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Frisian in the Netherlands

Language designations:

  • In the language itself: Frysk
  • ISO 639-3 standard: fry

Language vitality:

Linguistic aspects:

  • Classification: Indo-European → West Germanic → North Sea Germanic → Anglo-Frisian → Frisian → Western Frisian. See Frisian at Glottolog for more information.
  • Script: Latin.

Language standardization:

Frisian has a standardized orthography, which is under authority of the Province of Fryslân since 1969. The Province commissions the Fryske Akademy to develop and describe the standardized orthography.

Historical development

There have been various formulations of standardized orthography:1)2)

Old-Frisian (c. 1200-1550)

  • Old Frisian shows shared norms and spelling, though no grammars or dictionaries codified these.

Mid-Frisian (1550-1800)

  • Gysbert Japicx (1603–1666) was a Frisian author who formed his own orthagraphy. His writing influenced future orthographies.

Modern-Frisian (1800-now)

  • Brothers Joast Hiddes Halbertsma (1789-1869) and Eeltsje Hiddes Halbertsma (1797-1858) published in Frisian and in doing so, formed a orthography close to the vernacular (similar to the orthography of Gysbert Japicx).
  • Harmen Sytstra (1817-1862) developed the Iduna-stavering, based on Old-Frisian.
  • In 1879, a broadly adopted standerd was set by the Selscip foar Frysce Taal in Skriftekennise (Society for Frisian Language and Literature), which adopted an standard orthography (similar to the orthography of the Halbertsma brothers).
  • Waling Dykstra (1821–1914) compiled the first completed Frisian dictionaries (1900, 1903, 1911).
  • In 1945, the Fryske Akademy develops a standardized orthography.
  • In 1980, the Province of Fryslân adopts a new standardized orthography, also developed and described by the Fryske Akademy.
  • In 2015, the most recent standardized orthography was ratified by the Province of Fryslan. This, like most changes and regulations of a standardized orthography, generated a good deal of discussion.3)4)


Language Area

Frisian is spoken in large parts of Fryslân, one of the twelve provinces of the Netherlands.

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Points of Interest
id symbol latitude longitude description
KML file KML track KML track: frisian

Speaker numbers

Census of 2015: Proficiency in the Frisian language in the province of Fryslân:

Can speak Can understand Can write Total population
67% 94% (44,439) 15% 646.000


Percentage of Frisians that speak the Frisian language in different age classes:


Language education

History of language education:

The Frisian language made its debut in the Dutch school system in 1907, when the province of Fryslân started to offer grants to support Frisian lessons after school. In 1937 the Netherlands adopted for the first time legislative measures that made it possible for Frisian to be taught in the higher grades during Dutch school lessons. In 1950 nine primary schools began an experiment with bilingual education, and in 1955 Frisian-Dutch bilingual schools got a legal basis. Frisian became an optional subject throughout primary school, and the language could be used as medium of instruction in the lower grades. Further improvement occurred with the Primary Education Act from 1974, which made Frisian a compulsory subject in primary school from 1980 onward 7). In 2007 experiments with trilingual education (Frisian, Dutch, English) began. Currently there are more than seventy trilingual primary schools and 6 trilingual secondary schools in Fryslân 8).

Legislation of language education:

European legislation:

National legislation:

De Wet Gebruik Friese Taal 2014 states that:

  • Frisian is an official language in the province of Fryslân, the Netherlands;
  • an official body, “Het orgaan voor de Friese taal”, of four members, is reinstated every four years, which is responsible for:
    • promoting the Frisian language;
    • informing the Dutch government about compliance with de Wet Gebruik Friese Taal and the Charter for Regional and Minority Languages;
    • advising the government about ways to improve compliance;
    • aiding the conception of new policy, regarding the Frisian language.

Provincial legislation:

Every four years, according to the Wet Gebruik Friese Taal, the province of Fryslân and the Dutch government draft a policy concerning the Frisian language, including education. For the latest policy, see Bestjoersôfspraak Fryske taal en kultuer 2019-2023.

The province of Fryslân states that it “stimulates the use of Frisian in young children. For instance, the provincie intends that many kindergartens and daycare centres have a bilingual Frisian-Dutch policy” 9).

The province of Fryslân has the authority to exempt schools from certain conditions of Frisian education. For this, the province has a policy, Taalplan Frysk. However, the report from the Inspectorate (2019) states that this policy reduces the ambitions of schools for Frisian education.

Educational legislation:

The Dutch law makes no mention of Frisian in preschool. The province of Fryslân however, states on its website that it encourages the use of the Frisian language in young children. “The province intends that many kindergartens and daycare centres conduct a bilingual Frisian-Dutch policy” 10).

The Dutch law on primary education (Dutch: Wet op het Primair Onderwijs) states that:

  • in primary education, classes are also taught in Frisian (in addition to Dutch and English);
  • Schools may request exemption from this.

