Schooling in Catalan



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It definitely influenced our decision

I found this thread after-the-fact but I'm only commenting to share our experience. We are Americans from Chicago and my husband's company, a US multinational, offered him an assignment in Barcelona. The first thing we did was to travel there since we had never been, although we had been to Spain on vacation twice before, once before getting married. We absolutely loved the city and were gun-ho on moving there with our two young children aged 8 and 6. Well, thank God that I'm OCD about planning because I immediately started to do research about where to live. My husband's place of work was not a driver because he would be working from a home office, but the critical driver for me was the school and the availability of a large living space (because after all we are used to our American comforts). It was while conducting this research that we discovered the astonishing reality that our school-aged children would be taught in Catalan and not in Spanish were they to attend public schools!

I have to say we are totally apolitical when it comes to this matter, but suffice it to say it totally freaked us out, and we did not understand how it could be possible that Spanish is NOT a language of instruction, and that if you want it to be, you have to pay for it in a private school. Well, I'll spare you the rest of the story, but the net of it is we turned down the opportunity. Because my husband is fluent in Spanish (he is originally from Cuba) his company is trying to convince him to take the assignment, but this time in Madrid, which we know from our previous visits but we too want to be close to the sea. We got hooked on the idea of living and working in Spain, no less as expats which certainly has its benefits, but we are resolute that we will not subject ourselves to living without Spanish instruction. We did look at getting an additional stipend for our kids' private education, and my husband's company was willing to go 50/50, but we are now counter-offering with a compromise to go to work in Valencia where our kids will be guaranteed to learn Spanish without interference from Catalan, which with all due respect to everyone, we simply don't find useful because we will not be living in Catalonia (or Spain for that matter), nor will our kids, for the rest of our lives.

I only tell the story to illustrate how oftentimes common sense just goes out the window, and this is a clear example. If Barcelona is in Spain, why would anyone NOT want to have Spanish as a co-official language of instruction especially considering how valuable and widely spoken it is? Just doesn't make sense to me, and I'm pretty open minded!

With any luck we will be living in Valencia come next January!

Tracy R. in Chicago 347 days ago

Imposing Catalan

Learning a language takes time and effort. You absolutely have no need to learn a language that you will not ever use outside of this region. I'm in the same situation as you. It is frustrating because Spanish is also an official language of Cataluna, also many Catalans have Spanish as a mother tongue. It is ridiculous to force children to study in this language. Like many people here said, why can't schools be bilingual? Half Spanish half Catalan? Why can't there be two options for schooling like in Valencia? The answer is sadly because of nationalism, the Catalan government wants to stamp out Spanish as much as possible. They want children to grow up thinking in Catalan and Catalan only. Like someone here said, Spanish is taught as a foreign language for a mere 2 hours a week. This is ridiculous. The Spanish exams that children get here are easier than the national standard so that the government can claim that Catalan children get higher marks in Spanish than the rest of the country. But this is completely false. My son goes to school here and only thinks in Catalan. He can speak Spanish but it doesn't come as naturally. He often has to search for his words. He speaks with a heavy Catalan accent. We are here because my husband is working here on a five years contract. Once his contract finishes we will move out as soon as possible. I really hate living here. There are separatist flags everywhere, independence protests periodically and an almost fascist government. My husband agrees that he should have accepted the offer in Madrid instead, but since we like living close to the sea we chose Barcelona. We didn't think it was this bad before coming here. Living here doesn't feel normal. It feels like a constant struggle. In fact when I visit other parts of Spain and see no independence flags, people going on with their daily life without this stupid independence thing, people living peacefully and talking about mundane things instead of independence I get so relieved and also sad at the same time because we had to choose to live here and not there where we could have been much happier. I urge anyone who is planning to move to Cataluna to do your research properly and see if this is really for you. Don't choose it because of stupid reasons like wanting to live close to the beach. There are many other cities close to the beach like Valencia, Malaga, Santander. There is no beach in Madrid but it is an amazingly cosmopolitan city with many entertainment options and people from all over the world. Please don't make the same mistake as us!

Sara more than 1 year ago

Learn the lingo

I don't want to be too harsh but I do feel you are trying to excuse yourself for not learning Catalan. I know that it is totally possible to live in Catalonia without leaning Catalan but personally I would never dream of going to live in the country without learning the language. If I was Catalan, I would see it as an insult. If you went to live in Sweden, would you learn Swedish? They can all speak English, so you would not need to, but that's not the point.

