Multilingualism in Luxembourg

In the small Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, located between France, Belgium, and Germany, students learn the usual subjects: history, biology, math. But they also learn languages. A lot of languages.

On average, 50% of education in Luxembourg consists of learning and practicing up to five languages. And that’s with good reason. Luxembourg, one of the smallest countries in Europe, is officially trilingual. Its citizens speak Luxembourgish (a Germanic language) German, and French; in addition, many residents speak “foreign” languages such as English or Portuguese. This dynamic, formed through a variety of laws and foreign relationships stretching back to the 14th century, means that, among other things, students are taught to become proficient in all three languages.

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Add to this the large number of foreigners (almost 50% of residents) and the growing importance of English, and one ends up encountering a large diversity of languages in Luxembourg. Luxembourg has a unique linguistic environment, which is a fascinating microcosm, or smaller division, of language diversity in an increasingly globalized world. History of the Language Situation in Luxembourg The present language situation developed over several centuries, starting in the 14th century. At that time, Luxembourg was split into two parts: a French area that spoke Walloon and a German area that spoke the dialect of Letzebuergesch, or Luxembourgish. French and German were used as administrative and written languages (Luxembourg.

lu, Languages). The French occupied the area in the 17th century, which led to an increase in French-speaking, especially in administration. This early situation formed the basis for trilingualism in the present day. Some changes, however, were yet to come. Many events in the 19th century led to the enshrinement of the present French-German-Luxembourgish model.

First, the Treaty of London in 1839 gave much of Luxembourg’s territory to Belgium, and only the German part remained. French was still “impose[d] … as the language of administration, justice, and political life” (, Languages), and French became a required primary school subject in 1843.

The 1848 Constitution allowed citizens to choose between French and German, and most people spoke a Moselle-Franconian dialect called Luxembourg German. This situation established French-German bilingualism, but Luxembourgish was much less prominent. Luxembourgish only became a language on par with French and German in the 1900s. A 1912 law introduced the dialect as a school subject. In February of 1984, a law elevated Luxembourgish to a national language, which was promptly included in administration and justice.

A recent law included knowledge of Luxembourgish in the country’s citizenship requirements. Luxembourgish has truly become a national language. The Current Language Situation Luxembourgers speak the three official languages in addition to many others, of course. Luxembourg is unique within the European Union (EU) for the frequent presence of languages other than the most common mother tongue, Luxembourgish. 99% of Luxembourg citizens master one or more foreign languages (ec. 8). 90% of citizens speak French, and 88% German, but 14% of citizens also speak a language outside of the official three. French seems to be the new language of importance, with 60% of Luxembourgers using it every day. Luxembourg citizens and residents use many languages almost daily. With so many languages widely known, these languages assume certain roles in daily life.

All three languages are used in administration, although French is the only language of legislation. Despite this and the fact that 81% of Luxembourgers think French is one of the two most important foreign languages (as opposed to 60% German), print media is dominated by German-language papers. Luxembourgish is often considered the “language of integration,” but it is not standardized, which makes it hard to use in written documents. Each of the official languages has a unique role that is constantly shifting. Luxembourg’s language situation is changing, which will require changes in language policy.

As mentioned earlier, French seems to be gaining importance as a language of business as well as culture. Consequently, the government will have to choose between the idealized trilingualism and the practical reality as German is increasingly sidelined. Additionally, English is gaining importance as a global language, and Luxembourg will have to decide how much importance to afford that. Changes in Luxembourg’s practical language situation will necessitate policy changes, especially in language education. Language Education in Luxembourg The Luxembourg education system is based around a German language literacy program, but teaches many languages. Luxembourgish is the main language of instruction in the (required) preschool program and early primary education, with German being taught as the language of basic literacy in primary school.

French is added the following year, but does not become a medium of instruction until secondary school. German is gradually phased out as an instructive language, while English is added in the second year of primary school. Many languages are taught, but this program caters to German-speakers and offers less language options to those in a technical secondary school. In Luxembourg, students are split between classical and technical secondary schools. Classical students receive much more language education, while technical students learn more science.

However, students may be forced to attend a school which does not suit their interests. This is shown in the case of Clara, a Portuguese-descendant teenager, who was “forced to go to a…vocational secondary school because of bad grades in German” despite the fact that she would rather study languages, especially English, instead of science (Weber, 123).

The classical/technical split often hurts students, especially those coming from a non-Germanic background. In fact, foreign students in general are often marginalized by the current system. The early use of Luxembourgish for instruction and German for literacy severely disables romanophone students. This is a serious problem, as 74% of foreign students come from a Romance language background, as well as the many citizens who may speak mainly French in the home. While the government maintains that the later presence of French balances early German instruction, Weber argues that a separate French literacy stream would be better for students (Weber 153). The current German-literacy program poses difficulties for many students, especially the many foreigners.

Foreign Residents in Luxembourg Due to its small size and large proportion of businesses, Luxembourg indeed has a large foreign population. Approximately 44.5% of residents in Luxembourg are citizens of a foreign country. Of these, 86% are citizens of another country in the European Union (EU), such as Portugal, France, or Italy. Luxembourg has the highest proportion of resident foreigners in the EU, which naturally leads to great language diversity.

Some minority languages spoken by these residents include Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, and Cape Verdean Creole. Portuguese is the most prominent of the many foreign languages. Residents from Portugal make up the largest group of resident foreigners. 52.7% of foreigners are from Portugal.

This means that the Portuguese language is quite prominent in Luxembourg. There are even a number of Portuguese-language newspapers in Luxembourg. However, many Portuguese are marginalized by the system, especially in education. The majority of these teenagers speak Portuguese, Luxembourgish, and a conversational, vernacular French. They consider German of little importance to them and often struggle with it. Additionally, standard French can pose problems.

Luxembourg will have to learn to adjust to the large Portuguese population in Luxembourg. Conclusion Luxembourg’s unique linguistic situation is a fascinating microcosm of global language diversity. As it moves forward, Luxembourg will face increasing pressure to choose between the practical linguistic reality of what its citizens are speaking and the idealized, historic model of what it wishes them to speak. Its situation parallels that of multilingual communities around the world as they strive to maintain their native languages amidst global ones. Luxembourg will need to find the right balance if it wishes to insure the prosperity of all of its languages. References “Europeans and Their Languages.

” European Commission. 2006. 4 April 2014.

“People and Languages.” 2013. 4 April 2014. Weber, Jean-Jacques.

Multilingualism, Education, Change. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2009.