Thursday, November 26, 2009

Schools in Catalunya

One of the hopes of living in Spain was that our children would learn Spanish. We knew about Catalan, but assumed that we could pick a Spanish-speaking school with little problem. Unfortunately we didn't realize that Spanish-speaking schools don't exist in this part of Spain. Really.

Meanwhile, our ex-neighbors in the US are sending their children to a Spanish immersion public school.

Instead, all non-international schools must by law teach pretty much everything in Catalan. Catalan is about halfway between Spanish and French. It's cute, but pretty much useless (7 million speakers), unlike, say Spanish (with 500 million speakers). In an effort to make Catalan more useful, the regional (or "national" as they like to call themselves) government tries its best to ban Spanish in as many settings as possible. Even the English teachers must be fluent in Catalan.

There's a long and complicated history that I'm glossing over. Various people were oppressed in the past and now feel the urge to oppress other people just to show how much they were oppressed. Franco was involved. However, I did hear somewhere that Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

Now that I've got the two things I hate about this place off my chest, I can start talking about the good things... and there are many....


Anonymous said...

I have to say, many of your posts are quite funny and being that we might be moving back it has been quite useful. I do have an issue with your description of Catalan being useless because only 7 million (now 7.5) people speak it vs 500 million who speak Spanish. Don't tell that to the poor Danish who have less than 6 million inhabitants or Norwegians who have less than 5 million. If we based the importance of our languages on the number of people that spoke them, then we would should all be speaking Chinese or Hindu and the rest to the trash. Otherwise, lovely stuff, especially on the tax front!

santcugat said...

And how useful are Norwegian and Danish outside of their respective countries?

And given that nearly 100% of the people who speak Catalan also speak Spanish, basically the only use for Catalan if you want a government job.

If someone is narrow-minded enough that they don't want to be my friend just because I don't speak Catalan, well, let's just say I'm not losing any sleep over it.

c gomez said...

You can also say the reverse about narrow-mindedness. In my family we learn the languages of the places we live. Not because we have to, but as an intellectual pursuit - we like to. My brother did not have to learn Norwegian (EVERYONE there speaks perfect English), but because it gave him an insight to the culture and an appreciation for it he frankly would not have had otherwise in his 2 years there. I learned Catalan for many reasons, the primary one being my husband's family speaks it at home and I did not want them to change how they communicate just because I was in the room (something they still do from time to time out of habit when we visit). It also has given me what speaking the language in any place has done, a smile and openness I would not have otherwise from locals (Paris being an exception, of course). You are absolutely right that there is no "reason" to learn Catalan, but then I take you saying it is hard to get to truly know Catalans with a grain of salt. Many of them, granted not all, speak Catalan at home and for me it has permitted a closeness to even those I am not related to by marriage (most of Catalunya). I do truly believe to each his own and thankfully you can get along totally fine there without knowing a wisp of Catalan (although driving can be a challenge). Now isn't that nice?

santcugat said...

The fact that many people are nicer to you if you speak Catalan kind of proves my point about the lack openness towards foreigners in Catalunya.

Jeremy Holland said...

Please stop comparing Catalunya to Denmark, Norway [insert small country] It's a false and dishonest comparison. Catalunya is in fact Hawaii. A region that has two co-official languages within a larger country that is generally monolingual, except is places.

So the question is how would you feel if your company sent you to Hawaii and you discovered that all education was done in Hawaiian at the expense of English? Luckily, that is not the case and you can choose which language you want your children educated in there. Why? Because most bilingual areas offer citizens the choice with Catalunya being the radical exception. Friesland in the Netherlands is an example, while California which adopted an English only policy at the height of its nativist movement in the 1990's, is now offering primary education in other languages (mostly Spanish, but also Viernamese, Thai, Navajo) because studies show children learn better in their mother tongue during their primary years.

Also language acquisition is not a moral obligation or a question of character. It is a rational, practical decision people make based on need whether it's employment or ingratiating ourselves to in-laws. And the fact is Spanish is 100% useful even in Catalunya while Catalan maybe helps 50% of the time.

Finally the question isn't Catalan versus Spanish, but being given the choice to choose between the two OFFICIAL languages of the region and not have the decision dictated by ideologues.