Cov kid more than 3 years ago

!!??''If you don't like it here go back to your own country" ??

Not a very nice comment in my opinion. But for some reason it does not surprise me. Catalan economy benefits a lot by all the foreigners living here. So a little open-mindedness is desirable. But I agree that if Catalan is the main language it should be also in public schools. However since this is still Spain I believe Spanish should at least be thought at the same level as Catalan. And there is no harm in doing a crash course catalan just to keep up with your kid. Speaking catalan does open a lot of doors I suppose.

Dirk Meijer more than 4 years ago

We can all express our opinions!

I agree with Eva that moaning about the country you choose to live in is not necessarily very constructive. However, if you are informed, involved and paying taxes then I don't see anything wrong with having an opinion. It's unrealistic to expect otherwise. I've lived here for many years and love many things about being here. However, if there's something I don't like, as a tax-paying resident I'm not sure why I should keep quiet just because I'm not from here.

PJ67 more than 4 years ago

If you don't like it here go back to your own country

I was born here, I grew up here and I studied in Scotland, my husband is Scottish. It really annoys me when people come over here and moan about the educational sistem, if you dont like it, why are you still here? Nobody is making stay. As well as this, to some ignorant folk, if you go to school here you learn from an early age, catalan, castellano, english and french. It is important to learn languages not like in the UK which most of the population think "never mind everybody speaks English".
Would you move to Wales and moan that you have to learn school in welsh instead of English, no you wouldn't.

Eva Martinez (AKA King) more than 4 years ago

Eva, not only rude, but inaccurate.

Offensive much Eva Martinez?? I'm Welsh. 22% of schools/classes are taught in Welsh, not 100%. Welsh people know it's stupid to not be academically literate in English too! Perhaps Catalunya will wake up to the 21st Century and see that it simply cannot close its eyes to the rest of Spain... Also, the quality of English and French spoken by the locals in my former barrio displays to me that the lessons didn't work! That the Catalan education system has shied away from a bilingual curriculum shows how backward their thinking is. To remove a language, which is still official in this nation, is tantamount to theft and is certainly not preparing their pupils for the world of work.

Hannah more than 1 year ago

Another kind of 50/50 (sort of)

Berlin has a Mandarin-German primary school; New York has French-English, Korean-English and Russian-English schools; San Francisco has Cantonese-English; Melbourne has Japanese-English. In each case, the school system has taken advantage of the presence of many children who speak a foreign language at home to create an immersion environment for local children. It's win-win-win: the speakers of a foreign language benefit from becoming fully literate in their home language, the local children gain real fluency in a foreign language, and both groups gain inasmuch as bilingualism enriches them cognitively. Whatever one's take on the Spanish/Catalan debate, the issue of the Catalan school's system *not* adopting English as a language of instruction for, say, 40% of contact hours in a few dual-language immersion schools deserves discussion. English, together with other key languages, has enough of a demographic base here to be of real service to this society, in its schools. What Berlin is doing with Mandarin, Barcelona could be doing with English. If you're interested in these questions, please check out the web page for the English-Speaking Children's Parents' Association (

John Stone more than 5 years ago


I just find it so hypercritical from most of the catalan politicians to be fighting for Catalan to be taught as the primary language in schools, when the majority of their children attend foreign schools, such as the French, German, Swiss, American and British schools. But I guess it is ok because their children learn Catalan at home?? I too use a translator and have my child taking 5 languages at 6 years old.

mtorres63 more than 5 years ago

There is no "spanish" language

Please don't call Castilian "Spanish" -- there is no official language in Spain!

Tom more than 5 years ago

immersion questions

I am happy that our children have the opportunity to learn 2 languages besides the English we speak at home. Research shows time and time again that it is only doing great things for their brains.
As a parent, I decided to live here and have my children here, and the issue of schooling in a language other than my own was an issue- because I do love English and the doors it opens for them.
I can only imagine the Catalan people feel just as deep a love and respect for their own language, so I can understand why schooling is in Catalan.
I do feel that the school system would be enriched by more content based learning happening in Spanish and indeed English, but after living through a dictatorship in which people were forbidden to learn in their language or indeed speak it- I can also understand the Catalans reluctance to change a schooling system which has produced competent Catalan and Spanish speakers/writers/readers.
As to helping with homework, I am glad to have a dictionary, a computer and a bunch of native speakers near by in case of needing help (which hasn't happened yet).

justanothermother more than 5 years ago

Languages are important!

