M is for Monolingualism

3 02 2013

sant pol ajuntamentCheck out the banner that now adorns the town hall in our village. It reads ‘Un país per tots.  L’escola en català’.  Roughly: ‘A country for everybody. Schooling in Catalan’.

Given that Catalonia is a multilingual region, with a population almost evenly divided between those whose mother tongue is Catalan and those whose mother tongue is Spanish (not to mention a host of minority languages including Urdu, Arabic, Mandarin and Romanian), the slogan has a kind of topsy-turvy logic that George Orwell would have appreciated. Something like: ‘In the name of diversity, uniformity’.  (For a breakdown of Catalonia’s mother tongues, see here).

On a less felicitous note, the slogan echoes the rhetoric of the ‘English Only’ movement in the United States.  The following text, for example, comes from a 1990 flyer mailed by an organization called ‘U.S. English’ (cited in McKay and Bokhorst-Heng 2008: 99):

A common language benefits a country and its people. In our country this common bond is more important than in most because Americans continue to be diverse in origin, ethnicity, religion and native culture.

In much the same way, the Catalan government justifies its policy of ‘linguistic normalization’: politicians regularly invoke the fact that Catalan is ‘a guarantor of social cohesion’ and ‘a model of integration for new arrivals, avoiding their segregation on the grounds of origin, culture or language’. (As Mercè Vilarrubias [2012] points out, in her persuasively-argued book on the subject, the terms bilingualism and segregation are frequently conflated in the discourses of Catalan nationalism).

Ironically, the model of linguistic immersion that the town hall slogan defends closely replicates the policy of monolingualism that General Franco attempted to impose on Spain only a couple of generations back. The following text, for instance, comes from a Spanish textbook published in 1947:

LECTURA- -  En España hay niños de la apacible Castilla, la admirable Cataluña, la encantadora Vasconia y la pintoresca Galicia. Sus madres les enseñaron a hablar y rezar como aprendieron de sus mayores; pero en la clase el maestro les enseña todos la lengua castellana. Esta lengua tan bella, dulce y sonora, es común a todos. Hablándola nos entendemos, aunque no nos conozcamos, como se comprenden los hijos de una misma madre. ¡Seamos siempre dignos de nuestra madre España!

[READING--  In Spain there are children from peaceful Castille, from the admirable Catalonia, the charming Basque Country and the picturesque Galicia. Their mothers taught them to speak and pray as their elders did, but in class the teacher taught them all the Spanish language. This language so beautiful, sweet and sonorous, is common to all. Speaking it we understand one another even if  we do not know one another, just as the children of the same mother understand each other. Let us always be worthy of our mother Spain!]

Gramática Española, Segundo Grado, Editorial Luis Vives, S.A., Zaragoza, 1947.

Needless to say, the vigorous promotion of Catalan nowadays, including the policy which requires all children to be schooled in Catalan, is partly a reaction (or over-reaction?) to the equally vigorous persecution of Catalan during Franco’s dictatorship. Linguistic normalization is also justified by what many regard as Catalan’s precarious status, despite the fact that its more than 7 million speakers outnumber those of many other European languages, including Danish, Finnish, Maltese, and Slovene. (Catalan also happens to be 19th in the order of languages most used on Twitter!)

But, whether under threat or not, the Catalan-only policy (and the English Only one in the US) runs counter to prevailing thinking that early education is best mediated, where possible, in the home language. Research in the US, where a number of states have opted for some form of immersion, is fairly conclusive in showing that, as Shin (2013. 165) summarizes the evidence, ‘English-only education neither leads to faster learning of English nor produces better academic results for language minority children’. Findings such as these no doubt motivated the UNESCO ‘Year of Languages’ commitment towards  ‘developing language policies that enable each linguistic community to use its first language, or mother tongue, as widely and as often as possible, including in education’ (UNESCO 2008).

Norma_troqueladaOf course, the powers-that-be in Catalonia argue that the need for social cohesion outweighs the need for equity in education. And social cohesion is (in their view) entirely contingent on there being a common tongue (ignoring, for the moment, such relatively cohesive multilingual precedents as Switzerland, Finland and Singapore). Besides (they argue), why should children be schooled in Spanish, when they will pick it up anyway, ‘on the street’ as it were? – an argument that elides the fact that ‘street Spanish’ is a far remove from the kind of Spanish that might later be needed in higher education or for professional purposes.

In fairness, Spanish is taught as a school subject in Catalonia, but this does little to mitigate the fact that, at primary level, over half the population is being educated in a language that is not its mother tongue — a situation that in fact contravenes Article 32 of the Catalan constitution (l’Estatut), which rules that no one should be discriminated against for ‘linguistic reasons’. Nevertheless, language planners and their political masters doggedly refuse to implement practicable bilingual educational programs of the kind that function perfectly well in countries as widespread as Finland, Canada, Wales and Israel, as well as in other regions of Spain. In their eyes, any attempt to institute bilingualism (as guaranteed by Spanish law, and as commonplace in many countries round the world) is tantamount to committing linguistic suicide.

And national suicide, as well: as Blackledge and Creese (2010: 26) remind us, ‘in public discourse, language often becomes inseparably associated with a territorially bounded identity in a relationship that takes language, territory and identity to be isomorphic’: one people, one nation, one language.  While this may have been the norm in some distant, possibly prelapsarian past, a whole host of factors, including immigration, colonization, and globalization, now militate against monolingualism. (Iceland is possibly the only country in Europe – and one of the few in the world – where nation, territory and language are homogeneous).

Multilingualism is — and always has been — the  norm. Nor should it be feared. Just as in the natural world, plurality is evidence of a healthy ecosystem (‘as diversity increases, so does stability and resilience’ [Lovelock, 1988: 488]), so, too, with societies.  As William Labov (1982) put it, ‘heterogeneity is an integral part of the linguistic economy of the community, necessary to satisfy the linguistic demands of everyday life’.

There are those who would argue that, in the interests of bilingualism, a more acceptable, less politically-sensitive alternative to Spanish is English, and that the promotion of English-mediated content-and-language-integrated-learning (CLIL) in Catalonia should appease advocates of linguistic diversity.  But English has had a poor history of co-habitation with other languages (witness the English Only movement in the US) and, besides, this does not satisfy the need for early education in the mother tongue.

escola en català

If the government is truly committed to improving education why put unnecessary obstacles in the way? A less divisive, more inclusive, and more coherent sign on our town hall might read:  Un país per tots. Escola en totes les llengües. (‘A country for all. Schooling in all languages’).  Maybe all languages is a tall order, but at least both. Anything less is a mandate for monolingualism.

References:

Blackledge, A., & Creese, A. (2010) Multilingualism: A Critical Perspective, New York: Continuum.

Labov, W. (1982) ‘Building on empirical foundations’ in Lehman, W.P. & Malkiel, Y. (eds), Perspectives on Historical Linguistics, Amsterdam: John Benjamins (17-92).

Lovelock, J. (1988) ‘The Earth as a living organism’, in Wilson, E.O. (ed.) Bio-diversity, Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

McKay, S., & Bokhorst-Heng, H.D. (2008) International English in its Sociolinguistic Contexts: Towards a socially sensitive EIL pedagogy, New York: Routledge.

Shin, S. J (2013) Bilingualism in Schools and Society: Language, Identity and Policy, London: Routledge.

Vilarrubias, M. (2012) Sumar y no restar: Razones para introducir una educación bilingüe en Cataluña, Barcelona: Montesinos.

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73 responses

3 02 2013
Catherine Kennedy

Hi Scott, I SO agree with you. Devotion to a minority mother tongue is a complicated issue, and those of us who are born into an english-speaking family need to tread carefully around this particular minefield. However, humans do seem to be designed to speak lots of languages. We puny post-enlightenment europeans really are the exceptions, I think, speaking one language passably, and then feeling clever if we can order coffee in a couple of others .. Let’s all make the effort to learn and use as many languages as possible (even badly !).

