Europe: How much English is too much?

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Sep 27 15:51:04 UTC 2007

  From the issue dated September 28, 2007 How Much English Is Too Much?


As European universities embrace English as a means of increasing foreign
enrollment, they find that change doesn't always come easy. Among other
things, they must decide how far they are willing to go in making that
transformation. Some officials feel that too many universities have gone too
far already. Wageningen University, which has one the highest proportions of
foreign students in the Netherlands, is considering whether to do away with
Dutch altogether, a suggestion that "is and should be controversial," says
Han van der Horst, a spokesman for the Netherlands Organization for
International Cooperation in Higher Education.

And this year, the Danish Language Council, an official organization that
monitors linguistic developments, sent a strongly worded statement to the
government of Denmark warning that the country's growing reliance on English
could eventually lead to social fragmentation by creating an elite class
that uses English as its lingua franca. "We see this as a kind of democratic
problem," says Sabine Kirchmeier-Andersen, director of the council, noting
that the problem is exacerbated by the tendency of universities to introduce
new subjects, especially in science, mathematics, and economics, in English.

One possibility being discussed is to adopt the Finnish approach of
reserving English for degree programs at the master's level and higher. But
graduate-admissions officers already complain that undergraduates' English
is not good enough, she says. Across Europe, though, providing courses in
English is not just about catering to foreign demand, says Juha Ketolainen,
of Finland's Centre for International Mobility. "We offer these courses also
for our own students," she says.

Finland is one of the few European Union countries to have met the union's
goal of devoting at least 3 percent of gross national product to research
and development. The country's technology-and-science sector is booming. A
growing number of international firms, like the Helsinki-based
telecommunications giant Nokia, have instituted English-language workplaces.
Young Finns know that even if they never plan on leaving home, the chances
are increasingly likely that they will need to be fluent in English. Section: International Volume 54, Issue 5, Page A30


Harold F. Schiffman

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at

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