Decline in use of Catalan in schools

Fewer than half of secondary school teachers always spoke language to students last year despite it being compulsory 

Fourth year of secondary school students of Barcelona's Institut Escola El Til·ler, on April 23, 2021 (by Maria Belmez)
Fourth year of secondary school students of Barcelona's Institut Escola El Til·ler, on April 23, 2021 (by Maria Belmez) / Guifré Jordan

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

November 4, 2021 07:48 PM

The debate over a decline in the use of Catalan, partly due to a globalized audiovisual sector, continues.

New figures released by the Catalan education department reveal that 47% of teachers always or almost always speak in Catalan to 4th year secondary school students – that is significantly fewer than 15 years ago, when 63% did.

How Catalan immersion system works in schools

This is especially remarkable as Catalan is the working language at schools in order to protect it and avoid the society being split in two separate linguistic communities.

When Catalonia recovered its self-rule in the late 1970s after 40 years of a fascist dictatorship, its new authorities decided that classes in Catalan, rather than a choice between Catalan and Spanish, would ensure that students end their studies speaking both languages – considering that the latter is learned in society because it is the most widely used one and is studied as a foreign language at school.

After 40 years of this Catalan immersion system, the language is understood by 94.4% of the country's population. Some 81% can speak it, 85% can read it and 65% can write it, with 64% saying they have a good command of all skills – all abilities are mastered by 97% of the population in Catalonia or more when it comes to Spanish, which suggests the system works in order to guarantee a high level of both tongues.

Yet, the study published on Thursday suggests that this pillar for Catalan's survival as a minority language might be trembling.

39% of pupils often use Catalan with teachers

According to the survey, made to some 50 schools towards the end of the 2020-2021 course and only to 4th year secondary school (ESO) pupils, only 39% of students always or almost always speak in Catalan to their teachers in classrooms, which means a 17-point compared to 2006.

During group activities, only 21% of pupils often use it, which means a sharp decrease compared to 2006, when 67% of them did.

The figures reflect the same trend as that of a Barcelona local council study published in August, which stated that 28.4% of 15- to 34-year-olds in the capital used mostly Catalan (62.1% for Spanish), down from 35.6% in 2015 (56.5% for Spanish).

Another recent study, by the Plataforma per la Llengua, a lobby that defends the use of the language, states that around 4.5 million people usually speak Catalan, half a million less than in 2005.

Spanish audiovisual law

The figures come amid a debate over the use of Catalan in the audiovisual sector – pro-independence Esquerra party is one of the entities lobbying for a quota in streaming platforms in the Spanish law that is being prepared in Madrid. Indeed, Esquerra helped the Spanish 2022 budget bill go ahead in its parliamentary process in exchange for presence of the language in the audiovisual.