Language homeostasis

The discussion about what language should dominate Tilburg University has been going on for as long as I can remember now. On the one hand are the people arguing that academia is so international, it doesn’t make sense to stick to a language that only a tiny part of the world population is familiar with. On the other hand, there are those who love the less aggressive version of German that we call Dutch, and feel it should be cherished.

This is all good, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. And as often in life, we simply can’t satisfy everyone completely. The solution is, generally, to give everyone just a bit of what they desire, and leave everyone only semi-satisfied. Though I am not aware of any official university policy, it seems the Dutch-English debate at university has naturally reached such a compromise of its own. A Dutch-English homeostasis if you will. The new consensus seems to be that when it comes down to it, everyone can simply do whatever they desire. At least, this is the impression I get in most of my lectures.

Despite following all my subjects in English, this language seems to only really be taken as a suggestion. More often than not, students simply reply to English questions in Dutch. Lecturers willingly tell their students that they can answer exam questions in Dutch if they prefer to do so. Some even start lectures by asking if there are any internationals and proceed the lecture in Dutch when there aren’t any.

I understand that no teacher wants his or her students to fail simply because of a language barrier. I get that it might feel strange to struggle to find the right words when you know everyone will understand you just as easily in your mother tongue. I don’t blame the teachers, really. But why provide courses and even entire degrees in English if you’re not going to stick to it anyway? What happens when the time to write a thesis comes and a student has no knowledge of academic writing in English, simply because they’ve never had to practice it?

I know English doesn’t come natural to everyone, and that is completely fine. But once we do decide to pick one language, can we please just stick to it?

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