You are here: News → Past events Mercator → 2010 June 3-4

Click here to download the report




Seminar "The Added Value of Multilingualism and Multilingual Education" leads to new insight: "Multilingualism as a central value

"The Added Value of Multilingualism and Multilingual Education" was the theme of the Mercator European expert seminar, organized in collaboration with the Basque Ministry of Education. The event was held in Koudum (province of Fryslân, The Netherlands) on June 3rd and 4th.

The main conclusion of the seminar is that we should not speak about the Added Value of Multilingualism anymore, but instead about "Multilingualism as the Core Value of any Successful Communication." In concrete terms: multilingual people have better chances on the job market, because they are more flexible in finding a suitable job. The cognitive and social development of students is stimulated by multilingual education, especially when the languages are not only taught as a subject but also used as a medium of instruction in other subjects.

Maria-Luisa Garcia Gurrutxaga of the Basque Ministry of Education pointed out that, as a reaction to the Franco period, nowadays Spain is one of the most decentralized European countries (after Germany). This affects the position of regional languages too. These used to be considered backward, but nowadays they are an important element of one’s identity, which brings about a greater linguistic diversity. School, or the educational system, is one of the most important vehicles for language transmission and language acquisition. Linguistic rights (in the constitution and other legislation) support the educational system. Education needs to contribute to pupils being able and wanting to use their language outside school. In the near future the traditional A-B-D-models (that have been used for thirty years) will be made more flexible. Although the Basque language remains dominant in the school system, Spanish and English will be expanded in the curriculum, both as a subject and as medium of instruction. This is a development towards trilingual education that also offers new ways to strengthen the CLIL-approach. This approach also needs to be developed further in the teacher training colleges.

Prof. Durk Gorter, affiliated researcher of the Mercator Research Centre, gave an account of the project that Mercator carries out in the Basque Country and in Fryslân. The project focuses on the value of multilingualism in society and multilingual education for the individual citizen. Research is conducted by means of focus groups, class room observations and the assessment of students' essays in three languages. Furthermore, a comparative study on the Frisian and the Basque educational systems has been carried out. A monography on Frisian in education has been published recently.

(Prof. Durk Gorter)

Prof. François Grin of the University of Geneva spoke about “Foreign and Second Language Skills at Work: Assessing Needs and Estimating Value.” The central questions he asks are: “Where does value come from?” and “Do skills matter?” The value of extra language skills can be found in language command as well as in actual language use. Prof. René Jorna pursues the two models mentioned by Grin further: the financial model versus the social/human capital model. He asks which of those models we should use, or whether we should use a combination of both. Grin points out that there is no method to assess market values and non-market values. This has been tried in environmental studies, but that method cannot directly be copied to the field of multilingualism.

Other speakers accounted for a range of subjects such as immersion education, language skills and meta linguistic awareness.