Elsene civil servants improve Dutch skills with fun activities


Three Brussels municipalities are finishing up a month of activities that helped city workers to improve their Dutch-language skills in their jobs

‘Wholeheartedly embracing multilingualism’

More than 50 staff in the Brussels municipality of Elsene are closing a month of yoga, boxing and conversation tables with a celebratory afterwork speed date event – in the name of improving their Dutch language skills.

The Month of Dutch initiative was launched by Huis van het Nederlands Brussel, an organisation that supports people learning Dutch in the capital by organising events and directing learners to language classes. It was supported by the Flemish Community Commission (VGC) to encourage workers in the capital’s municipal authorities to learn and practise Dutch.

Huis van het Nederlands launched a call for municipalities to take part in the project in April. Eight authorities responded and three were chosen: Brussels-City, Sint-Agatha-Berchem and Elsene. Each municipality compiled its own programme aimed at encouraging employees to practise speaking Dutch and for Dutch-speaking employees to actively help them.

“Improving services to Dutch-speaking people is a priority within our municipality,” said Els Gossé (pictured), councillor for Dutch-speaking affairs in Elsene. “Thanks to this pilot project, we were able to encourage local officials, in an accessible and fun way, to speak Dutch.”

Building self-confidence

One of the strengths of the project, she continued, was the positive emphasis on practice and self-confidence. “This approach worked very well, given the enthusiasm with which the initiative was received by the staff. We have seen that interest in Dutch has increased. We will certainly continue this work.”

Last year, the Taalbarometer study of language use in Brussels and the Flemish periphery showed that 50% of people in Brussels use at least some Dutch at work, while 30% use it while shopping and one-quarter use it when talking to neighbours. However, less than 8% of pupils in French-language schools in Brussels said they could speak Dutch reasonably well.

The findings were based on interviews with a representative sample of 2,500 people who are registered residents of Brussels. “Brussels is undergoing considerable linguistic change,” said Elke Van den Brandt, Brussels minister and chair of the VGC’s executive council. “The language barometer proves that the municipality is undeniably multilingual. We should wholeheartedly embrace such multilingualism. And we must simultaneously respond to the needs and requirements of Dutch-speaking Brussels residents to ensure that they can benefit from services in their native tongue.”

Photo courtesy Ecolo