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Dreifuss comes out in favour of national languages

Ruth Dreifuss: a second national language first rather than English.

(Keystone / Edi Engeler)

The Swiss interior minister, Ruth Dreifuss, has made it clear she wants the teaching of a second national language to take priority over English.

Her statement came as cantonal education directors gathered to discuss the controversial issue of introducing English at an earlier stage in the school curriculum.

In an interview with the Lucerne-based "Neue Luzerner Zeitung", Dreifuss said English could not "be like a steamroller running all over the world and destroying the wealth of languages."

Dreifuss said the current "omnipresence of English" leads people to forget how interesting it can be to learn another language. "English should also not be reduced to a purely utilitarian language. Young people don't need classes for that," she said.

Educational policy is mainly decided at cantonal level in Switzerland. The country has four national languages, but the use of English has become more prevalent in Swiss society prompting calls in certain areas for English-teaching at an earlier age in schools.

Dreifuss' interview came ahead of a two-day meeting of cantonal education directors to decide which language should be taught after the first national language and at what age.

In September, Zurich's education director, Ernst Buschor created a controversy by announcing that English would be taught from the third grade in his canton's schools, and French only from the fifth.

Buschor's proposal flew in the face of a previous statement by the education directors' conference that no decision would be taken until this month.

His statement prompted an angry reaction from parts of the French-speaking area of Switzerland, and analysts say a unified approach now seems unlikely.

swissinfo with agencies

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