3 02 2013
Duncan

I think whichever way you write the slogan, your way Scott, or the town hall way, the reality will fall somewhere in between. As you point out, Franco was not successful in achieving a monolingual Spain and it is very unlikely that a monolingual Catalonia will emerge, whatever official policy may be. It is a sad reflection of their insecurity that the Catalan Government has not opted for the Welsh route, which allows parents and children a choice between attending Welsh medium or English medium school. That said there are practical reasons for adopting an agreed lingua franca in the public life of a community. Infact isn’t this what we EFL teachers are helping people to do?

3 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

I agree, Duncan, that speaking a lingua franca has practical advantages (although I don’t think that it is pragmatics that motivates the policy of linguistic normalization), but should one lingua franca be imposed at the expense of equal educational opportunities? Could there not be two?

Having some school subjects taught in Spanish and some in Catalan ensures long life and good health for both languages, as well as guaranteeing educational parity, and providing two lingua francas – a win-win situation, it seems to me.

26 02 2013
María Pilar Lahuerta

Hello Scott,
I live in a Catalan city and my two children are studying in a state school. They are learning Catalan most of the time. The fact is that I am a Spanish speaking person but my children speak Catalan. I totally agree with you that the lessons should be in both Catalan and Spanish, fifty-fifty, but if you mention the issue at school they always give you the same answer: the children will learn Spanish in the street or watching tv. They say that it is a Catalan school and therefore the instrumental language must be Catalan. Can you imagine the way I feel when I see that my language, my identity, my culture is treated as something to be avoided in my children’s education? Apart from the fact that knowing two languages open a lot of possibilities in terms of academic and work perspectives. I think that many Catalan people are so obsessed with the nationalist matter that they don’t see the world around them and the increasing diversity that characterizes it.

3 02 2013
Avi Darkbloom

Thanks for a very nice article, Scott.

According to current estimates, there could be around 150,000 people living in Britain (my home country) who speak hardly any English.
It’s interesting how I seem to often come across these statistics in the media – almost always as a controversy.
I guess some people think it’s inconceivable how anyone is able to, or would want to, live in a foreign country and not learn it’s majority language. As a person who taught English in several foreign countries (and didn’t speak the mother tongue or had friends who also didn’t, but were living there for years), this is pretty much a non-issue, as far as I’m concerned. As long as you pay your taxes and don’t be a nuisance to anyone, where’s the concern?

It would be nice to balance this kind of media (and street) finger pointing with a mention of how many people started living in Britain and DID learn English successfully or at least are currently trying hard to (many of students, for example). After all, don’t most British immigrants surely – just out of economic/professional necessity – feel compelled to learn our language anyway? They need some level of it usually, just to function at work.

Thanks again, Scott

3 02 2013
Vittore

Hi Scott, I SO DO NOT agree with you.
I lived in Catalonia for a few years and I had to struggle to learn a bit of Catalan because Spanish (a language that I speak reasonably well and that I love) is powerful and still dominant, at least in Barcelona. And many people (too many) are still convinced that Spain is Spain and that Spanish should be the only language spoken and taught.
Every year thousands of Erasmus students arrive in Barcelona. They still get ready for their exchange experience learning Spanish, not Catalan. And I heard many complaining about this funny pretention that they should learn Catalan as well.
I was Director of an Italian School in Barcelona and everybody (including education authorities) has always been very supporting with my school. But in the long term we were working for a multilingual Catalonia, not for a Spanish speaking one. And together with my school there are French, German and Hebrew schools with thousands of pupils.
Catalan language has to share a common space with Spanish. But in Spanish culture there is still an unconfessed (?) temptation of monolingualism. Without the 30 years long effort to defend and promote Catalan, Barcelona would not be bilingual. Would be another Spanish city.

4 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Vittore – for your vigorous defence of Catalan! But I really don’t see how having a choice of school language (as children in the Basque Country do, for instance) threatens the very existence of a language with 7 million speakers.

As Mercè Vilarrubias argues, ‘el sistema educativo debe estar al servicio de los alumnos y no al servicio de un proyecto político’ (p. 147) ['The educational system should serve the students, not a political agenda'].

8 02 2013
Ms Navas

Thank you, Mr. Thornbury, for this article and your balanced and wise perspective. Of course Catalan is to be respected, recognized, loved and above all, spoken freely. So is Spanish. In my experience, it’s been quite a long time since deeply political interests have been mingled with an allegedly cultural claim. Please, let’s be honest, respectful and tolerant, with respect to Catalan but with respect to Spanish too. In the end, it seems to me it all comes to the same conclusion: narrow-minded people promote narrow-minded ideas. There is so much out there to learn and share from/with ‘the other’, and that’s a two way street only we, as individuals, can decide to take. Tolerance is not just a word, it takes a lot, a whole way of life not many are ready to embrace. Cheers to multilingualism and to all those who are able to be themselves without the need to impose their views.

3 02 2013
SULABHA SIDHAYE

Hello !
The policy of ‘English only’ is not restricted to the US. In India too, we have a lot of regional languages, but English is preferred as the medium of education in all states so that no one language seems to be the ‘favoured’ one ! Corporates in India operate in English. No doubt, this is counter to the principle of studying in the home language. However, the preference to English by the majority facilitates mobility not only within the country but also outside it. In the long run, we have corrosion of local languages,their literature and gradual disappearance of the traditional cultural flavours associated with the languages.
Indian students spend a lot of time and energy studying 3 to 4 languages, Mother-tongue at home, English as medium in school, National language Hindi and the regional language of the state where you live as subjects.
Additionally, most high schools offer a choice between Sanskrit and a European language. Multilingualism is the order of the day !
The only remaining monolinguals are the illiterate citizens in remote villages or unlettered tribals of inaccessible forest areas of india.
-Sulabha Sidhaye.

4 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

I’m glad you mentioned India, Sulabha. In a new book, Suresh Canagarajah (Translingual Practice, Routledge, 2013) notes that ‘linguistic diversity is at the heart of South Asian communities. There is constant interaction between language groups, and they overlap, interpenetrate, and mesh in fascinating ways. Not only do people have multiple memberships, they also hold in tension their affiliation with local and global language groups as the situation demands’ (p.39). He adds: ‘Community for South Asians is not based on a shared language or culture. Community is shared space. Therefore, it can accommodate many language groups living in the same geographical area…. Language diversity is the norm and not the exception’ (ibid.)

The notion that ‘community is [simply] shared space’ would be unthinkable to linguistic demagogues.

4 02 2013
Sulabha Sidhaye

Hello again!

Reading about problems faced by children learning Romanian as a first /second language show how language teaching creates parallel questions in different countries. Although I am writing about the issue in India, I can see that it will apply to many other multi-lingual countries.

Just as with Catalan, invariably, Indian children with varied language backgrounds have to be taught the same level of the language of their medium of education , irrespective of whether they use it at home or not, whether the dialect is similar or very different. Educationists are not allowed to group them separately because politicians interpret segregation as discrimination against a community , treating differing levels of language teaching like power-ladder rather than a methodological choice based on exposure!

In India it leads to mushrooming of private coaching, thereby financial drain on parents and demoralising of teachers of regular schools.The ensuing deterioration of mainstream educational institutions, undue importance to exams and certificates, prevents real learning and finally when the students apply for jobs after completing formal education they perform poorly.

We have job vacancies with language requirements that do not match those of the available unemployed population!

Finally it is left to interested teachers to evolve their own varied methods of catering to candidates with differing needs.

Sites like this one, give interesting ideas to such teachers !

3 02 2013
Susan Samata

Is anyone familiar with Richard Rodrigues? (Hunger of memory: The education of Richard Rodriguez. 1983) He made himself unpopular in 1980s California by opposing mother tongue/bilingual education policies on the grounds that this actually undermined the language of the home, at home-if I’ve got that right. I’m not agreeing or disagreeing. I do find it interesting how frequently governments turn to manipulation of language factors in bids to controll populations-and a very blunt instrument language does become in their hands!

