In Basque, all you have to do is look at the verb to see whether the sentence has a direct object. Why not use that to learn the syntax of Spanish? If you already know how to form conditional sentences in Basque and in Spanish, why start from scratch to learn the same thing in English?

Basically, because languages are screwy. But they don't have to be. The DREAM group (Donostia Research group on Education And Multilingualism) is seeking to revolutionize language education using synergy: taking advantage of the features that languages share in order to educate truly multilingual students in schools. 

Writing in The Modern Language Journal, the DREAM collaborators were the architects of the introduction as well as of an article on writing skills in Basque, Spanish and English. “We studied the data in the BAC (Basque Autonomous Community), which is a wonderful laboratory for multilingual education and very interesting in this respect. But in any case our projection is, above all, international. Our aim is to detect the phenomena that take place here and compare them with the research done in other places and spread them internationally,” says
Durk Gorter, an Ikerbasque researcher and the group’s coordinator.

Bilingual people find it easier to learn a third language so at DREAM they are focusing on metalinguistic awareness and seek to design a program that can be used for switching on this awareness in order to make the most of it. “We are studying what happens if we take the languages in our education system (Basque, Spanish, English and French) out of their watertight compartments. In other words, if the students use the languages they already master as the basis to help them to learn other languages. In theory, and if we take into consideration other previous research, the results ought to be very good, but we want to put this into practice,” says Gorter.

This research group defends the idea that it is possible to build bridges between any language types. And not just between Spanish and French, German and Dutch or other languages that appear similar. What matters here is not the appearance but the essence: “In our society, people often think that Basque languages cannot be used for this because it is totally different. But the key is often on a conceptual level. Many things have nothing to do with linguistic distance. They go deeper." The researcher speaks of language resources: “It is possible to use what the student already knows in order to use other languages better.”

This project still has a long way to go. The first experimental tests have already been conducted: surveys, observations, interviews, etc. “For example, we have run tests using different languages in a very specific way. We have seen what happens if we present certain stimuli or questions in different languages simultaneously, and if we ask the students to produce something in all these languages,” explains Gorter. In any case, they want to gather more experiences and carry out a full intervention in a school. To do this, they are now working on a bigger project.

“Think about how much is invested in learning languages, how much the teachers and students work, how many courses are organised to achieve this... If we have the chance to build some bridges and to see how this learning can be done more efficiently, if that way we can achieve greater quality with respect to multilingualism, then that is good for everyone."