Behind the Research: Alberto Bruzos Moro, Spanish and Portuguese

Alberto Bruzos Moro’s research explores how Spanish language is taught and marketed.
Illustration: Agata Nowicka
In another life, Alberto Bruzos Moro would be a fiction writer. Born and raised in a small town in Spain, the director of Princeton’s Spanish Language Program says prose “is part of what nurtures me,” and he initially planned to pursue a literature degree in college.

But after discovering that he preferred reading on his own to studying literature in a university setting, he switched his major to linguistics.

 “I was, and still am, fascinated by the philosophical aspect of linguistics,” says Bruzos, who went on to earn his Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of León. “How does meaning work? How can we even understand each other through sound waves and inscribed signs?” he says. 

After serving as a Spanish-language instructor in Spain during and after his Ph.D. studies, Bruzos, who came to Princeton in 2005, became particularly interested in how languages are taught. His research focuses on the approaches to foreign-language education and the historical and sociological context surrounding it.

Bruzos’ Studies: A Sampling

Illustration: Mikel Casal
PRECARIOUS WORK Spanish as a second language was a booming industry 10 years ago in Spain, but educators earned low salaries, worked multiple jobs, and paid for their own benefits. Bruzos’ research found that the Spanish government’s standardization of foreign-language education — through its Instituto Cervantes, which required a textbook-driven curriculum and brief training programs — inadvertently led to a devaluing of language teachers. Since they were not “producing their own knowledge,” he says, they were paid less than those language teachers seen as specialists. While the problem was not unique to the country, his research has led others in Spain to create better conditions for language educators. 

Illustration: Mikel Casal
LIBERATING LANGUAGE Until the 1990s, languages were often considered expressions of national identity —representing “the spirit of a people,” Bruzos says. With globalization, multilingualism became an asset in the job market and languages were untethered from their homelands. This fostered inequalities, Bruzos argues. English speakers, he discovered, are rewarded for learning a small amount of a so-called “exotic” language like Japanese, while a native Japanese speaker earns little for learning a small amount of English. The imbalance stems from some languages being seen as “exotic skills for privileged people to learn,” Bruzos says. “That’s what I find problematic.” 

Illustration: Mikel Casa
SPEAKING TOGETHER Spanish classes taught in the U.S. have historically been geared towards people new to the language — unintentionally marginalizing and ignoring the needs of those who speak or hear the language at home, known as “heritage speakers.” Recently, universities have developed classes for heritage speakers that include social, historical, and linguistic nuance. That’s still a problem, Bruzos argues, because these nuances are absent from classes for new learners, so those students miss out on the crucial context of the experience of Latinx people in the U.S.