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Language policy

Language Policy for the (Technical) Computer Science programmes

February 2019

The Technical Computer Science Bachelor and the Computer Science Master are English-language study programmes. As a student, of course you know this; but there are consequences that you may not be directly aware of, and that merit some clarification. In this document we list some of those consequences and provide such clarification. A short summary (but do read on for the full version)

  • English should be the spoken language in all teaching-related situations, irregardless of the composition of the group (with or without teachers or TA’s, with or without international students)
  • You may expect all teaching materials to be provided in English, and in English only. An exception is when elements of Dutch culture are used for illustrative purposes.
  • We live in an imperfect world, where the ideal is not always met; moreover, we have no such thing as a language police. Still, regarding this language policy, we invite you to point out cases where we clearly fail to meet or uphold these principles by bringing them to the attention of the programme management

You are reading a first version of this policy document. This means that (in addition to a possibly imperfect implementation of the policy) there may be unclear or contentious elements in the policy. Please do react to the programme management if anything in this document strikes you as such. Any constructive comment will always be taken seriously.

English as spoken language

During the educational sessions of the programme, English is the spoken language. This refers to all modes of communication: not only between lecturers and students and between teaching assistants and students, but also between students in the module; and not only if the parties do not share another, native, language (be it Dutch or otherwise) but also if they do.

The last principle may appear odd at first sight: why would you speak English in a group that consists of only (say) native Dutch speakers? Besides the obvious argument that this trains you in your control of English, another point, at least as important, is known as the option of listening in: other students that may be interested in a conversation and might be inclined to contribute to it, can only do so if they are given the chance, which in turn means that they should be able to understand what is being said. Conversing in your native language robs them of the chance of doing so, and in essence excludes them. This is counter to the spirit of the language policy.

The above is especially true in a laboratory session where a TA is helping students, discussing issues that neighbouring groups may also be facing. It becomes less obvious if you are in a smaller or more informal setting, maybe with a project group consisting only of students of the same nationality, meeting in a project room with no-one else present at that moment; or while queuing in front of the coffee machine during a break. The policy is that, even then, English should be the language of choice; but let me also confirm that there is a point where this principle becomes extreme and unmaintainable, and that there is no intention to start a language police that checks your adherence to it. 

Nevertheless, we do expect students to follow the policy in situations where it is sensible, according to the reasons outlined above. Moreover, quite importantly: please do not wait until another student asksyou to switch to English, because having to ask this can be a barrier which in the end can have almost the same exclusive effect. (And if they do ask, please realise that it is you, not they, who are at fault at that moment, however slightly.)

English as written language

When it comes to the written word, the policy is more strict and more easy to uphold: learning material and other relevant texts should be in English, and not in Dutch. (However, also see the next section.) Where you find that this principle is not upheld, you may in almost 100% of cases assume that this is an oversight, which will be put right as soon as it is pointed out to the lecturer in question, or to the programme management. We want to kindly ask you to indeed point out such things, because it is not unlikely that it otherwise goes unnoticed. 

To make this explicit for two cases where the consequences may be less obvious:

  • You are expected to write test answers in English. Here the reason is pretty clear once you think about it: if we would allow Dutch students to answer questions in Dutch, this would advantage them, which violates the idea of being an international programme. (And actually, the assumption that your assessor is able to readDutch is certainly not in all cases warranted.) Following this through, it also means that answers that are notin English are judged to be wrong.
  • You yourself may expect that learning materials are notoffered in Dutch, even if there is an English-language version beside it. This is actually sometimes not evident from the lecturer's position, who may have developed his/her material in Dutch originally, then translated it, but (maybe with reason) believes the Dutch-language version to be superior. Why, will that lecturer say, should he deny the more superior version from those who can benefit from it? The argument for nevertheless insisting on this is still the same: inclusivity and equal treatment of students of all nationalities. You may have to bear with us, however, before all wrinkles of this kind have been ironed out of the programme.
  • Both you and the teachers are expected to use English in written (email) communication. Again, this makes for a level playing field; moreover, emails are forwarded and copied, in many cases reaching readers that do not speak or read Dutch. If you initiate such a communication with a question or remark, please use English; though unlike in the case of tests, Dutch teachers will not pretend to be unable to understand anything else, it will be easier for everyone involved to stick to the official standard.

Dutch cultural elements

The question of using only English has an interesting dimension when it is seen in the light of the fact that, of course, this all still takes place in the Netherlands, and all around us are elements of Dutch culture. We do assume that international students coming to study here are interested in that aspect of their adopted university as well. It can enrich a lecture or course to use the cultural context from time to time, for purposes of illustration or perspective. In that kind of situation, you may be faced with Dutch source material after all, which then forms an exception to the point about written language invariably being in English. Although you still may expect a translation or explanation in English, and you may also expect that such excerpts are not part of your core teaching material, it would go too far to expect never to be faced with the original.

Finally

The above reflects the position of the programme management. As scientists, however, we should acknowledge that there is hardly ever an absolute, universal truth and we should be ready to change our opinion and position if the arguments warrant doing so. For that reason, we are quite happy to receive any constructive criticism on the policy outlined above, as well as questions, additions and further clarifications. Moreover, if at any point you feel that we fail to uphold our own policy, do let us know that as well. We know that not everything is perfect, but we can always strive to improve.