Barcelona council launches program to boost use of Catalan to revert decline

Catalan is regular language of less than half young people in every district, with Nou Barris at 5%

Demonstration in Barcelona to defend Catalan language in schools on December 18, 2021 (by Carola López)
Demonstration in Barcelona to defend Catalan language in schools on December 18, 2021 (by Carola López) / ACN
Catalan News

Catalan News | @catalannews | Barcelona

November 3, 2022 12:10 PM

November 3, 2022 12:58 PM

The Barcelona council has launched a program that seeks to boost the use of Catalan in the city to revert its decline in recent years.

Supporting shops that use Catalan, specific courses for companies in the city, activities with influencers at secondary schools, meme and video contests, increasing the number of films in Catalan screened in cinemas, or courses for foreign medical professionals are just some of the scheme's initiatives.

According to the council, the latest surveys over the years show that the language has lost its presence in the city, especially among younger generations.

Indeed, a 2015 survey of young people showed that only 37.7% of those between 15 and 29 used Catalan regularly, a figure that shrank to 28% in 2020, according to the same poll.

The 2021 edition of the survey shows that Catalan is the regular language of less than half of young people in every district.

In Sarrià-Sant Gervasi, Catalan peaks at 44.9%, with 50.4% of people between 15-29 being regular Spanish users, while in Nou Barris, it has almost disappeared: only 5.1% of the same age group use it frequently, very far from the hegemonic 86.1% of Spanish.

The figures were revealed as the Catalan immersion system in schools, which has been in operation for four decades to ensure all children are proficient in both Catalan and Spanish, is being reviewed by Spanish courts. 

The Constitutional Court is assessing whether the latest regulations passed by the government and the parliament to strengthen the immersion system are legal and comply with the 25% minimum quota of instruction in the Spanish language ordered by the Supreme Court a year ago.

Listen to our Filling the Sink podcast episode from March 2022 to learn more: Catalan in schools – reasons behind language immersion and why it's in jeopardy

51% of Barcelona residents hardly ever or never use Catalan

The 2018 linguistic uses survey revealed that 51% of all Barcelona residents use Catalan a little or never.

Jordi Martí, deputy mayor of Barcelona for culture, admitted there had been a drop in the use of Catalan and said the measure may be late.

He said that the efforts to normalize the use of Catalan again after dictator Franco's regime, which ended in 1975, made authorities think over the years that "it was a passed course." Yet, he acknowledged that figures have shrunk again and the situation is "urgent."

Catalan authorities led by the government have launched a national pact for the language that aims to assess its state and promote ideas to boost it.

Need for internationals to learn and use Catalan

In an interview with Catalan News in March, language policy secretary, Francesc Xavier Vila, said that a higher use of Catalan among foreigners would also contribute to making it stronger, as well as native speakers not switching to Spanish when speaking to an international resident.

"Local people expect you to make this small act of sympathy and learn a little bit of the local language. This is a sign of politeness," he said.

"Some internationals have the feeling that they are integrated but at the end of the day, they are living in their bubble, their expat community bubble. In individual contexts, Catalan speakers are nice and switch not only to Spanish, but also to English all the time - and that makes it easier for newcomers."

Listen to the Filling the Sink podcast to learn more about the language and resources to learn it both in Catalonia and abroad.