4 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Hi Susan, yes, I have come across Rodriguez’s name – he’s often cited alongside the likes of Eva Hoffman and Alice Kaplan as an example of personalized language learning narratives.

It’s also well documented that ‘subtractive bilingualism’ (e.g. first language loss) can occur where the home language is either a minority or non-prestigious language, in contrast to the language of school and society. In time, the dominant language ‘swamps’ the home one. The ‘heritage language’ movement in the US aims to correct this kind of imbalance, providing complementary schooling to children whose parents wish them to retain the language of their origins. However, the term ‘heritage language’ is avoided by some scholars, who argue that it ‘has been complicit in the silencing of the word “bilingual”‘ (Blackledge and Creese, 2010: 47).

5 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Having re-read what I’d written in response to Susan, I realize I sort of missed the point that perhaps Rodriguez was making, because the conventional wisdom is that denigrated minority home languages should be supported, either in school or through complementary classes (as in the heritage language movement). But Rodriguez rejects this. A google search found this extract from an interview with him:

Scott London: In Hunger of Memory, you suggest that supporters of bilingual education are misguided. You write, “What they don’t seem to recognize is that, as a socially disadvantaged child, I considered Spanish to be a private language.” In what way was Spanish a private language for you?

Richard Rodriguez: In some countries, of course, Spanish is the language spoken in public. But for many American children whose families speak Spanish at home, it becomes a private language. They use it to keep the English-speaking world at bay.

Bilingual-education advocates say it’s important to teach a child in his or her family’s language. I say you can’t use family language in the classroom — the very nature of the classroom requires that you use language publicly. When the Irish nun said to me, “Speak your name loud and clear so that all the boys and girls can hear you,” she was asking me to use language publicly, with strangers. That’s the appropriate instruction for a teacher to give. If she were to say to me, “We are going to speak now in Spanish, just like you do at home. You can whisper anything you want to me, and I am going to call you by a nickname, just like your mother does,” that would be inappropriate. Intimacy is not what classrooms are about.

‘A view from the melting pot: An interview with Richard Rodriguez’ by Scott London: http://www.scottlondon.com/interviews/rodriguez.html

5 02 2013
Susan Samata

Yes, very complex, even more complex than we language teachers/language users realize.

3 02 2013
huwjarvis

Hi Scott
I think that in the case of Catalan some of the issues about monolingualism are missed – not least because in contrast to English it was suppressed for so long. If we are to consider this question in relation to the globalisation of English, then we enter into a debate about linguistic imperialism. See for example Phillipson’s keynote video talk available from http://www.tesolacademic.org/keynotesnew.htm

3 02 2013
Pearson Brown

Here in “the other Catalunia” we have eight schools where the education is given primarily in Catalan (exclusivly in Catalan in the first few years). Parents can choose between these and standard French schools, where Catalan is not taught at all.

4 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Interesting, Pearson – thanks for that. The idea of having a choice is anathema to the powers-that-be on this side of the border!

3 02 2013
Tyson Seburn (@seburnt)

I wonder what language education you’re referring to exactly when you say Catalan should implement “practicable bilingual educational programs of the kind that function perfectly well in countries as widespread as Finland, Canada, Wales and Israel…” As a product of this bilingual education in Canada, I wouldn’t suggest they produce ideal linguistic results (though perhaps that wasn’t your point, just that they function in schools). Students often come out of high school with 8+ years of isolated French classes not being able to speak or need to use the language ever again. Yes, there are immersion classes which teach content in French as well, but I wouldn’t separate that so much from the English-only policies you mention.

In the end, I’m not sure what is practicable or ideal with regards to a multilingual education system. Citizens do need to learn a common language simply to create an efficient mode of negotiation through its society, no? If everything is translated into all languages all the time, oral communication will surely slow down. Maybe on-the-spot translation e.g. at UN meetings is needed or a technology that is reliable for our ears. Then, of course, our jobs are dead.

Maybe one possibility to promote this linguistic diversity would be to have schools created by language: Mandarin speakers go to school 1, French speakers to school 2, English speakers to school 3. Then we have to consider whether every city has the resources to fund such schools to accommodate all languages. Also, if this were to happen, we’re promoting segregation by culture. Hardly the acceptance of diversity message that’s better.

Perhaps there is an argument to make no matter what language the instruction is conducted in in schools has little impact on the linguistic diversity of the multilingual children who attend it, considering they speak their L1s at home.

Ok, starting to ramble now. Sorry. :)

4 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Hi Tyson … thanks for rambling ;-)

I guess my reference to Canada is best exemplified by New Brunswick, an officially bilingual province, with 35% French speakers and the bulk of the rest being English speakers – so not a dissimilar linguistic profile to Catalonia. According to the official website of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development:

Serving Canada’s only officially bilingual province, New Brunswick’s education system offers students the opportunity to learn in both French and English through two parallel but separate education systems. Each linguistic sector of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development is responsible for its own curriculum and assessment.

http://www.gnb.ca/0000/about-e.asp

Of course, I don’t know how successful the policy is, but when I was there a couple of years ago it didn’t seem to be lacking in social cohesion!

4 02 2013
Tyson Seburn (@seburnt)

Funny, I wonder what constitutes a “bilingual province” to them? That’s the first I’ve heard we all aren’t. I wonder what the percentages are here in Ontario or next to us in Quebec.

3 02 2013
Duncan

I agree Scott that a bilingual option should be manageable, though the studies done in Canada in the 80s didn’t exactly support a CLIL approach if I remember rightly, though the situation here is different as many households (about half I think) are Spanish speaking. The problem though is which other language?. English rather than Spanish might be more useful, after all the Dutch opt for English rather than the geographically closer languages German or French. Rejection of Spanish is consistent with a political view of Catalonia as an independent state within Europe rather than a region of Spain. However, the main problem I think is not which language or languages “should” be chosen, but the fact, as Susan says, that governments feel they have to jerrymander the situation at all. Why not let schools themselves decide what linguistic profile they want to offer and let parents vote with their feet? My guess is that in these circumstances a natural linguistic pluralism would emerge which would allow Catalan to flourish alongside other languages which are important to people here.

4 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Duncan. yes, it’s ironic that – in these neo-liberal times – politicians are always banging on about freedom of choice, but not when it comes to the language of your children’s education. Of course, you CAN pay through the nose and send them to a bilingual school – the kind of school that the current Catalan President went to (but where the virtues of multilingualism don’t seem to have been instilled!)

3 02 2013
Rob

And I was hoping M would be for “morphic resonance” (and language learning). See http://tinyurl.com/bql6faz

I don’t consider myself qualified to comment on multilingualism in Spain, but I sure hope to read what others, like Diarmuid, have to say about it.

In the U.S., the English Only movement seems to prefer “Official English” or “US English” these days, assumedly because the latter sound less dogmatic.

The move to essentialize language ignores the importance of language play (ludic talk) and the type of strength through diversity Scott mentions above. I believe it also reflects perfectionistic ideals of a “pure society”, ideals that can send people scrambling to erect power structures to ensure hegemony (aka “social cohesion”?) in the face of demographic changes, and language is a powerful cultural component.

Rob

4 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks Rob (I shall save ‘morphic resonance’ for another day – when I can understand it!).

The following quote, from the inimitable Neil Postman, doesn’t have a whole lot to do with your comment, but I can’t resist using your mention of ‘diversity’ as a pretext for throwing it into the pot!

