The Marnix Plan

1. What is the Marnix plan?

The Marnix Plan for a multilingual Brussels is a collective effort to develop among all layers of the Brussels population the early and coherent learning of several languages. It gives a priority to French, Dutch and English, while encouraging the transmission of all native languages.

2. What will the Marnix plan do?

The Marnix Plan will consist of a website, a newsletter and an annual public event. The hope is that this can have a significant impact by connecting, informing and encouraging. The Marnix Plan is about building hundreds of bridges across the many cleavages that partition the Brussels population. It is about replacing mutual ignorance, rivalry and distrust by mutual appreciation, emulation and support. It is about identifying the many valuable existing initiatives and weaving them into an exciting common project. It is about realizing that what works for some people in some contexts does not work for all people in all contexts and about concluding from this, not that multilingualism is out of reach for many, but that it needs to be pursued in an intelligent, context-sensitive way. It is about convincing all inhabitants of the capital of Europe that learning languages and helping others learn languages should be a normal daily activity, economically valuable for each of them, absolutely crucial for the lasting dynamism of Brussels as a whole, and moreover enriching and gratifying in all sorts of ways.

3. Why a Marnix plan?

The Marnix Plan rests on two convictions: the learning of languages - and in particular the acquisition of an adequate knowledge of French, Dutch and English - is exceptionally important for Brussels residents; at the same time, the Brussels context, if intelligently mobilized, makes the achievement of this sort of multilingualism more realistic than elsewhere.
Competence in French, Dutch and English is important for those who grow up in Brussels both to help them find a job in the region and its hinterland and to give them the option of settling comfortably either in Flanders or in Wallonia, as Brussels fills up. It is also exceptionally important for the city’s economic dynamism and its good functioning as capital of the European Union: the main collective asset of the home-grown population must be its ability to serve as an efficient link between the increasingly English-speaking international activity in Brussels-Capital and the two neighbouring regions on which this activity depends in all sorts of ways.
At the same time, the learning of these languages should be less difficult in Brussels than elsewhere, providing one manages to mobilize the linguistic wealth and the good will of many residents of the Brussels Region and its surroundings. This requires early learning and innovative teaching of more than one language in all Brussels schools, but also drawing on an effective collaboration between schools, the media, the social partners, voluntary associations and - above all - families.

4. Why give a privilege to three languages?

French, English and Dutch are, in that order, the most widely known languages in Brussels. But they are not the most widespread mother tongues. Among Brusselers, there are far more native speakers of Turkish or of some variant of Arabic than native speakers of English and even, in the younger generation, more than native speakers of Dutch. Worldwide there are also far more native speakers of Chinese or Spanish than of French and Dutch. Yet, the status enjoyed by French and Dutch in Brussels itself and in the two neighbouring regions and the role played by English in and around the European institutions are such that these three languages are most important for every Brusseler to learn, for economic, administrative and political purposes. This priority must be consistent with showing respect and appreciation for the many other languages, big and small, spoken in the Region and with encouraging their transmission.

5. Why “Marnix”?

Philippe de Marnix de Sainte Aldegonde (1540-1598) was born and grew up in Brussels. As a close collaborator of William of Orange, the top Brussels nobleman now regarded as the founding father of the Netherlands, he became one of the chief figures of the Calvinist revolt against Spanish domination. He was a remarkable polyglot and published books in Latin, French and Dutch. On the front of a primary school in Brussels’ Marolles quarter, he is represented carrying his posthumously published treatise on the education of the young, Ratio instituendae juventutis. This book contains the first known plea for immersion schooling and the early learning of several languages.

6. Who are the people behind the Marnix Plan?

The Marnix plan is a bottom-up initiative emanating from Brussels’ civil society. It can be joined by anyone convinced of both the necessity and the possibility of making the Brussels population more multilingual and willing to do something about it. Its origin can be traced to a workshop organized in May 2010 by the association Aula Magna on what Brussels could learn from language acquisition in Barcelona and Luxembourg. Its main contours emerged from a brain storming that took place in June 2012, with participants from Brussels’ French-language, Dutch-language and European schools, from the Brussels Trade Unions and employers’ organizations, from the European institutions, from various relevant associations, from the Brussels media and from several universities. The Marnix Plan is coordinated by Anna SOLE MENA (European Commission, author of Multilingües desde la cuna, Barcelona 2010), Alex HOUSEN (professor of applied linguistics at the University of Brussels (VUB), co-author of Bilingualism: Beyond Basic Principles, Clevedon 2003) and Philippe VAN PARIJS, professor at the Universities of Louvain and Oxford, author of Linguistic Justice for Europe and for the World, Oxford 2011, Frankfurt 2013). The website has been designed by Vertige asbl. It is being maintained and updated by a team of doctoral students working on second language acquisition, which currently consists of Aafke BUYL, Manon BUYSSE, Bastien DE CLERCQ and Hannelore SIMOENS. The bulk of the basic texts has been graciously translated by Jolien DE PAEPE, Sophie DEHARENG and Amélie LELANGUE, master students in translation. The initiative is made possible by many forms of volunteer work and by a grant from the King Baudouin Foundation and the National Lottery.

The answers to the questions featuring under the five headings on our homepage express the convictions that underlie the Marnix Plan. Some of them are universally shared. Others are controversial. Well-documented objections are most welcome (at info@marnixplan.com) and could lead us to revise our views. The success of the Marnix Plan depends on its being firmly rooted in a lucid analysis of Brussels and the world as they are, of the opportunities they offer to our hopes but also of the obstacles they put in their way.

We are particularly grateful to Hugo Baetens Beardsmore, Aafke Buyl, Manon Buysse, Nicole Bya, Grégor Chapelle, Bastien De Clercq, Rudolf De Smet, Dany Etienne, Rudi Janssens, Kari Kivinen, Johan Leman, Silvia Lucchini, Jessica Mathy, Françoise Pissart, Hannelore Simoens, Marianne van de Graaff for extremely useful material and/or feedback, to Jolien De Paepe and Diederik Vandendriessche for the Dutch translation of the original English version, and to Sophie Dehareng and Amélie Lelangue for its translation into French.

The responsibility for the current formulation, however, is solely ours.

Alex Housen, Anna Sole-Mena, Philippe Van Parijs,
coordinators of the Marnix Plan.