U10 #1 – Articles from Luxembourg

Throughout the autumn term, the Luxemburger Wort also published a few commentary articles by Adam Walder about the Luxembourgish language. Adam Walder is currently an editor for the English Wort version and co-creator of Fuze. He came to Luxembourg from the UK about a decade ago.
Here are a few extracts from the four short commentaries:

1. Luxembourg, a language paradise or paradox?

(…)For those that arrive in Luxembourg, for whatever reason, without mastering one of the country’s three official languages find it hard to learn any of them. Why? Because outside the classroom virtually all Luxembourgish nationals and those that have lived here for some considerable time have this amazing ability to flick from language to language as though selecting a TV channel. This means they are able to immediately “tune in” to the poor struggling foreigner in front of them and adapt their language accordingly.

(…)Just over the border however, the tables are completely turned. I lived for several years in France, including Metz, where there is no option but to converse in “la langue française”. This approach has helped me no end to improve my French and in a relatively short space of time. Spending three years in Denmark under similar circumstances meant that Danish is also under my belt.

(…)Let’s also not forget that virtually everything is written in French or German including the Luxemburger Wort of course! So at least one of those languages is vital in order to read anything.

Just to expand on that further, everything from obtaining documents when you arrive in the country, to literature from your bank, completing your tax return, medical forms, or basically everything official is, nine times out of ten, only in French or German. If the Grand Duchy really wants to promote the language, why is Luxembourgish not up there too?

So it bothers me somewhat to hear the odd grumble of discontent from some Luxembourgers, even several well-known personalities complaining that us foreigners are lazy and should “learn to speak Luxembourgish”. I couldn’t agree more (apart from the lazy bit) and I’m trying believe me, but your beautiful language-bouquet country doesn’t make it easy to learn just one, and I know I’m not alone in my thoughts!

(…)

2. Why is Luxembourgish rarely written?

(…)You see, what it all boils down to is that until Luxembourgish is given an equal footing with French or German, Luxembourgers can’t really complain that foreigners don’t learn the language. Moreover, both French and German have the extra advantage of being widely used in other countries – the biggest argument used by foreigners to pick them over Luxembourgish. This observation is rife in many of the previous article comments. For me the language needs a good kick up the backside with a decent publicity campaign!

(…)Looking at this in reverse I’ve attended a couple of Luxembourgish language classes, although I use the term “language” loosely, as in both cases they dug deeply into grammar and writing from the outset. I used to be an English language teacher in a previous life but I sat there asking myself “why the hell are we learning this?” If Luxembourgish is rarely written and people supposedly don’t know how to write it, why are we as foreigners made to learn it? “I want to speak it first, not write it!”

But it does appear that in the foreign language classroom Luxembourgish is placed on equal footing and taught using the exact same method as other languages, possible the only place it is equal.

3. Are Luxembourg’s official languages treated equally?

What we discover from the likes of Wikipedia is, and I quote, “Luxembourg is characterised by the practice and the recognition of three official languages: French and German and the national language Luxembourgish”. In just about every sources we are given the impression that if we learn just one of those, everything will be hunky-dory and that’s all we need. However when we set foot and live a Luxembourg life for just a short time, we quickly realise the linguistic story is a little different.

Who ever heard of a country that required a language test in one language to obtain the nationality, yet to apply for it you need to fill out the forms in another? Oh wait that would be Luxembourg!

What about parliament debates being totally in Luxembourgish yet written parliamentary questions being in French?

There are many mish-mash language examples like this in Luxembourg which are both the country’s strong and weak points. (…)

So Luxembourg has three official languages, French German and Luxembourgish, but isn’t Luxembourgish more official than the others? Where does it explain this in Wikipedia?

To apply for Luxembourgish nationality you need to sit through a Luxembourgish test. But as there are three “official” languages why aren’t the other two accepted? Shouldn’t they all be seen as equal? Or if the state’s aim is to promote Luxembourgish so much maybe French and German should be “unofficialised”, although that may be a little drastic.

You see I’ve come to the conclusion that while the Grand Duchy declares to the world that it has three official languages, it can’t complain when foreigners pick one other than Luxembourgish. Ok, for francophones and germanophones this is much easier, but for the rest of us facing three foreign languages, it’s a tad confusing requiring a big effort and a lot of time many of us don’t have.

Ironically, while the state appears to be somewhat confusing with languages seemingly unable to make up its mind, in the private sector there are an array of examples of forefront Luxembourgish use. For example I’ve been merrily withdrawing money from cashpoints in Luxembourgish for some time now. Shopping in supermarkets with Luxembourgish signs and announcements is commonplace, in fact, that got me thinking!

(…)But no matter what a nation does to help or hinder its national languages we as foreigners do need to take that step and make an effort and learn. A quote from Nelson Mandela puts it eloquently; “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart”.

4. Why learning only Luxembourgish can be a handicap

Learning Luxembourgish is something most of us foreigners are keen to do but in many cases the language has to wait in the wings while we spruce up or even begin learning French or German.

There are cases however, where new arrivals have plumbed directly for Luxembourgish without competence in either of the other two official languages. This is a bold decision to make you might say which indeed it is, but in some cases it can actually be a detrimental and regrettable one as I’m about to explain.

(…) A friend of mine, Dimitri from Latvia landed in Luxembourg about six years ago and began work in a bank as many of us do or at least have done in the past. His ambition though as an accomplished all-round musician and excellent flautist was to study at Luxembourg’s Conservatoire de Musique.

Dimitri spoke only English and of course Latvian, but before he arrived in the Grand Duchy, began studying Luxembourgish from a distance once he knew the country was his destination.

(…) After about a year of banking work he began making moves on the Conservatoire de Musique and applied to study there. However his application was promptly turned down, not because of his qualifications or his musical ability but because he didn’t speak French! Apparently this is a must at the Conservatoire, something Dimitri was totally unaware of beforehand.

(…) This may seem like a surprise to many but this type of situation is not uncommon. In the employment world it is the norm. How many job offers have you seen that ask for Luxembourgish only? It simply doesn’t happen and therefore once again I reiterate the point that foreigners must fight through two or three languages to really “make it” in the Grand Duchy.

(source: Wort.lu)

As a native Luxembourgish speaker, I wasn’t aware of all the difficulties for foreigners speaking none of the three official languages and wanting to start a new life in Luxembourg. It is interesting to see how it is from an outside point of view, as well as reading the comments on the articles. The somehow equal importance of the three languages in use in Luxembourg, Luxembourgish being the least important (except if you want to get the Luxembourgish nationality), it seems to be a good way to promote the language and country through the three languages and show the differences/origins/similarities. I am going to continue on my started path.

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