Great comment Kati, could not agree with you more.

Susanna more than 5 years ago

so many perspectives

Just want to say thanks to everyone for giving your perspectives. For one of my next columns I plan to interview a mother who has had both the International school, and the local Catalan school experiences (she had one child in each)- it should be interesting to hear what is was like for her!

Johanna more than 5 years ago

languages are important!

we have just moved here from South of Spain and our kids started in public school as well. Scandikids, p3 and 1st grader, did not understand a word of Catalan. After 1 week they love the school, got new friends and are extremely happy there. Languages do count. Since we already had 2 languages at home, it is much more easier for them to understand and learn. They get by with the little spanish they knew, little english they knew.. and are now learning Catalan. When you add here Swedish and Finnish they learned from home... Im thinking world is theirs. Languages are so important. Spanish, Catalan, French, German, English- all of it . Lets be happy for our kids for every single language they will learn as kids. It will just make their life richer than ours!

kati more than 5 years ago


Interesting to read all the comments and it's clear how many differing opinion(s) regarding the Catalan/Spanish language--both in schools and the world at large--there are. But for the majority of Catalans, who have roots and lived a history many of the folks writing have only read or heard about, it is a good exercise to consider your own cultures/languages and how integral they are in forming your (and your children's) identity. A 50-50 language option might make sense to some, but this is Catalunya, where the official language is Catalan. Why live in a place that makes you angry, unhappy and resentful if you have the means to live elsewhere? As one comment states, there are many other interesting places in this world to call home--where Catalan is not spoken.

more than 5 years ago


So kids educated in Catalan come out at the end speaking and writing in Spanish as well as any other kid in the country..

Yet kids who opt for a Spanish school (presuming said school followed a bi-lingual model) would never learn Catalan correctly? more than 5 years ago

catalan education system

That's it Suzanne! The point is that children who speak only Catalan at home can speak perfectly both Catalan and Spanish (I am an example of it). At the end of secondary school, I passed the "selectividad" which is and exam taken by all high school students in the whole state. So we share the same exam with people from Madrid, Salamanca or wherever in Spanish and our results are one of the best in Spanish!
My friends who speak Spanish at home did not speak good Catalan (30 years ago not all schools were applying this system). So for me, and for Catalans, it is about giving the opportunity to learn Catalan for those who do not speak it at home. It is about education, also. How would you have to classes of people, those who speak Catalan and those who do not speak Catalan?
It is really a pity that some of the families refused to come to Catalonia because of the language since they would have ended up not only learning 2 languages at the same time but also opening a bit more their minds by learning that one country is not = one language. It happens in Catalonia, but also Quebec (Canada), Belgium, and many other countries.
A final point, it is important to support languages. A language brings a way to see the world. The more languages will exist, the wiser we will be. Thanks, gràcies.

Mercè Casarramona 323 days ago


Just chill people, your kids will speak spanish just fine, my parents didn't know catalan when i was in school they could not help with homework your kids will eventually figure it out. Besides catalan it's not that different from spanish.

Since when is knowledge become a burden 11 million people speak the language, should Holland schools not teach deutch because is "only" spoken by 5 million people ?

Ana more than 5 years ago


Shouldn't a bilingual part of Spain have school instruction in both languages, hence integrating with society, community etc...

Rachel more than 5 years ago


Hi How many hours do we spend debating this heated but important issue? Why not teach 50/50 Spanish and Catalan? Then everyone is happy. It seems so obvious. And most importantly, the children get the best of both worlds. All the teachers are bilingual. Books could be in either language. I personally don't believe stats that say kids in schools in Catalonia test better in Spanish - who compiles these after all? More importantly, if you are worried about Catalan disappearing, this would be a good way to preserve it and end the criticism that Spanish was discriminated against. If you are a foreigner with a foreign partner like me, Spanish is always going to be more important. But fitting in is important for the kids, so it is equally useful to have Catalan. It is sad, but more foreigners are put off living here by the instransigence of the authorities on this question. I base this on many conversations with foreigners who were offered jobs here but because they have children prefer to go for jobs elsehwere - often Madrid. Who's losing out Catalona?

graham more than 5 years ago

Going forward or closing in?