The Dutch law on secondary education (Dutch: Wet op het Voortgezet Onderwijs) states that:

  • During the first two years of secondary education in the province of Fryslân, Frisian language and culture are part of the curriculum.
  • The Province of Fryslân prescribes these goals.
  • However, the core objectives of the curriculum, which apply tot the whole of the Netherlands, must be observed;
  • Schools may request exemption from teaching Frisian language and culture.

The Netherlands has declared paragraph 8, 2 (ii) of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages: “to provide facilities for the study of these languages as university and higher education subjects” 11)

Support structure for education of the language

Training and support for teachers

Teacher training

The SFBO organises in-service training courses with emphasis on Frisian and multilingualism. Teachers for primary and secondary education are trained at the NHL Stenden Hogeschool. A Frisian language course is part of the curriculum 12).

To become a teacher Frisian, students can take the Frisian language teacher programme at the NHL Stenden Hogeschool or the master degree as Frisian teacher at the University of Groningen.

Teacher support

Frisian language teachers can get support and advise at the Frisian language teacher interest group Levende Talen.

Inspection of compliance with educational legislation

The inspectorate (Inspectie van het Onderwijs) inspects Frisian primary and secondary language education every few years. Read the latest report (2019) here.

Financial support

The Dutch Government does not provide extra funding for education in Fryslân, but the province of Fryslân does provide funding in some measure 13).

Education in practice

In its last report (2016) of the Committee of Experts on the Charter on Frisian language education in the Netherlands, the committee stated that the amount of education provided in primary and secondary schools was not sufficient for the development of an adequate level of literacy 14).

A new curriculum with defined goals for Frisian will be developed 15).

Below an overview of all the primary schools (N=428) in Fryslân and their exemptions given by the Province (2018)16). Excemptions are possible for writing, reading, language perception, speaking, listening, and attitude.

schools language profile exemption for
114 A -
84 B writing
96 C writing and reading
6 D writing, reading, language perception
66 E writing, reading, language perception, speaking
47 F writing, reading, language perception, speaking, listening
15 G everything*

* These are the schools outside of the Frisian speaking area: the Wadden Islands and the Stellingwerven.


In 2017, the Province of Fryslân stated that about half (200) of the total number (400) of preschool locations are bilingual (that is: Frisian is used for more than 50% of the time). These locations receive guidance from the Sintrum Frysktalige Berne Opfang (SFBO). About 30-35% of the children below 4 years old attend them. However, especially in the cities, the offer does not meet the demand 17).

In 2000, Boneschansker en Le Rutte stated that, similary to 1984, Frisian in preschool was hardly used in urban playgroups, but rural playgroups were more or less bilingual. Group activities were almost always in Dutch: Frisian was used mainly in contact with individual children and parents 18). It is unclear it this situation persists.

In 2000, about 60% of the preschool teachers had Frisian as their mother tongue 19).

Primary education

In 2009 Frisian language education was inspected. The inspection found that 77% of 39 inspected schools offered sufficient Frisian to cover the set educational goals and 61% reserved sufficient time in the curriculum 20).

In 2009 primary school principles stated that Frisian was used as language of instruction mainly in the lower classes: on average about three hours a week. This time steadily decreased in higher grades down to 1 hour per week. About one quarter of the schools did not use Frisian as language of instruction 21). However, in its last report on Frisian language education in the Netherlands, the committee of experts stated that the time allotted to Frisian was only 30-40 minutes on average 22).

In 2009 Frisian as a subject was given for an hour per week in the lowest two grades, and decreased in higher grades down to 45 minutes. Compared to 2005 is the time allotted to Frisian has increased by half an hour 23).

In 2009 77% of 39 inspected schools taught sufficient Frisian to archieve the set education goals regarding Frisian language skills 24).

Teacher skills

  • 34,9% of the primary teachers has no qualification to teach Frisian 25).

Student accomplishments


Trilingual primary education

To improve Frisian language education in primary school, an experiment, set up by the Fryske Akademy, started in 1997 with trilingual education: seven primary schools committed themselves to use Frisian and English also as mediums of instruction.26).

In 2016 73, out of 428 primary schools, were included in the “trilingual network”. However, only 30 of those were at the time officially certified. The degree to which Frisian is used as language of instruction varies among schools. Estimates vary between 1.25-3.5 hours per week and 10-25% of the time 27).

Secondary education

The report by the Dutch inspectorate of Education from 2009 stated that out of 17 inspected secondary schools:

  • 59% offered sufficient Frisian to cover the set educational goals,
  • 94% reserved sufficient time in the curriculum,
  • 17 taught Frisian as a subject in the lower few classes,
  • 47% of the teachers that taught the subject were competent to do so,
  • 59% offered Frisian as an examination subject 28).

