1. What is the Marnix plan ?

The Marnix Plan for a multilingual Brussels is a bottom-up collective effort to promote the learning of several languages across the Brussels population. It gives priority to French, Dutch and English, while encouraging the transmission of all native languages.

2. What does the Marnix plan do ?

The Marnix Plan runs a website, sends out newsletters and holds regular public events. We hope to make a difference by connecting, informing and encouraging. The Marnix Plan is about building hundreds of bridges across the many divides that divide and partition the Brussels population. It is about replacing ignorance, rivalry and distrust with 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 that therefore, that multilingualism does not have to be out of reach for many people, but that it can and should 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 to learn languages should be a normal daily activity, economically valuable for each individual and 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 : firstly that the learning of languages, in particular the acquisition of an adequate knowledge of French, Dutch and English, is exceptionally important for Brussels residents. Secondly, the idea that if we mobilise the Brussels context in an intelligent way, we can 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 and around the region 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 in its function as the de-facto 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 focus on 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 Arabic than native speakers of English and even, in the younger generation. 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” ?

In 2005, Wallonia set up its ‘Marshall Plan’. What Brussels needs most of all right now is not an investment plan for its infrastructure, but a plan to develop the linguistic competencies of its inhabitants. And to name this plan, we don’t need an American general – a great Brussels intellectual does just the job. 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.

Despite the similar name, the Marnix Plan has nothing to do with the Marnix Ring an ‘international service club’ (like a Rotary Club), which is mostly active in Flanders and was founded in 1968 to ‘serve the Flemish linguistic and cultural community.

6. Who are the people behind the Marnix Plan ?

The Marnix plan is a bottom-up initiative emanating from Brussels’ civil society. 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 inaugural event was held in the Zinneke Room of the Brussels Information Point on 23rd September 2013.

The Marnix Plan is coordinated by Alex HOUSEN (professor of applied linguistics and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Philosophy at the University of Brussels (VUB), Philippe VAN PARIJS, professor at the UC Louvain, KU Leuven and the European University Institute, and Nell FOSTER, pedagogical advisor at the ULB and doctoral candidate in sociolinguistics at Ghent University, who replaced Anna SOLE MENA (European Commission). The project received a grant from the Fondation Roi Baudoin and the National Lottery. We depend entirely on the voluntary collaboration of people who are convinced of the need for the citizens of Brussels to become more multilingual and hope to contribute to making this happen.