The Basque language as an international model in multilingual education learning processes

Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.


Jasone Cenoz is a senior lecturer in the Department of Research and Diagnostic Methods in Education at the University of the Basque Country Faculty of Education, Philosophy and Anthropology. She and has also served as President of the Education Committee of the Spanish State Research Agency (AEI).  

Her research focuses on multilingual education, bilingualism, multilingualism and the empowerment of second and third languages, for which she has received international recognition. She has also researched topics such as pedagogical translanguaging, linguistic landscapes, minority languages and Content and language integrated learning (CLIL). 

With support from the Etxepare Basque Institute, Jasone Cenoz was this year’s Koldo Mitxelena Chair visiting professor and researcher in residence at the University of Chicago. There she conducted a three-month programme on multilingualism. 

What sparked your interest in this topic?  

In the 1980s I was an English teacher in a San Sebastian secondary school that used bilingual teaching Model A (educational model in the Basque Country in which Spanish is the primary language of instruction, with Basque taught as a subject) and Model D (educational model in which Basque is the main language of instruction). I found it very interesting to see the differences between bilingual and non-bilingual pupils in the same grade when it came to learning a second or third language, in this case English. Since I wanted to investigate the matter scientifically, I did my PhD studies and doctoral thesis on the subject. The main conclusion I drew from my thesis was that when there are specific factors (socio-economic status, extracurricular support, intelligence, etc.), Model D pupils do better in third language learning. I have worked in many related fields, but always connected with multilingualism and education. 

What research are you currently working on? 

I’m focusing on Translanguaging. What is Translanguaging? We generally tend to isolate languages (Basque, English) when we learn them – you can´t say this word in the other language, forget everything you know about your own language so you can learn this new one better... These are ideas that have been quite common until now. 

But today there are international movements that advocate language integration and argue for the blurring of boundaries between languages. That’s what Translanguaging is all about. The concept originated from the linguistic bilingualism observed in Wales, where the educational situation bears a striking resemblance to that of the Basque Country. While each context is unique, it represents the most closely aligned scenario. In Wales, they pioneered the pedagogical strategy of utilizing two languages within the same classroom. For example, this teaching strategy consists of exercises such as reading a passage in one language and summarising it in a second language or watching a documentary in one language and discussing it in another. 

We believe that you learn better by making connections between languages. In Pedagogical Translanguaging our approach is to work with subject matter using the languages in which the subject is focused (e.g., Basque), and subsequently incorporating exercises in the same subject using Spanish or English. That’s what we promote in the video ´Let’s make the most of multilingualism!´. 

You lectured as part of the Koldo Mitxelena Chair at the University of Chicago. What did your class focus on? 

The subject was called "Multilingualism and Multilingual Education". The theme of the course was multilingualism, given its inclusion in the linguistics department´s curriculum, and we also worked on multilingual education. We used the Basque language as a model to work on issues such as multilingual education and Translanguaging. 

We worked a lot with minority languages, and we often use the Basque language as a model. We also discussed the challenges of language and the standardisation of language in today’s Academy of the Basque Language. We studied, for example, the creation of ´euskera batua´ (standardised Basque).  

Would you say that Basque aroused your students’ interest? 

I would say so. Some people didn´t know what Basque was, and they learnt about it through the course. Apart from the course, I also delivered a lecture that attracted a large audience, filling the room. I talked about Translanguaging, based on minority languages. In the talk I used several examples of the situation of the Basque language and the linguistic scenario in the Basque Country. The subject generated numerous questions, creating a vibrant atmosphere during the lecture. We learned different application processes in different linguistic situations, and the listeners were grateful for the topic. 

My research primarily focuses on the unique circumstances and context of the Basque Country because this is where I live and know best. From the experience of presenting these issues at an international level, I’d say that there are two main interests. People are either directly interested in Basque (specific interest in the language because of some emotional connection...) or they’re interested in the processes of multilingualism and are familiar with the Basque language model. 

What are your next steps? 

I’ll continue to work on Translanguaging. We´re putting together a book on the process of learning minority languages as a second language. It includes an article on the linguistic situation in the Basque Country, but also other cases, such as the situation in Hawaii, Wales and Peru. I believe there’s a growing interest in research on minority language learning at the international level. 

The Etxepare Basque Institute and Koldo Mitxelena Chair

The Koldo Mitxelena Chair created in 2012 and promoted by the Etxepare Basque Institute, this Chair seeks to expand Basque studies to North America. Part of the Department of Humanities of the University of Chicago, every year the Chair hosts a leading professor to give classes, seminars and talks on Basque humanistic studies for a four-month period.

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