We are in spain, we should be able to choose to go to a spanish school if we so prefere, no matter in which area of spain we live, be it catalunya, andalucia, galicia or anywhere. Those who, in any comunidad autonoma, whant to learn the local language, should be able to have that choice too.
I am not in favour of imposing a language. The effect in the long run is negative.
Me and many others who have lived here for a long time, can only think of the happy day we will be able to leave.
I have to pay a lot of money we dont necessarily have to alow my children to go to a 100% english school. As there is no option for spanish.
My children already have to learn, spanish, english, german and french, as those are the languages in the family. Catalan as you can imagine is the least important of those and just an other stress to deal with.
The erasmus students at the universitat de catalunya are poorly informed of the language use aswell. I have been asking around and all of those i have spoken to would have chosen an other destination in spain if they had known about the inflexability and stubborness of the catalan.
I have heard comments that economy is slowing down in catalunya as foreign specialist prefere other destinations because of this imposition.
Valencia seems to be growing...

Lisa more than 5 years ago

Catalan in Valencia

I guess that is why so many people do not speak Catalan any more... but ether English, French... The reason why people is going to Valencia is called PP, my dear, but now it is going to change, thanks God!

Mercè Casarramona 323 days ago

Marginalising Spanish-speakers

One of the main arguments of the pro-Catalan-language-schools camp is that, were there to be a choice, immigrant children would go to Spanish-language schools, never learn correct Catalan, and would then be marginalised in later life. None of them could be lawyers in Catalunya, where the language used in court is Catalan. Etcetera etcetera.

And as everyone keeps pointing out, the kids who go to Catalan schools --according to exam results-- come out speaking and writing Spanish just as well (or badly...) as their counterparts in the rest of Spain.

Visca Catalunya! Visca l'escola en català!

(I am British, married to a fellow guiri by the way)

Silvia more than 5 years ago

Spanish as a 'foreign' language.

My daughter (adopted) has only been here a year, she's in 2º in a concertada. Her challenges are many and language of course is one. Her Catalan is miles ahead of her Spanish, and to be honest I don't think she is aware there is a 'difference', it's all just 'foreign' to her.
That said, she is only doing 2 hours of Spanish tuition a week (same as English, same as most other schools) and to my mind a few mores hours of teaching IN Spanish would be helpful, say in medi or another subject.
The disadvantages of the immersion model became screamingly obvious at a wedding we went to last week in Valencia. There were other kids there, mainly from Madrid. Whilst she could 'communicate' with them (on a basic, kiddy level), she got upset when they jibed her on her 'weird' way of speaking. I thought: here we are, three hours from Barcelona, in the same country, and language is an issue.
I don't believe that the majority of parents in all schools is in agreement with the language 'model'--certainly not in our hood which has a high latin american population.. Politics has taken over common sense and debate, resulting in Generalitat's (and education department's) hysterical reaction to the Supreme Court's decision.
And yes, I am taking Catalan classes in order to be able to help her with her homework ;) more than 5 years ago


We live in Catalunya where the official language is Catalan. Statistically, children in Catalunya test better in written and spoken Spanish than those in Spain. For those nervous about helping young children with homework, the city hall offers free Catalan language classes...Language is inherent in keeping a culture alive and rich, and although the Spanish is responding to three (yes, only three) family's concerns, I think there are many other opportunities for the Spanish government to service the students and families in this region.

more than 5 years ago

50/50 would be fair

I have had this discussion over and over again with my Catalan husband and friends (Catalan, Spanish and expat). I am American, a soon to be Mother of our first child and I would prefer that my daughter be taught equally in Spanish and Catalan. My husband and I are planning on speaking English and Spanish at home and feel that she will learn Catalan at daycare and later at school. I often worry how I will be able to help with her homework and how competitive my child will be be in the workforce if she masters Catalan and cannot write or speak well in English or Spanish. I am hopefull all will work out as you have stated and that mabye these three families can help change the law. We live in a global society and we need to give our children every opportunity to succeed. I am not sure only teaching in Catalan is the answer.

Marisa more than 5 years ago

Choice would be good

I think that the languages should be more balanced in schools. Ideally it would be good to have the choice of a castilian-speaking school, although I can see that would be tricky. My daughter (who is British) is 6 and she now speaks good Catalan but not very good Castilian. Because her dad and I both speak to her in English, she doesn't get much exposure to it. Also, we 're in a very Catalan-speaking area of the city. I imagine that in other areas a lot of the kids speak Castilian in the playground. I worried a lot about it all at the beginning but realise that you just have to go with it really.

Sacha more than 5 years ago

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