The university’s Martine Verjans says that first year students have poor French skills and struggle to hold a conversation in French: “They experience this as very frustrating. In professional life they will be expected to negotiate contracts in French.”
Verjans says the answer to poor French skills could be a test for 16-year-olds at secondary school. Pupils who perform badly could then receive extra help during the final two years to beef up their French.
The idea for a test for students embarking on language studies in higher education is one supported by lecturers of French at most Flemish universities and schools of advanced learning. In an open letter the lecturers sound the alarm with regard to levels of French proficiency among language students and say the test could guarantee standards for the future.
Apart from Limburg other Flemish universities too have noticed the decline of proficiency in French. “It’s been going on for over a decade” explains Nathalie Nouwen of Leuven University: “It’s a negative development. At the end of their studies students go to work for law firms and businesses where language proficiency is required. It’s getting harder and harder to meet these demands.”
Leuven has already taken action and organises a French introduction course every September. Students can also chat with colleagues at Louvain-la-Neuve University. The Institute for Living Languages operates a digital exercise platform to allow students to work on their grammar in their free time too.