This vexed question comes up regularly for expat/immigrant parents who are facing the task of sending their teen to secondary school/middelbareschool in The Netherlands. I admit I have a pretty simple view on this: choose a Dutch school. A view that I came to by considering quite a few variables. Namely:
- It seems like a very attractive proposition to learn subjects like maths, biology, chemistry, history through english if you are a native/almost native english speaker. But at the end of the school program of five or six years, the end exams/eindexamen will still have to be taken via the dutch language. I don’t know why that’s the case but that’s how it stands currently. So a student would need to learn these subjects through english for the first three years at least and then switch and study these subjects with the new terminology for the remaining years through dutch. Plus preparation for the dutch exams thus necessitating even more study.
- If your child is being raised in a family where the language(s) is not dutch and there’s little to none dutch conversation with family members, they will need to top up their second language levels, not reduce them at school.
- Bilingual schools are essentially for Dutch kids to improve their english skills, not for english speakers to improve their dutch. To build on dutch language skills, they would be better served by attending all-Dutch schools.
- Attending a bilingual school would probably provide lots of opportunities to speak english with school-friends who want to improve their own english. However, dutch skills would surely take a hit. One of my sons has a close friend who enjoys speaking english so they speak that exclusively together. Other than that, his interactions at school are dutch which is necessary because we don’t speak it together as a family at home.
- Attending a wholly Dutch school will ensure a student becomes completely fluent whereas a bilingual school could limit fluency. Thinking beyond second level into tertiary education, academic fluency will smooth that path somewhat. Whereas heading into third-level with less than optimum Dutch will shorten the list of subject options and impact on confidence levels.
- For me, it’s a long game. I want my kids to be totally competent in Dutch so they will have choices in the future: where to study and to live. Being truly bilingual will offer options to live, study and work on an integrated level in The Netherlands or Belgium if they wish and of course in English speaking cultures too.