“The essential task of public schools… is to find and promote large, inclusive narratives for all students to believe in. The principle of diversity is such a narrative and it is sometimes, strangely, confused with the idea of ethnic pride. To promote the understanding of diversity is, in fact, the opposite of promoting ethnic pride. Whereas ethnic pride wants one to turn inward, toward the talents and accomplishments of one’s own group, diversity wants one to turn outward, toward the talents and accomplishments of all groups. Diversity is the story that tells of how our interactions with many kinds of people make us into what we are. It is a story strongly supported by the facts of human cultures. It does not usurp the function or authority of other social institutions. It does not undermine ethnic pride, but places one’s ethnicity in the context of our common culture. It helps to explain the past, and give clarity to the present, and provide guidance for the future. It is, in short, a powerful and inspiring narrative available for use in our public schools.’ (Postman, N. 1996, The End of Education: Redefining the value of school, New York: Vintage Books, pp 144-5)

5 02 2013
Rob

Everything to do with my comment, Scott! We don’t need a melting pot, we need a mixed salad. :-)

4 02 2013
Susan Samata

I think you’re really onto something, here. First I’ve heard the term ‘morphic resonancing’. Does it chime with (forgive pun) the distributed cognition/language ideas of, say, Stephen Cowley?

4 02 2013
Andy H

Thanks Scott. Really interesting post. I live in an area of Romania in which the majority are Hungarian speakers, and the current Romanian government is pursuing a French style policy of assimilation, with which I vehemently disagree (and expect will fail miserably), but in terms of education there has long been Hungarian medium education (to the credit of the Romanian state) for kids (including mine) for whom Hungarian is a first language.

However, I have recently found myself a bit of a national figure for the following blog post which, though it was written a year ago, was recently translated into Romanian and published on a national newspaper’s website. http://szekely.blogspot.ro/2012/02/romanian-education-system-3.html – I spent a week fielding calls and requests from journalists, and received a lot of mail (most positive, some quite upsettingly abusive).

4 02 2013
Susan Samata

Huge sympathy and support, Andy. Thanks for showing us an example of just how difficult life can be for those ‘at the sharp end’ of multilingualism. The picture in the UK isn’t entirely rosy, either, as successive waves of politicians use the language question as a handy stick to beat any undesired immigrant with. As I heard a Dutch mother say, ‘the teachers at my child’s school always say how wonderful it is that my daughter can speak another language; they don’t say that to the Pakistani mothers!’

4 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Andy.

Reading your blog post – and the comments! – confirms that language issues are inextricably bound up with ideological ones (no surprises!) and that the situation in your region of Romania sounds very similar to the Catalan one, where no distinction is made – in terms of their education – between children for whom Catalan is the mother tongue and those for whom it is a second (or additional) language. Of course, if the home language of the latter is Spanish, the difference between the first and second language is not as extreme as between Romanian and Hungarian, and many make the transition relatively painlessly. Nevertheless, the longer term effects of starting your education in a second language are often negative. Shin (2013: 156), with reference to the English Only situation in the US, notes that ‘Responding to the demands of the regular school curriculum becomes increasingly difficult as children advance through the grades, as early deficits resulting from incomprehensible instruction make it harder for students to keep up. This result is confirmed by other large-scale investigations which found that EL [English learner] children enrolled in English-only programs often do well initially, but do less well in later years’.

In sociolinguistic terms, this is probably due to a failure to develop Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP), as identified by Jim Cummins in Canada – that is to say, the higher order literacy skills that you don’t pick up in the street or playground.

4 02 2013
Duncan

That’s a very inspiring quote from Postman, Scott, thanks.I think it captures in a nutshell the snag with some versions of the monolingual and separatist sentiments in Catalonia at present. Maybe like Andy’s blog someone should translate it into Catalan… ( and Spanish??)

4 02 2013
Divya

Dear Scott,

Such an interesting thread, thank you. I too enjoyed the Postman quote, especially the part about diversity and the story of interaction…so lovely.

I’d love to hear your views on teacher beliefs / professional development within this binding of language-ideology and the policy of monolingualism. The OECD TALIS report on teaching in multicultural settings has some perspectives on professional development with regards to diversity. The report teases out the issue of teacher beliefs as being key in decisions about providing professional development towards the handling of diversity issues- i.e. it isn’t always a perceived need. Interestingly, it also states there being little difference between teachers of different types of schools, “similar proportions of public school teachers reported having high needs for professional development for teaching in a multicultural setting as teachers from non-government schools” (Jensen, 2010:70). Obviously TALIS is on a mass scale, involving some 23 countries and there are many nuances that surveys of this kind miss out on despite effectively problematizing things, and so I wondered what your observations were on how much of an issue this is amongst teachers, what they believe their needs are in developing with diversity.

Divya

Jensen, B. 2010 The OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) and teacher education for diversity in Educating Teachers For Diversity: Meeting the Challenge, OECD 2010 pp. 63-84.

5 02 2013
Rob

Perhaps only peripherally related, at best, but I recall David Block (The Social Turn in SLA) http://tinyurl.com/an3jsea interviewing a young woman who had earned her PhD, a bilingual (Spanish/Catalan) language learner, talking about the effects of poor professional development or lack of resources on her learning.

Forgive me if memory does not serve me well here. I think there’s other relevant material in Block’s book as well, eg Cook on multilingualism. Too late for me to search though.

Rob

5 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Rob. Vivian Cook’s take on multilingualism (see, for example, ‘Going beyond the native speaker in language teaching’ TESOL Quarterly, 1999, 33/2) is more a psycholinguistic than a sociolinguistic take on the subject, but well worth reading for the way he problematizes the notion of the idealized monolingual native speaker as the target language model, quoting Claire Kramsch (1998) to the effect that ‘traditional methodologies based on the native speaker usually define language learners in terms of what they are not, or at least not yet‘.

By extension, societal monolingualism (as aspired to by proponents of English Only in the US, or linguistic normalization in Catalonia) tends to construe the Spanish- (or Urdu-, or Arabic-, etc) speaker in terms of what they are not, or at least not yet.

5 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for that, Divya. How teachers construe, respond to, engage with, etc. diversity perhaps merits a separate blog! But many teachers, rightly or wrongly, are nervous about classroom diversity, where learner differences are viewed more as a problem than either a challenge or a resource. I’ll have a look at the TALIS report as I prepare D is for Diversity, ;-)

5 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

By chance, there happens to be a piece on linguistic assimilation in the US in this week’s Economist, which concludes:

There’s no reason to hurry the process [of learning English] by treating a naturalised immigrant as suspicious for keeping his first language alive in his family. The solution to this apparent conundrum is very simple: bilingualism. It’s a healthy thing that Americans have historically been too suspicious of.

Not just Americans!

http://t.co/jvVSbzBE

6 02 2013
Rob

The good old Economist (ahem). Just to play devil’s advocate, though not entirely, it might also have been Block who cited some bilingual learners’ wish to keep their heritage language private, ie at home, as a means of preserving culture.

Of course, having the choice whether to do so would be nice.

The official language of Puerto Rico is English, I believe, and statehood might mean a change in bilingual education there – among many other changes. Guam? How is bilingualism dealt with there?

Ironic? Spanish Empire cedes territory to U.S., which insists on English Only while in Spain…

Rob

7 02 2013
Kathy

Just to clear it up, Puerto Rico has two official languages: Spanish and English. Many states (about half of them?) have established English as their official language, but there is no official language at the federal level of the U.S. Four states have passed legislation that’s effectively against English Only. The other states have no official language. It’s still a very active discussion in the U.S. with many on both sides. The fact that a huge majority of Latinos voted for Obama in the last election may have an effect on the discussion (I hope it’s one that dampens the momentum of English Only!)

6 02 2013
Kathy

I totally agree, there are so many examples of the three-generation thing around the U.S. With maybe an exception for groups like the Amish who deliberately isolate themselves. (And I wonder if that’s not stopping it but just lengthening the process?) Is there some research on the three- generation phenomenon?

I also agree that the “make them learn English” part of the path-to-citizenship deal is political, not about language. We don’t need a law that tells immigrants (legal or not) to learn English. Our mile-long waiting lists indicate that the will is already there, it’s the money that’s missing!

Could I also mention that there are Americans who disagree with, and are contesting, the efforts of English Only? Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be as politically well-organized. (Seems that U.S. English is a lobbying group funded by conservatives to promote English Only, which they have rebranded “Official English”.)

