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Pronounced difference

Greenland lawmakers disagree on how to teach children more English

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Two measures in front of the Greenlandic legislature highlight the growing interest among lawmakers to give children more English in school, while at the same time exposing differences of opinion about how best to do so.

Currently, Greenlandic children begin English in the fourth school year, by which point they have already begun learning Danish. Legislators in Inatsisartut, the national assembly, agree, however, that as the country comes to rely less on Denmark commercially or politically, English education must be scaled up.

One proposal, rejected by Inatsisartut on Tuesday, would have begun English education in the first school year. However, the legislature left open the possibility of discussing the matter again in the spring of 2018, when it expects to receive the recommendations of a panel of international education experts that is currently looking into the issue. 

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Nivi Olsen, who introduced the bill to the assembly, argued that as children got older, learning languages became more difficult, and that starting earlier would take advantage of their curiosity.  

Both Ms Olsen and opponents of bill agree that as Greenland moves towards increasing independence from Denmark, English will become an increasingly important skill.

Opponents, however, fear that teaching English at an earlier age would take resources from Greenlandic teaching at a time when many feel the language is struggling to establish itself as the official language, particularly in public administration and the upper echelons of business, where Danish dominates.

“We want our children to begin learning foreign languages only once they have a solid Greenlandic foundation to build on,” said Mimi Karlsen, an MP who opposed the measure.

SEE RELATED: Don’t throw the language out with the bathwater

In a bill of her own, Ms Karlsen suggested that, instead of introducing English at an earlier age, the number of hours used teaching English should be expanded starting in the fourth year.

Her bill, which was approved for a second reading, suggests giving English and Danish an equal number of hours in school. This, Ms Karlsen says, recognises the fact that both Danish, the country’s official second language, and English were equally foreign to schoolchildren.

Both bills argue in favour of maintaining good Danish skills as a way of keeping up cultural, business and social ties with Denmark, as well as allowing young people to continue attending Danish universities.

Regardless of which approach lawmakers take, the outcome for schoolchildren appears to be the same: more homework.