So says University Lecturer at HUHEZI (Faculty of Humanities and Education) and Erasmus student coordinator, Julia Barnes. Born near Bristol, with her formative years spent in New Zealand, Julia talks to EITB about learning Basque, teaching English and rubbing shoulders with some of Spain’s most famous stars.
You are teaching on a course to Basque students called “Education in Europe and the Global World: Good practice” and all your teaching is in English. Tell us what that entails.
Julia Barnes: It’s a four-year teaching degree for students specializing in various subjects. We don’t actually teach English as such; what we try to do is activate the English the students have been learning since school; we teach topics such as Europe, Education in Wales, Christmas across Europe – all through the medium of English. So essentially they learn English by learning how to learn things in English!
In the third year some students do a two-month teaching practice in Welsh-speaking schools in North Wales and it’s very successful. Although sometimes it’s difficult because they don’t understand all the Welsh, it really gives them an opportunity to compare what happens in Wales with what happens here.
What are some of the key things about teaching people how to teach a second or third language?
Julia Barnes: If you can understand how you learned your first language or languages you’re halfway there. To the people here who are bilingual anyway, it makes sense to them.
You based your PhD on trilingualism, specifically your own children’s – How do you see the possibility of a trilingual Basque Country over the next couple of decades?
Julia Barnes: It’s perfectly possible to do. As soon as people here start being more exposed to English it will just take off. At the moment we’ve got a situation where we’re giving children exposure to English at an early age, but for a short time plus the teaching they’re exposed to is not always ideal as most nursery English teachers haven’t trained to teach English. A new degree we are giving in HUHEZI now will actually train people to be language teachers in infant education.
Tell us what first brought you to the Iberian Peninsular.
Julia Barnes: After A levels ( Bachiller), two friends and I decided to spend a year abroad so we went to Madrid; they came back and I stayed for four years teaching English. Around the same time Franco died: I remember people celebrating all the time. I got involved in the ‘movida madrileña’ and met people like (popular Spanish groups) Burning and Alaska. During the day I worked as an English teacher. But I don’t think I realized at the time just how exciting it was because everything was exciting to me then – I was 18 and I’d just left home.
You’ve lived in England, New Zealand, Madrid and here: What are the main differences between these cultures?
Julia: I tend to think I ended up here because NZ gave me a more relaxed view of life than England: Open air, love of the outside, the beach, the sea and the mountains. I was young at the time, but I have memories of doing things outside. England is more of an inside culture.
When did your Basque adventure start?
Julia: I started learning the language before I had any plans to come here. I was fascinated by it. As part of my studies at university I had to take an exotic language so I chose Basque! Then after passing my PGCE (British teaching certificate) I started working for Eurocentres who had a project with the cooperatives of Mondragon to bring teachers from England to teach English to their employees; I was part of that. I met my husband through it and ended up staying.
What needs to change to improve the possibilities of us becoming tri-lingual?
JB: I think it’s very important for people to realize that all three languages are to be equally valued for different reasons. At the moment, three languages are vying for space, but we’re certainly getting there.
So is there going to be a new generation of fluent English-speaking Basque people in the next ten or fifteen years?
JB: I think so; we are already seeing a huge improvement in the quality of English that students bring to their university studies as a result of the early English programmes, taught in the Basque Country since the nineties. On the other hand, we’re still dealing with Franco’s educational legacy and a generation of teachers educating in a very traditional way, especially in Secondary which is like the last bastion, although teachers are finally in there doing content-based teaching through a foreign language. Once the new multilingual teachers we train enter education I think we’re really going to start seeing a difference, but it’s not quite there yet.