6 02 2013
Joe

“Nevertheless, the longer term effects of starting your education in a second language are often negative” may be true with the English only experience in the US, but is there any supporting evidence of this to be true in Catalonia / Spain. Or indeed, is there even any evidence to the contrary?

As far as I’m aware, Catalan children obtain equally good (if not better) results in ‘Castilian’ as children schooled in other parts of Spain.

Also, the ‘monolingulaism’ in Catalan (public/state) schools is only on the part of the teachers – if the kids use Castilian (orally) in class, there is no problem.

Most state school teachers I’ve come across are exceptionally accommodating to those kids for whom Catalan is not their first language.

I know you lived for many years in Catalonia – did you ever come across a Catalan who couldn’t speak Spanish? I met one in 17 years.
How about a Spanish person or ‘foreigner’ who couldn’t speak Catalan?

Far from being divisive the use of Catalan in schools has created a generation of people who are equally comfortable using either language – the bilinguistic policies of other regions of the Spanish state have created a generation of people who only speak one language.

6 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks, Joe – not least for voicing some of the arguments that defenders of Catalan immersion themselves use.

The argument (typically unsupported by statistics) that children schooled in Catalan have a level of Castillian Spanish as good as, if not better, than those elsewhere in Spain is often used to justify the current model. Like the argument that there are no Catalans who don’t also speak Spanish, this assumes that speaking a language equates with being literate in it – which, as any language teacher will tell you, is simply not the case. If it were, this might suggest that schooling makes no difference to language proficiency, and that children who live in the Spanish-speaking regions of Spain might just as well be getting their education in Turkish, or Esperanto, since they will become literate in Spanish simply by hanging out on the street or watching TV.

As Vilarrubias writes, ‘La cuestión importante es saber qué es capaz de hacer un alumno de dieciocho años aparte de hablar español en situaciones cotidianas. ¿Es capaz de realizar una presentación oral fluid en español sobre un tema académico? ¿Puede escribir un informe técnico, redactar y contestar correspondencia, leer un texto abstracto y entenderlo, etcétera?”

I totally agree with you, though, that if the teachers are teaching bilingually, then the system is probably working well. In the end it all comes down to the quality of the teaching. A study in the US, for example, (Tikunoff 1983) found that teachers in successful bilingual education programs used frequent code-switching: ‘Although English was used for approximately 60% of the observed time, the teachers frequently switched to the students’ mother tongue when they perceived that students were not comprehending what was required or needed feedback to complete the task’ (cited in McKay 2000, ‘English language learners and educational investments’, in McKay & Wong, New Immigrants in the United States, CUP).

The extent to which code-switching is actively encouraged, as opposed to merely tolerated, in Catalan immersion schools would be worth investigating.

As for the success of ‘linguistic normalization’, this is moot. Statistics that the Generalitat itself publishes (accessible here) suggest that most of those whose first language is Spanish identify with Spanish and speak Spanish as their language of choice, those whose mother tongue is Catalan identify with Catalan and speak it as their language of choice, as do Arabic-speakers etc. In other words, all these years of education in Catalan have not altered the fact that Catalonia is effectively and demographically bilingual, like Belgium or New Brunswick. Why does the education system not reflect the sociolinguistic reality (as it does in Belgium or New Brunswick)? More importantly, how would you feel if the language you were born into, identified with, and spoke habitually was not accorded any value in your school?

6 02 2013
Joe

“how would you feel if the language you were born into, identified with, and spoke habitually was not accorded any value in your school?”
But it is accorded value, just not as much as the native language of the country you’re living in and going to school in – nothing unusual in that.

Catalunya is of course effectively and demographically bilingual – hugely more so than, for example, Wales, where bilingual schooling seems to have resulted in a reduction in the number of Welsh speakers in the last 10 years:
http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/2011-census/key-statistics-for-unitary-authorities-in-wales/stb-2011-census-key-statistics-for-wales.html
Maybe Welsh teachers are too expensive for cash strapped education authorities? Would Catalan have been going down the Welsh route to oblivion without the immersion policy?

There has been a significant upward shift in the number of people in Catalonia who use or who have adopted Catalan as their first language – even those whose first language is Spanish – since the introduction of linguistic immersion – and although a majority still speak Castilian as a first language, a more significant majority use both.

http://www20.gencat.cat/docs/Llengcat/Documents/InformePL/Arxius/a_cap05_10.pdf

“all these years of education in Catalan have not altered the fact that Catalonia is effectively and demographically bilingual”
I really don’t think the aim of immersion in Catalan in education is to eradicate bilingualism, but in fact to foster it, as it seemingly has.

6 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

“I really don’t think the aim of immersion in Catalan in education is to eradicate bilingualism, but in fact to foster it, as it seemingly has.”

I must be missing something, Joe, but I can’t see how a monolingual educational policy (as far as I know, one of the few in the world where the population is bilingual) can foster bilingualism. Surely a bilingual policy would do that?

There must be another reason to impose a linguistic policy that defies logic, and the reason must be that Catalan, the language, needs to be promoted in order to save it from being swamped by Spanish. Well and good. This may be good politics. But I wonder if it’s good education.

And a correction: Catalan it is not the native language of Catalonia (if native language means mother tongue). It is a native language. Just as German is a native language of Switzerland. Or French of Canada.

6 02 2013
Anne Dwyer

This… THING you’ve written is the absolute pinnacle of ignorance. My brother and I are trilingual – Catalan and English at home, Spanish through television, Mortadelo and Filemón and school, of course. All my friends are bilingual (some are trilingual because they speak Chinese, Arabic, Berber, Italian or French at home)regardless of the language they speak at home. Before I was born, many children went through school here and came out with a level in Catalan that was similar to the level they had in English … sad, don’t you think, when they were/are living in a bilingual part of the world?
Bilingualism is scientifically proven to have absolutely positive effects in the neuronal world.

My aunt was born and brought up in Lleida during Franco’s dictatorship, she never really learned Catalan as a child and never really integrated in Catalan society. Her children, my cousins, speak Spanish and Catalan and English and are fully integrated. At first my older cousin only spoke Spanish at school; in fact he was ‘anti-Catalan. Then his parents realised he was mixing with the ‘wrong crowd’! He switched schools, learned Catalan properly (he was in a class for non-Catalan speakers initially) and changed his attitude; now he is trilingual and happy! .

First of all, Catalan nationalists believe in cultural equality, while Spanish nationalists believe in cultural superiority (theirs, that is). Catalan nationalists are revindicating our culture, making it present to the world and going to the same level as Spanish culture. Spanish nationalism has basically tried to kill and bury Catalan, Basque, Valencian and Galician cultures since the 17th century.

Judging by your words, I bet you’re against Maori culture too, and all cultural minorities, for that matter. You have to do more research (look at what is behind the PISA scores), learn more about the country and have some children before you start rambling bulls*** on internet blogs.

Yours truly

Alan Torres Dwyer, 1994-…

6 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thank you, Alan – your insider perspective is very welcome. If, however, you think I am anti-Catalan, you are wrong. On the other hand, I’m well aware that anyone who dares to question the policy of linguistic normalization on educational or sociolinguistic grounds, is very likely to be branded as anti-Catalan. So I’ll shut up about that! ;-)

On the other hand, I can’t let the dig about Maori culture pass undefended. When I lived in Aotearoa New Zealand there were no Maori medium schools.Maori was hardy even taught in English-medium schools. Since the 1970s and 1980s there has been a spectacular growth in Government funded Maori medium primary and secondary schooling. Parents in most parts of Aotearoa have a choice of which language they want their children to be educated in, without having to pay to send them to private schools. I totally applaud this situation. I just wish it was the same in Catalonia.

