La mà a la mel, mel a la mà, mel al meló ummm! Huh?
My son is learning to read and this week we have to read about mels and màs and melós each night. As I mentioned in the last column, he goes to a public (state) school and therefore, he is learning to read in Catalan. I do not speak Catalan. I do not read Catalan. I do not understand Catalan. This means that every week when he comes home with his new book to study, I have to hurry to another parent on the playground and review all the words with them, making sure that I know how to pronounce everything correctly. So far it hasn´t been so bad but I can see from the titles on the back index of the book (La bruixa rodamons, for example), that things might get a bit trickier as we progress. I know I could take a class in Catalan but to be honest, the motivation really isn't there. I'm determined to leave Spain speaking fluent Spanish and I know that we'll only be here for a few more years. So do I want to spend my time studying a language that isn't spoken anywhere else in the world? No, not really.
To be honest, when we first moved to Barcelona, I wasn't at all sure that I wanted Nico to learn Catalan either. After all, he was already fluent in both English and Spanish so did he really need a new language? We searched high and low for an alternative but since the language of instruction in all non-private schools in Catalunya is Catalan (and this includes both state/public schools and concertados (part-public, part-private)), in the end, the only thing that made sense in terms of both our desires and our finances, was to send Nico to a local public school. As time has gone by, I've actually gotten much more enthusiastic about our decision. It's true that Catalan isn't the most useful language in the global community and I'm guessing it won't help Nico get a job as a UN translator. However, the more I've read about the advantages of multilingualism in children, the more I'm convinced that learning Catalan will only benefit Nico. Research has shown that speaking two or more languages from a young age can have a significantly positive impact on cognitive functioning. Also, even from a more directly practical perspective, knowing Catalan should be very helpful if Nico decides to study either French or Italian at some point (since both languages have a great deal in common with Catalan). Originally I feared that by going to a Catalan school, Nico would lose his Spanish. However, it's become clear to me that despite being taught in Catalan, all the kids at his school end up being perfectly fluent in both languages.
If I had a choice would I prefer that he be educated in Spanish? Perhaps... well, it would certainly make helping with his homework easier. Nevertheless, as a foreigner and guest in this country, it isn't really for me to determine what language the children of Catalunya should be taught in school. However, even amongst the natives, the issue of whether or not Catalan should be the primary language of education has often been controversial. Throughout history, both the Catalan language and culture have gone through several periods of repression, the most recent being during the Franco dictatorship. Under Franco's rule, Catalan was forbidden in the schools and in all governmental agencies. Books could not be published in Catalan and parents could not even baptize their children with Catalan names. However, after Franco's death and the transition to democracy, Catalan was once again incorporated into public life and for the last 30 years, it has been the official language of instruction in the schools with Spanish being taught as a second language.
There have always been people who have criticized the current Catalan 'language immersion' model of education, but the controversy has been particularly heated recently due to the December 2010 Spanish Supreme Court ruling that schools in Catalunya need to incorporate Spanish as a primary language of instruction. The decision came in response to an appeal of three families who took the Catalan school system to court for not offering Spanish as a language of instruction for their children. Unsurprisingly, parents, educators and politicians are fighting the decision and many feel that the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction to change laws approved by the Catalan Parliament and validated by the Spanish Constitutional Court. At this rate, it doesn't look as though anything is going to change anytime soon. From the signs that have popped up all over Nico´s school declaring Per un país de tots, l'escola en català ("For a country for all, schooling in Catalan"), it's clear what the predominate local opinion is. But what about you? What do you think? Should the current system be changed to a model that incorporates Spanish as a language of instruction or should things stay the way they are?