Language Policy

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 407–432 | Cite as

From bilingualism to multilingualism in the workplace: the case of the Basque Autonomous Community

Original Paper


In this article we discuss the outcomes of a study into the languages of the workplace of internationally operating companies. Our aim is to contribute to studies of multilingualism in the workplace by adopting a holistic approach that focuses on several languages and relates the competences and attitudes of multilingual professionals to the repertoires used and learned in the workplace and the wider social context. The study is situated in the Basque Autonomous Community, Spain, where the regional government has already developed a strong bilingual language policy to promote the minority language Basque and recently also supports a policy of internationalization of companies, implying the use of other languages. The tensions arising from the confrontation between these two policies are discussed. Based on interviews with 25 informants in managerial positions, we found that the default language of workplace communication is Spanish, there is limited use of Basque and for foreign trade English is dominant, although Spanish is used with Latin America. The language and cultural competence of professionals is lagging behind and should be further developed, although the younger generation has a better command of English. The wider social context has an important influence on the language practices inside the company. Multilingualism plays an important role in Basque companies that operate internationally, but the companies still have to overcome important language barriers. Our study confirms that language practices and language learning experiences are complex and highlights the need for a holistic approach that includes the repertoire of languages used in the workplace.


Multilingualism Workplace discourse Professionals Basque Autonomous Community 



This work was supported by the Basque Department of Education, Research and Universities [IT-362–10 (UFI 11/54)] and the Zabalduz program of the University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karin van der Worp
    • 1
  • Jasone Cenoz
    • 1
  • Durk Gorter
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.University of the Basque Country, UPV/EHUDonostia-San SebastiánSpain
  2. 2.Ikerbasque, Basque Foundation for ScienceBilbaoSpain

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