6 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

PS: And of course I would be the first to complain if a Maori Minister of Education were to impose Maori as the ONLY language of instruction. ;-)

6 02 2013
Anne Dwyer

Mum says the Maori language movement started in the late 1970s and that ‘kura’ did not take off until much later… you say “Parents in most parts of Aotearoa have a choice of which language they want their children to be educated in, without having to pay to send them to private schools.” Where did you get that information from? I can’t find it anywhere and nobody I know had that choice though they all were able to take classes in Maori, if they wanted to (and most of the classes were taught through English).
Searching the www I found this
“Maori medium education in schools is rapidly expanding. In 1990 there were six officially designated kura kaupapa Maori catering for 190 students. In 1999 there were 59 kura kaupapa Maori. In 1999, a total of 396 schools other than kura kaupapa Maori were offering some form of Maori medium education.”
http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/1080/New-Zealand-EDUCATIONAL-SYSTEM-OVERVIEW.html
Also
“As at 1 July 2012 60 percent of all Māori students and 85 percent of non-Māori were not enrolled in Māori language in education ” (http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/statistics/maori_education/schooling/6040)
Alan

6 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Yes, I’m not arguing with your statistics, Alan. But if “60 percent of all Māori students and 85 percent of non-Māori were not enrolled in Māori language in education”, that was their choice. In Catalonia they would not have a choice.

The fact that 40 percent of Maori students and 15 percent of non-Maori students are enrolled in Maori language education seems a breathtaking achievement in just 30 or 40 years – particularly given the fact that they weren’t forced to opt for Maori, but chose it of their own free will.

Operative word, Alan: choice.

6 02 2013
Anne Dwyer

Ooops Scott
my son got to the computer before me! I subscribe 98% what he says (I only apologize for his ‘language’.

What is the purpose of your article; Scott? Who is your audience?

“Spanish is taught as a school subject in Catalonia, but this does little to mitigate the fact that, at primary level, over half the population is being educated in a language that is not its mother tongue”; a few years ago, that was no longer the case (for a while Catalan speakers outnumbered non-Catalans), immigration has changed the Catalan/Spanish balance once again … but that is not really the point, is it?
It seems odd to me, Scott, that you only reference ONE local researcher … Have you looked at research from the former USSR to find out to what extent the ‘Russian only’ education affected people? Have you looked at pre-”Reforma educativa” research about the situation here, to understand what was going on? (read Alan’s story about his cousin) Is there any research out there that measures the effect of sending children to ‘foreign language schools’ (that’s what some of the rich anti-Catalans do)?

When I came here ‘eons ago’ my uncle (Irish, living in Botsuana at the time) told me I would need to learn two languages and I did so without any fuss or pain; Catalan has opened many doors to me, it has closed none. My older son asked the children of migrants in the state school he went to in the neighborhood of Gràcia (33%) how many of them knew (ie had been told by their parents, who were living here) that two languages were spoken in Barcelona … how many? NOT ONE! … that attitude changes everything.

You know, what? The great beneficiaries of bilingual education would be the Catalans; the beneficiaries of almost monolingual education in Catalan are the non-Catalans; they learn an extra language and that makes it easier to learn a third and a fourth … If your article had taken that angle, I might have been able to understand it … as it is it just sounds like, reminds me of Wh…ing P..s; sorry.

6 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Thanks for the comment Anne – I’ve never had a mother-and-son response on this blog before!

See my comments to Alan about the educational argument being construed as an anti-Catalan one. I’m neither anti-Catalan nor pro-Spanish. As an applied linguist, with a measure of objectivity on sociolinguistic issues (one would hope), to adopt such a position would be hypocritical. What I am wary of (and weary of) is the way language and nationalism become inextricably connected and the rights of children (as advocated by UNESCO, for example) are effectively sidelined. Would Catalan roll over and die, would Catalonia implode, if just a few subjects were taught in Spanish? Or if just a few Spanish-medium schools were tolerated? I think not.

Just one other thing: You ask “Is there any research out there that measures the effect of sending children to ‘foreign language schools’ (that’s what some of the rich anti-Catalans do)”. I don’t know but I find it curious that arch-nationalists like Artur Mas and Joan Laporta send their children to the Liceo Francés. Are they not convinced by the Catalan-immersion model?

6 02 2013
Anne Dwyer

Scott
I think you will find this link interesting
http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/publications/schooling/5075
some quotes from the report
“In immersion education, the language least likely to be spoken in the wider society (French in Canada; Māori in Aotearoa/New Zealand) is used as the main language of school. The emphasis is placed on these languages because they would not otherwise be spoken outside of the school, where English dominates.” (in the case of Catalonia, read “Castillian/Spanish” instead of “English”) … that is the system in Catalonia

“Bilingual education is most effective when families, the school and the wider community see it as good for students to learn a second language and to become fluent in two languages. This is called an “additive” approach, because students are “adding” a second language rather than replacing one language with another. Research shows that additive approaches are very effective educationally and result in students becoming bilingual as well as biliterate – being able to read and write in two languages” …
as I said earlier, the non Catalan students are benefitting more from this system than the Catalans.

“The research also highlights that becoming biliterate is the key to academic success. Students who are biliterate are more likely to succeed academically and also often outperform students in English-medium schools. Of course, they also end up knowing two languages rather than just one”.

“The research shows there are significant benefits from having higher levels of immersion. This is because of a key principle in the research called “language interdependence”. This principle is based on the idea that the stronger a child becomes in one language – particularly, if they learn to read and write in that language – the more likely they are to successfully learn another language. Being strong in one language means being strong in another.”

Mas and Laporta are simply giving their children ‘yet another language’

6 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

“The non Catalan students are benefitting more from this system than the Catalans”. I love your logic, Anne!

This, of course, is the argument the English Only movement uses in the US. The little immigrant mites should count themselves lucky they’re getting an education in a language they don’t understand! ;-)

6 02 2013
Anne Dwyer

“This, of course, is the argument the English Only movement uses in the US. The little immigrant mites should count themselves lucky they’re getting an education in a language they don’t understand!”
Scott, Catalan is really not very challenging if you know Spanish. I learned both in a year; it’s like learning Portuguese or Italian or even French (minus the spelling) … I cannot understand why people are objecting so much. If it were Basque we were talking about, well …
I really don’t think you can compare it to the situation in the US (we are not talking about two romance languages in the case of the USA, are we?). Furthermore, my logic is based on research into bilingualism and recent brain research.

6 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

OK, fair point, Anne (although it intrigues me that when you ask a Catalan if Catalan and Castilian are similar, they will insist they are completely different!) Nevertheless, it’s true that a fair degree of transfer should be possible across languages (both ways, one should add).

But there is still the ‘affective’ argument. Let’s re-phrase my semi-flippant remark: “The little immigrant mites should count themselves lucky they’re getting an education in a language they don’t identify with!”

The powers-that-be would hope that they will eventually come to identify with Catalan, but identity is something you choose: you can’t have it thrust upon you. Of course, mother tongue Catalan-speakers, and many others, like yourself, who chose to learn Catalan as an additional language, strongly identify with Catalan – so strongly, in fact, that they sometimes forget that other people also identify with the language that they learnt on their mother’s knee. The fact that they do so does not make them linguistic imperialists, born-again Franco-ists, or supporters of Real Madrid. But it does, theoretically, at least, give them an attitude. This attitude may well be exacerbated in the case of immigrants from South America who may already be marginalized socially and economically. To marginalize them linguistically may be the last straw.

6 02 2013
Anne Dwyer

and Happy Waitangi Day!

6 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Aroha nui! :-)

7 02 2013
Anne Dwyer

Scott, for some reason, you do not seem to have understood the anthropological, sociological and political essence of the situation here.The reason why they decided to have Catalan as the mainstream language was because highly qualified, talented people, whose parents (mostly illiterate) had come here from ‘feudal Spain’ to experience the ‘Catalan dream’ were not able to integrate into the ‘mindset’ (seny i rauxa – common sense and ‘let it all hang out) of the local people. Jordi Pujol cam out with the phrase “If you live and work in Catalonia, you are a Catalán” and indeed many parents (illiterate) of successful people I know say “I am not Catalan but I cook Catalan food … therefore I am integrated!”
The whole idea behind using Catalan as a school language is/was (as my son Alan said so vehemently) to integrate people … when there was monolingual (Spanish) and attempts at bilingual (Spanish/Catalan) education … there was less democracy, I assure you … and you know what? I have several students who went to international schools (because their parents were /highly international/anti-Catalan .. call it what you will and these people feel completely ‘displaced’ … whose fault is that?

