CLIL with an appreciation of linguistic diversity. By means of classroom ethnography, interview data and classroom interaction it investigates the often conflicting ways in which teachers and pupils navigate a school that wants to be at once a linguistically open and accommodating environment, but also a quality institution that provides pupils with linguistic expertise with an emphasis on Dutch. I argue that these contradictory concerns have led to a vision of multilingualism that is oriented towards separate, economically valuable languages, which results in new dilemmas for pupils and teachers and ambivalent responses. While teachers were open towards other languages, they also voiced concerns about pupils’ slow progress in Dutch. While pupils perceived the school’s multilingual identity as an opportunity to speak French frequently, they considered their skills to be limited but would laugh at classmates’ imperfect use of Dutch. Consequently, staff and pupils denounced the frequent use of French at school as often as they condoned and used it, while they tolerated imperfect Dutch as much as they problematized it.