Amsterdam adopts new education policy: schools to become language friendly

This week in Amsterdam, a majority vote adopted a new policy that aims at encouraging schools to adopt language-friendly policies and stop them from banning children from speaking their home language at school.

The St. Janschool in Amsterdam played an important role as the first Language Friendly School in the world (together with the DENISE school) in convincing the Amsterdam policy makers. Worldwide there are now more than 25 schools with the Language Friendly School designation, including 20 schools in the Netherlands and seven schools in Amsterdam.

These schools show every day that embracing multilingualism:

  • does NOT mean that Dutch is no longer spoken at school or that Dutch is deteriorating.

On the contrary: the instruction remains in Dutch, but by using home languages, students who are learning Dutch are able to understand the content faster, they are more motivated, and their parents have a chance to participate in the learning. Moreover, recent research in Amsterdam showed that math and vocabulary development improved significantly with a language-friendly approach.

  • it also does NOT mean that teachers must be proficient in all 180 languages spoken in Amsterdam.

With a language friendly approach, the teacher only uses the languages present in the classroom and looks for ways to express the knowledge students already possess in their home languages. For example, have them or their families translate key words or give students the opportunity to look up or present information about a specific topic in the language they are most comfortable in.

What it DOES mean is that teachers enjoy their work more (“I don’t know what it is, but I just see the sparkle in my students’ eyes when they get to say something in their own language”).

In line with the UN call against language discrimination in education

With this new policy, the Amsterdam municipality is complying with the UN Committee against Racial Discrimination’s call for measures to ensure that students from migrant backgrounds are not banned or restricted from speaking their home language in school. For years, the Rutu Foundation has been advocating against this form of language discrimination and we hope many municipalities will follow.


Many people were involved in making this milestone a reality in Amsterdam:

First of all, a big thank you to Simion Blom (GroenLinks), Tirza De Fockert (GroenLinks) and Numan Yılmaz (DENK) who wrote and submitted the proposal. Milka Yemane (GroenLinks) with support from Nilab Ahmadi (Bij1) and Ilana Rooderkerk (D66) fervently defended the proposal in the city council. And last but not least, without the support from Education alderwoman Marjolein Moorman the policy would not have been adopted.

Learn more

We will soon be hosting a webinar for teachers, school leaders and policy makers on the Language Friendly School. We will discuss what a language friendly school policy means, how to become a Language Friendly School and what benefits certification offers. If you are interested, you can register here and you will receive an email as soon as the date and time are known.

Read the full proposal by the municipality.

Find a Language Friendly School