7 02 2013
Scott Thornbury

Anne, I’m well aware that ‘the whole idea behind using Catalan as a school language is/was … to integrate people’. If you read my original post, I wrote: “Politicians regularly invoke the fact that Catalan is ‘a guarantor of social cohesion’ and ‘a model of integration for new arrivals, avoiding their segregation on the grounds of origin, culture or language’”.

The question (or one of them) is: has it worked? According to the Generalitat’s own figures 37% of the population identify with Catalan, 46% with Spanish, 9% with both, 7% with some other language. (Catalan immersion was introduced in 1983). If Catalan is ‘a guarantor of social cohesion’, it will need to do better. Maybe, for ‘guarantors of social cohesion’, we need to look elsewhere. Your example of food would seem to be a better one. Or football. I reckon that Barça does more for social cohesion in Catalonia than la llengua.

In the end, does identity formation motivate language acquisition, or does language acquisition motivate identity formation? Studies of integrative motivation in the Canadian context suggest the former. Undoubtedly, the situation is more complex than this, and probably language acquisition and identity formation are mutually reinforcing. Nevertheless, limiting an individual’s educational choices is hardly conducive to social cohesion.

7 02 2013
Anne Dwyer

“limiting an individual’s educational choices is hardly conducive to social cohesion.”
‘Expanding’ is what I would call it, not limiting. Joe has children and can clearly see that what is happening is really very different from what you describe. I agree when he says “If one thing is lacking in the Catalan public education system and Catalan society in general, it certainly isn’t more hours of Castilian.”

What is your definition of ‘social cohesion’, Scott? For Catalans it means equal opportunity to take part in things, to understand what’s going on, to get jobs … if tourists complain that people in shops and restaurants here do not speak enough English, imagine how locals feel when shop assistants waiters say they don’t understand Catalan (they don’t expect them to speak it, just understand it and it’s really not that difficult …)

Most people I meet/know from other places (the guy from Ecuador at the fish stall in the market, the lady in the fruit shop, my neighbor …) feel really good when they speak Catalan and the locals really appreciate it.

7 02 2013
Anne Dwyer

“This attitude may well be exacerbated in the case of immigrants from South America who may already be marginalized socially and economically. To marginalize them linguistically may be the last straw.”
When my son Daniel started secondary school 9 YEARS AGO, he was amazed that the Social Studies teacher was giving the class in Castilian/Spanish … “Excuse me,· he said, “Is there a reason why you are not giving the class in Catalan?” “Can’t you see?” asked the teacher, “a third of the class are from South America!· “That may be so,” said he, “but if we never speak to them in Catalan, they will always be outsiders, I know, my Mum is a foreigner” … can you imagine the positive response he has received over the years?

7 02 2013
Joe

“Catalan it is not the native language of Catalonia (if native language means mother tongue). It is a native language. Just as German is a native language of Switzerland. Or French of Canada”.
Or English of India?

“I must be missing something, Joe, but I can’t see how a monolingual educational policy (as far as I know, one of the few in the world where the population is bilingual) can foster bilingualism. Surely a bilingual policy would do that?”

My point is that the immersion policy has helped make Catalunya bilingual – without it far fewer people would use Catalan ‘natuarally’ or its use, to use the oft misinterpreted expression, would be less ‘normalized’. Castilian is still the dominant language, yet in only 30 years or so of the immersion policy the level of bililingualism has increased dramaically. I think you’d have to concede it has been instrumental in achieving near parity for Catalan,

When parity has been achieved, still a long way off btw, it may be time to reconsider the policy. Until then a policy that promotes a language that, let’s not forget,was prohibited, penalised and stigmatised until very recently (“¡hablame en cristiano!”) and legislates for its ‘vehicular’ use in public institutions should be supported, if a bilingual country is the aim.

From personal experience, when my child is in the classroom, she uses Catalan with her teachers and Morrocan, Russian, Equadorian, Spanish and Catalan classmates but this is practically the only time when she and many of her classmates do use it, Once outside school, the same classmates use Castillan with each other and/or their own languages when at home.

If one thing is lacking in the Catalan public education system and Catalan society in general, it certainly isn’t more hours of Castilian.

7 02 2013
Svetlana

Dear Scott,
What a heated discussion really! First of all, I want you to know that I am completely on your side meaning that I am strongly convinced that every child MUST have the right to be educated in their native language: Childhood years are very short and yet the most decisive in the overall cognitive development. The period of sensitivity (remember Maria Montessori?) is open for a pre-determined by nature amount of time. Literacy, Maths, Nature studies, bits of history – for that you need to have the language which has already ripened, which doesn’t sound abra-kadabra to the child and therefore it can be used as a medium. Another language can be taught alongside and have some CLIL components in the form of cross-curricular links but remain just additive. It goes without saying and you can rely on just common sense, though the findings from some research are always helpful, that education in one’s native language will lead to faster learning and better future academic results. In the long run school education in one’s native language will provide the child with better educational opportunities.

To have one language education is the most short-sighted policy ever for a government. If some government tried to enforce me as a parent to have my child educated in some other language in my own country, I would definitely plot a revolution, go on the warpath until the trail of tears would kill me or choose to immigrate to a country with a wiser government. A language is a part of one’s cultural identity, national history which children inherit from their parents and that is what parents want to see continued through their children.

And I want to say a word about the former USSR (that’s where I come from) as it was mentioned in one of the comments. It’s a myth that there was the Russian only policy in education here. I wonder where this information comes from. In my childhood I lived in Lithuania, a Baltic state. There were Russian schools for Russian children where Lithuanian was taught as a required additive language and there were Lithuanian schools where Russian was taught as an additive language too. In both kinds of schools there was another foreign language taught, usually English, German or French. School-leavers from both types of school were bilinguals to some degree (B2 level or so) in Russian and Lithuanian, yet they could continue their education in either language. And that was the fair policy.

And yet opening schools for an ethnic minority demands huge investment on behalf of the government. The latter usually tends to cut down the budget expenditures on education. And the government needs to train teachers, print books etc. It is simply cheaper to have one language for all policy.

Moreover, here is another consideration from a group dynamics course I took with an American professor: while trying to fight the government’s policy one has to be aware of the government subconscious survival instincts of a group. The majority of those children who are forced to be educated in a language which is not their native and in which they can’t get any support from their families are destined not to succeed academically and therefore will reproduce the cheap labour for unqualified jobs. Doesn’t that solve many problems for the government?

To finish with, there must be some statistics how large an ethnic minority has to be so that it makes sense to open a school for their children or just to have special classes within an existing school where children can be taught basic subjects and literacy in their mother tongue. Does anybody happen to know?

One language for all policy is the violation of children’ and their parents’ rights. Let’s stand out for diversity!

Thank you, Scott, for the great post!

7 02 2013
Anne Dwyer

“I am strongly convinced that every child MUST have the right to be educated in their native language:” …well Svetlana, that’s the end to migration, I guess.
How much ‘social cohesion’ was/is there in the Baltic states as a result of the bilingual policies?

7 02 2013
Svetlana

Dear Anne,
Not migration but fascism probably because no language is inferior. And why do you need social cohesion? To fight against some enemy or vote for independence? Social cohesion results from tolerance in my understanding and another language is a way to look at another culture and become more tolerant as a result.

As for the Baltic States the language policy regarding Russian is approximately the same at present: many Lithuanian schools offer Russian as an additive language plus English or another foreign language. Though I don’t think Russian is a required subject anymore, it’s up to parents to decide. But nobody was ever forced to get educated solely in Russian there. The USSR never meant to destroy one’s national language and identity.

