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A. Restorick1, G. Elordi2, M. Olazar3, A. Barona2

1The University of Western Ontario, Le département d'études françaises (CANADA)
2University of the Basque Country, Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering (SPAIN)
3University of the Basque Country, Department of Chemical Engineering (SPAIN)
This paper proposes the implementation of Wimba, an online learning platform, into school curricula as a way to increase proficiency in minority languages in Canada and in the Basque Country. Wimba provides several features that allow for discussion and interaction: synchronous and asynchronous video, audio, and VoIP communications; public and private chat; break-out rooms; polls, quizzes, and surveys.
English and French are legally recognized as the two official languages of Canada. However, English is the majority language whereas French is spoken natively only by 25% of the population. In order to promote both official languages, Canada has more than one educational model. Model 1 teaches all subjects in English but incorporates a core French course a few hours a week; Model 2 teaches all subjects in French but incorporates a core English course a few hours a week; Model 3 offers a French immersion program to non-native French speakers wanting to receive instruction primarily in French with some courses still provided in English. Core French programs do not seem to produce results as high as French Immersion programs, and that the abilities of functionally bilingual graduates from French Immersion programs do not match those of native French speakers. The linguistic situation in the Basque region of Spain mirrors the one found in Canada. Although Spanish and Basque are both recognized as official languages in this region, only 25% of the population has a high level of proficiency in Basque. The educational models in The Basque Country are as follows: Model 1—Spanish instruction with a core Basque course; Model 2—Basque instruction with a core Spanish course; Model 3—Basque immersion with some instruction in Spanish. The results of these programs are comparable to those found in Canada.
Since high levels of proficiency in both official languages is necessary for ensuring equal rights for all citizens in a bilingual society, the solution lies in motivating the majority language speakers to master the minority language. By pairing minority native speakers from educational Model 2 with immersion students from educational Model 3 via Wimba, peer assisted learning would encourage language acquisition. Details of this proposed virtual exchange, advantages and disadvantages of implementing such a technological innovation into Canadian and Basque school curricula, and an overview of previous Wimba studies are all discussed in this paper. Given the importance of exchange experiences in second language (L2) acquisition, the benefits of being bilingual, and the issue of language rights in minority communities, the scope of this proposal is far-reaching.