Frisian and Multilingualism

Speaking your native language and being a world citizen. Do the two go together? Certainly! While the world is becoming ever smaller, people are using increasingly more languages. The European Union aims to have all its citizens speak not only their native language but two other languages. That may seem complicated, but children can quite easily learn to use three or more languages. Multilingualism not only is good for the cognitive development of children, but it can also improve their flexibility in communication.

Stimulating multilingualism

At Frisian primary schools, Frisian and English are spoken alongside Dutch. In order to stimulate multilingualism after this period, the professorship is developing an innovative project for connecting trilingual primary school education with multilingual secondary school education. English and Frisian as the main languages in primary school and secondary school education, as well as in teacher education programmes, is one of the key areas.

Another project is an integral pupil monitoring system, in which schools can record and compare the parallel progress of the three languages Dutch, English and Frisian as much as possible.

Download Multilingualism in education beneficial for children

Education for asylum seekers and refugee children 

The Frisian and Multilingualism professorship has been very much moved by the refugee crisis. The researchers and staff quickly had the feeling that they ‘had to do something’. Within the Vital Education research group, as well as of course within the Pabo primary school teacher training programme and teacher education in Dutch offered by NHL Stenden, there is a great deal of expertise which with the help of the students can be deployed in the community. In addition to this, we work towards the further professionalisation of teachers in primary school education and teachers of the International Transition Class (Internationale Schakel Klas, ISK).

Education for refugee children initiative

In October 2015, the Frisian and Multilingualism professorship took the initiative of having students of the Pabo primary school teacher training programmes and Teacher Education programmes give language classes to children of refugees in the emergency shelter at the WTC in Leeuwarden. From October to December 2015, more than 50 students took part in the classes. This was a success not only for the children who saw structure and pleasure return again to their lives but also for the personal development of the students who interacted directly with these refugees. Since February 2016, the children have been going to a regular primary school or to the International Transition Class (Internationale Schakel Klas, ISK) of secondary education.

Professionalisation of Language Education for Refugee Children

In line with this initiative, the Frisian and Multilingualism professorship together with the Language Use and Learning professorship became involved in the national Lectors Initiative Professionalisation of Language Education for Refugee Children (Lectoreninitiatief Professionalisering Taalonderwijs Vluchtelingenkinderen, LPTV). The LPTV aims to prepare current and future teachers better in dealing with newcomers, whereby multiculturalism and multilingualism play a central role. The native language of the pupils and their own culture form the background to learning Dutch and English and acquiring European cultural diversity. We developed this approach in partnership with the Primary School Education Council (PO-Raad) and the National Organisation for Supporting Education to Newcomers (Landelijke Organisatie tot Ondersteuning van het Onderwijs aan Nieuwkomers, LOWAN).

 At the LPTV, we work together with the Pabo teacher training programmes and the Care and Welfare research group of  NHL Stenden as well as with the voluntary organisation Wellzo! in the municipality of Leeuwarden. 

Evaluaasjesysteem foar it Frysk (ESF) 

At the start of the school year, it is handy for teachers to know how much a pupil understands Frisian. The Evaluation System for the Frisian Language (Evaluaasjesysteem foar it Frysk) is a good tool for measuring the pupil’s starting level. The same test can also be used at the end of the year to see whether there has been any progress in that level.

The Evaluation System for the Frisian Language project (Evaluaasjesysteem foar it Frysk, ESF) aims to create a comprehensive digital test and learning environment with a pupil monitoring system for the subject of Frisian at primary and secondary schools. This sub-project consists of further development of the Frisian Test (Frisiatoets) by Dr Reitze Jonkman, and a series of reading comprehension tests by Jurjen Kingma. The tests are used in the upper three classes of primary schools and the lower classes of secondary schools.

Outlining learning results

The ultimate aim of the project is to outline at a provincial level the learning results of the subject Frisian, compared with Dutch and English. The system can also equip teachers with new educational materials to take the quality of Frisian education up to a higher level. There are three variants of the Frisian Test, suitable for three target groups, increasing in language knowledge level: the Preliminary, Basic and Advanced Frisian Test.

Once a pupil has done one of the variants of the Frisian Test, an indication is then given of the language knowledge level according to the referinsjeramt Frysk (rrF): the pupils’ starting level. The teacher can also use this same test at the end of the year to see the progress at that level. By incorporating this information in the pupil monitoring system, we can make the learning process more transparent for both the teacher and the pupil.

Good results

These days, most trilingual primary schools (trijetalige basisskoallen) and all secondary schools in the province of Friesland that teach Frisian as a subject take part in the Evaluation System for the Frisian Language (Evaluaasjesysteem foar it Frysk). The results show that all pupils who are taught systematically score well in reading comprehension. At the end of the year, the Frisian-speaking pupils acquire a level similar to that of Dutch. The non-Frisian-speaking pupils make even greater progress, benefiting the most from this multilingual education!

With whom do we work?

The Frisian and Multilingualism professorship carries out the action and research projects together with the multilingual schools. The knowledge network members do not carry out the research alone. We also actively involve lecturers and students in our professorship.

Within the Frisian and Multilingualism professorship, students have the opportunity to carry out research and participate in innovative projects. The professorship functions as a partner in larger research and development projects, both nationally and internationally.


The Frisian and Multilingualism professorship carries out research together with its entire knowledge network, including researchers, lecturers and students working together with multilingual schools from the region. The professorship is headed by professor of applied sciences Alex Riemersma.

Various researchers work at the professorship, each with their own specialisation which they develop further through practice-based research. Researchers actively look for collaboration with the work field: primary schools in Friesland. Our own NHL Stenden students are also closely involved in the research. In this way, we connect education, research and the work field.


NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences
Research group Vital regions