In its last report (2016) on Frisian language education in the Netherlands, the committee of experts from the Council of Europe stated that most schools (73 out of 87) offer Frisian for only one hour per week and for one year only. Only 15 schools teach it after the first year. Since the 2013-2014 school year, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science provides € 65.000 annually for teaching Frisian at secondary schools. Frisian is an optional exam subject and approximately 50 pupils choose it every year 29).

Teacher qualification

According to the report of the Inespectorate (2019), 22% of the teachers had no qualification to teach Frisian 30).

Trilingual primary education

In 2016, five secondary schools offered trilingual education. The authorities plan to increase their number to at least ten by 2018. The share of subjects taught in Frisian in these schools appears to be very low. The aim to use Frisian, English and Dutch according to a share of 30%-30%-40% of the time has not yet been reached. In general, Frisian is used for about 16% of the time (taught as a subject and used as a medium of instruction) 31).

Learning materials

The Tomke-project, set up in 1996 by several institutes, includes stories, rhymes, songs, and games for preschoolers. All concern a Frisian preschooler named Tomke. A questionnaire from November 2013 among preschool group leaders revealed that 81% used materials from the Tomke project on a daily basis 32).

Learning materials for primary and seconday education are commissioned and subsidized by the Province of Fryslân. The past few years digital materials have been developed. All materials are mainly being developed mainly by Afûk and Cedin 33).

Adult education

Learning resources and educational institutions

  • Taalweb Frysk: tools for writing Frisian made by the Fryske Akademy
  • Frisian MOOC: mass open online course made by de Fryske Akademy and Afûk.
  • Frisian MOOC mass open online course made by de University of Groningen.
  • Edufrysk online learning environment for Frisian
  • GameFrysk Frisian language games

Institutes and organisations:

Educational materials for preschool

Educational material for primary education

  • Studio F: a Frisian language teaching method. Their digital learning environment can be viewed online.
  • SkoalTV: Frisian School TV
  • Begripend lêzen Frysk: CITO examination to test Frisian reading skills in the highest grade of primary education.
  • Lezen voor de lijst: list with books sorted on level with information and assignments for both student and teacher.

Educational material for secondary education

  • Searje 36: digital learning method to learn Frisian in the first year of secondary education.
  • Linkk: Frisian magazine and television.

Mercator's Regional Dossier

Read more about Frisian language education in Mercator's Regional Dossier (2007).

1) , 3)
Hoekstra, E. (2003). Frisian: Standardization in progress of a language in decay. Fryske Akademy.
Oppewal, T., Gezelle-Meerburg, B. Krol, J., Steenmeijer-Wielinga, T., Vries. O., Breuker, P., Wind, H., Veenbaas, J., Oldenhof, B., Van der Weg, J.(2006). Zolang de wind van de wolken waait: Geschiedenis van de Friese literatuur. Uitgeverij Bert Bakker.
Wolf, H. (October 13, 2014). Argyf Standertwurdlist/oanpassing Steatestavering. Henk Wolf.
5) , 6)
Fryske taalatlas 2015, provinsje fryslân
Ytsma, J. & Riemersma, A. (2007). Frisian: The Frisian Language in Education in the Netherlands 4th Edition. Mercator Research Centre. Retrieved from
DINGtiid. (2016). Meartaligens as kwaliteit en doel. Retrieved from
Provinsje Fryslân. (n.d.). Frysk yn it underwiis. Retrieved March 23 2020 from
Website of the Province of Fryslân: Frisian language in Education
Council of Europe. (2020). Reservations and Declarations for Treaty No.148 - European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages: Declarations in force as of today, status as of 23/03/2020. Retrieved from
NHL Stenden Hogeschool. (n.d.). Pabo (Leraar Basisonderwijs): kennisbasis. Retrieved from
13) , 15) , 16) , 25) , 30)
Inspectie van het Onderwijs. (2019). Sizzen is neat, mar dwaan is in ding: Frysk yn it primêr en fuortset ûnderwiis.. Retrieved from
14) , 17) , 22) , 27) , 29) , 31)
European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, Fifth report of the Committee of Experts in respect of the Netherlands, 2016
18) , 19)
Boneschansker, E, and Miranda Le Rütte, Pjuttepraat: Friestaligheid in peuterspeelzalen en kinderdagverblijven (Leeuwarden: Economisch Bureau Coulon, 2000)
20) , 21) , 23) , 24) , 28)
Inspectie van het Onderwijs (2010)Tussen wens en werkelijkheid
Inspectie van het Onderwijs (2010)Tussen wens en werkelijkheid
Varkevisser, Nynke, ‘Tomke inventarisatie-onderzoek’ (Afûk, 2014)
languages/frisian_in_the_netherlands.1597744941.txt.gz · Last modified: 2020/08/18 12:02 by ydwine

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