7 02 2013
Rob

“The USSR never meant to destroy one’s national language and identity.”

I lived in Tallinn, Estonia for a few months in the early 90s. My sense was that many Estonians felt a Russification of their country was underway, and language played an important role in national identity. When I joined a large protest rally in Vilnius (Lithuania), after the Soviet government had seized control of local media, it certainly felt like the Baltics wanted cultural independence, which, to me included language.

Was Russian the official language of the Baltics at the time? I don’t recall.

Rob

7 02 2013
Jessica

I’m going to go out on a limb here and take a guess that the most vehement defenders of the Catalan monolingual policy here have Catalan-speaking partners, Anne, because Alan says he grew up with English and Catalan at home and Joe, simply because the vast majority of English-speaking men I know in Catalonia do, it’s a combination that seems to work well. Apologies if I’m wrong.

It makes complete sense to wish to identify with the historical and cultural norms of your (our) adopted country and many of my Catalan-speaking friends have family members who have lived through the repression of their language (and more) and are understandably sensitive on the subject.

My husband and I have lived here for many years and speak fluent Spanish and Catalan but we speak English at home (Mlah). Our two daughters attend a state school which sounds very similar to Joe’s, in that there are seven different L1s in my eldest daughter’s class (2on) alone. As Catalan and Spanish are both L2s for them, they often don’t cope at school as well as they would like, (the eldest has needed help already and she’s only seven). I logically want them to feel identified with and integrated into the country of their birth but the truth is, in their school at least, Catalan is seen as the language of the teachers, of authority and rules and they are starting to develop negative feelings about it.

Concerned about this, we went to see my daughter’s teacher last year and her proposed solution was that my husband and I both speak Catalan at home. I was shocked to realise that a state-school teacher had obviously had no training or guidance in how to deal with a multilingual class (hardly a new phenomenon in this part of town) and clearly advocated the extension of a monolingual policy into the pupils’ homes. Although it’s unfair to generalise from one example, we have pretty much been left to our own devices to support our daughters’ trilingual development. In an age when the benefits of bilingualism and multilingualism are becoming increasingly apparent, I would like to see a more inclusive policy.

8 02 2013
Anne Dwyer

You are right, Jessica, they are not prepared for this relatively new wave of migrants from all over. 30 years ago there were only 35 000 foreigners living in Catalonia and now, close to a million!
Do not despair … people here are collectivists and subconsciously expects people to move at the same pace; they’ve been working on diversity in the classroom for a couple of decades but somehow it’s still not in the subconscious mindset to deal with individual diversity and if you and your partner are both English, then as ‘individualists’ you will find this more challenging to deal with.
Do not switch to Catalan at home … one person, one language … the teacher is obviously ignorant about raising children in foreign lands. I know English-speaking people who have had their children in state schools and have got over the bumps, your daughters will manage … in fact they are very lucky as you both speak the local languages and can help them with their reading … in fact it is once they start reading well that the language bumps are easiest to iron out .. so
Do read to and with them in all three languages and they’ll be fine!
Do prepare yourselves for the way the Spanish (and Catalans) do long divisions … that’s a real shock!

8 02 2013
Svetlana

Dear Rob,

So you see for yourself what negative feelings a government may provoke only by having a required additive language in the school curriculum. And what may happen if some language becomes the only and the main language of instruction at state schools?
By the way, In the Soviet times Russian was never the only official language in any republic, it was always additive and one of them. The other school subjects were taught in the native language of the republic. And compared to some other countries e.g. Scotland and Wales, the national languages not only survived but remained the most common on that territory. Estonians speak Estonian now, don’t they, after so many years of the Soviet regime? And they did speak it in the Soviet times, too.

8 02 2013
Anne Dwyer

Svetlana
I have been doing a bit of investigating … I work with a lot of people from Russia and other countries that used to form part of the USSR. It is true that parents could choose in which language they wanted their children to be schooled in (just as Scott is proposing). The result, however, is the following: the Latvians, Lithuanians, Khazaks, Azeris, Georgia and Kyghers end up being bilingual and ALL speak Russian as well as their own language, the Russians are MONOLINGUAL – they only speak Russian fluently and rarely even try to speak ‘the other language’. As one German Khazak said to me, “We learn Khazak at school but when the Khazaks wee us they assume we are Russian and that is the language they use. So we never ever really get to learn Khazak properly.” Another student from Georgia said “They can’t be bothered, not even my Mum – she says it’s far too difficult and as we all speak Russian, what’s the point?”

I think we will find that speakers of the languages of the (former) empires (China, France, England-UK, Russia …) see their own languages as being superior, more useful and they have until the age of English as a lingua franca been pretty much monolingual. I cannot think of any place in the world where the empires really did the ‘go global, think local’ thing.

The way things are going, the only monolinguals in the world will be the English speakers

8 02 2013
Carolyn

Late to the debate, but it’s a very interesting one and close to my heart. Like Jessica (hi!) my partner and I are English speaking and our daughter goes to the local state school. Her school, though, is very different. The vast majority of children in her class come from Catalan-speaking families and the language in class and in the playground is Catalan. The result? She is bilingual English/Catalan, but has a pretty low level of Spanish and is reluctant to use it (she is nearly ten and has lived all her life in Catalonia). I have no idea how good her friends’ Spanish is as I only ever hear them speak Catalan, but I would be very surprised if many of them were truly bilingual.

It makes me very sad. By insisting that schools be monolingual, a wonderful opportunity is lost. Two hours a week of Spanish as a foreign language is not enough. I don’t think there should be separate Spanish and Catalan schools, but I wish some of the subjects were taught in Spanish.

Politically, the policy seems to be working, in our case at least. My daughter identifies herself as Catalan, not British (and I’m proud she does, btw).

8 02 2013
Anne Dwyer

Carolyn
your daughter will get Spanish … through reading and writing; my boys did (and home became monolingual – English- when they were 10 and 13) … they will meet and mix with Spanish speakers; perhaps a school trip somewhere … and television … just you wait … adolescents watch Antena 3 or Tele 5!!

I just asked two students from the Ukraine about this .. they can choose to be schooled in Ukrainian (which is similar to Polish) or Russian (with classes in the other language) … the result? Ukranian speakers are bilingual, Russian speakers are monolingual. The country has had many conflicts as we know and the highest moments of social cohesion were the result of Euro 2012 … sport does a lot for social cohesion as Scott has already mentioned.

8 02 2013
John West

Fascinating debate. Another thing to bear in mind and which hasn’t been mentioned. Primary Schools as centres of Catalan nationalism. This is what PP believe and what Jordi Pujol intended.Young people 16 to 18′s would overwhelmingly be in favour of independence… Coincidence?

I think you make a lot of points and there is a dialogue of “besugos” going on between Spanish and Catalan nationalists.

27 02 2013
Sulabha Sidhaye

Maria,

About dividing subjects to be taught in two languages:

In my state Maharashtra (India), we have schools which shift to using English for Science and Mathematics in High School after 3 yrs of teaching English in middle school.The remaining subjects are continued to be taught in the mother-tongue/local language Marathi. This facilitates advanced science education which is available only in the English medium at university level. Yet the student can use Marathi well in social life.

In Central Govt schools (where children of Govt employees being transferred to different states of India with their own regional languages) social sciences may be taught in National language Hindi which is convenient as students are already exposed to associated vocabulary for historical and geographical references through media and in the world outside school.

However,some parents and children find this kind of division of subjects into languages inconvenient. They opt for total English medium schools with local language only as a subject so that their children can migrate to any part of multi-lingual India. No doubt, this creates cultural problems and breakdown of communication between people educated in English and non-English medium schools.

Unfortunately, usage of National language Hindi didn’t spread enough because people prefer English with the Roman script on computers, to communicate both locally and globally (rather than so many different Indian languages with varied fonts while communicating with Indians in different regions).

This common short-cut is leading to gradual disappearance of written forms of a lot of Indian languages where there is less and less of serious writing/reading from the younger generations!

-Sulabha.

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