Saturday, 10 May 2008

Learning Catalan - What Is In It For Me ? / Com n'aprofito jo?

In Catalonia of today, there is a fine balance in the number of people who prefer Catalan to Spanish. The current weak position of the country’s own language (llengua pròpia), has one of its reasons in dictator Franco’s support to Andalusian families to move here. While back then there were active policies to make Catalonia more Spanish, today it is what we can call market forces that threaten the status of Catalan. Catalonia is the by far most popular destination for foreigners who move to Spain and, once here, these new inhabitants prefer Spanish to Catalan.

While small children will imitate any language being spoken in their daily environment, without questioning its usefulness, adult learners are much more rational in their language studies. It is therefore not surprising that only 12,7% of the immigrants to Catalonia learn to speak and write Catalan, while 75,7% answer that they are capable of speaking and writing Spanish.

Although I strongly recommend all foreign residents of Catalonia to learn Catalan, I understand that most people simply do not see this as a priority. Let us be honest: only if you want to integrate fully and understand local traditions as well as the political debate, does Catalan become a necessity. For all activities of daily life, Spanish is enough.

Since we arrived here, I do not know how many times I have heard politicians claim that the llengua pròpia is a tool for integration. Hopefully, the report on foreigners' language preferences, as presented in LaVanguardia today, can reveal the emptiness of such statements. Since there is a massive political majority in favour of supporting Catalan, it is time to re-think the current system and find new ways to motivate immigrants to learn the language.
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A mi no em sorpen que la majoria dels nouvinguts a Catalunya prefereixen el castellà al català. No defenso gens aquesta opnió, però l’entenc, ja que no fa falta saber parlar o escriure el català per organitzar-se la vida per aquí.

Personalment penso que cada persona que vé per aquí per quedar-se, té l’obligació d’aprendre el català. No obstant això, mentres que no es pot exigir per llei – el castellà també és llengua oficial de la comunitat autònoma – és necessari motivar-los als estrangers per que aprenguin les dues llengües.

No es podrian crear maneres de donar prioritat als estrangers que han arribat a un cert nivell de coneixement de la llengua? Per exemple, durant el proces d’incripció dels nens a les escoles es podria assignar uns punts adicionals a les families on els pares parlen la llengua pròpia.

Es parla molt del català com una "eina per l’integració", però això son paraules buides com demostra el meu cas. Abans de que no comprengués el català, el veia com molt difícil d’informar-me sobre la societat de Vilanova i la Geltrú. Ara quan ja el parlo més o menys bé, és veritat que puc aprendre moltes coses gràcies al català, però per arribar a aquest punt de coneixement vaig passar per tantes aferas que ja em sento integrat.

El que va motivar-me a mi d'aprendre l'idioma va ser el fet que el
Diari de Vilanova s’escriu en català. Si haguessim viscut a Barcelona en comptes d’aquí, hauria pogut rebre tota l’informació sobre la vida local en castellà de LaVanguardia. Siguem honestos: això hauria retardat amb molt el meu aprentatge del català.


Keefieboy said...

I must admit that the language was one reason why we did not move to Barcelona: if you're going to have to learn a complete new language, why choose one that is spoken by only a few million people in only one small region. Castillian / Español is spoken by hundreds of millions of people in Spain and the Americas.

Erik Wirdheim said...

Hi Keefieboy,

You are so right, and that is why I do not personally know anyone who has taken on the challenge to learn Catalan before having developed a quite good Spanish. Let's be honest: even to Catalans themselves do you come across as odd if you start with their language rather than the bigger one.

Having said that, I don't want people to avoid Barcelona for language reasons. Even if you talk to "Catalanista hardliners", what they expect from us is not that we reach perfection, but only that we make an effort and show interest in their language.

Sadly enough, far too many foreigners living here prefer to spend their time convincing each other that it's a waste of energy to learn Catalan, rather than to accept reality, be open-minded and pick up Catalan words and expressions whenever they can.


Monica said...

Keefieboy, I must admit that I, as something of a rela catalanist hardliner, think that you made a good choice, at least in the sense that you ar concious that the main language is catalan. If moving to Switzerland, it depends on the region you move to what language that is talked. If you prefer french, well, then you should not move to someplace in the surroundings of Bern. Now - this is not the case in Spain, lots and lots of people live their whole lifes in Catalonia without even pronouncing the word adeu (bye) in Catalan...

pd - I am very tolerant though, and as Erik do understand that people who dont know any spanish prefer starting with that. More difficult is it to understand why people knowing spanish perfectly dont even try to learn a language that is really easy for them...