The Dutch might have an obsession about how well they speak foreign languages but they also seem to be paranoid about anyone who does not speak perfect Dutch.
Now MPs from across the political spectrum – with the honourable exception of GroenLinks and the left-wing D66 -have agreed to introduce a language test for all children before they reach the age of four. And if they fail, it’s off to compulsory pre-school language classes. There are, MPs said, 400,000 children in the Netherlands who are backwards when it comes to language. What they mean of course is that Dutch is not the primary language at home. These kids aren’t backward. They just speak another language – possibly two. Of course it’s important to learn Dutch if you live in Holland. But integration is not about speaking Dutch. Integration is about being valued, be considered equal, it is about getting off the plane and thinking ‘I’m home’. Integration is not about being told your children are backward because they speak Finnish, English, Chinese or – even – Arabic. Millions of people all over the world grow up speaking more than one language – a different one at home and school. It is something to be proud of, not something which should lead to a visit to the language police when you are three years old.
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