Last week I received an important letter from the Secretaria de Política Lingüística of the Generalitat. I knew that it would reveal the results of my 2009 C-level exam of the Catalan language (Certificat de nivell de suficiència de català - C), and it certainly felt like a victory to see the word apte (pass) next to my name. Now, some days later, I realize that the consequences go beyond that pass.
The registration process and test for the C-level exam is similar to that of level B, which I described last year. The big difference lies in what you can do with the diploma. The C-level does not seem overly attractive when you hear that it is equivalent of having completed the full primary school (ESO) course of Catalan in the modern version of the local school system. However, at the same time, the C-level is the established minimum requirement for most positions in the education and civil service of this autonomous community, and therefore coveted also by older Catalans and - even more - native speakers of Spanish who have moved here.
An example of this is a friend of mine who was born in the same year as I - but here and not in Sweden - and who has checked up which qualifications he needs to become a teacher in case he would lose his job as an engineer. The only thing he lacks is the C-level. This, in my eyes, feels odd since Catalan is his mother toungue, but it is a fact that local people as late as my generation suffer from the aftermath of the ban on using Catalan in schools, firmly in place during the Franco dictatorship. From the perspective of the language, that is nothing but a tragedy. However, for us foreigners, it is also an opportunity much too good to miss. How many other cultures offer newcomers the chance to, with a reasonable but not extreme effort, achieve a language certificate highly valued also by the local inhabitants? In that sense, my exam result confirms that I am not an outsider any longer.
It also stresses that I must not be ashamed of my broken Catalan. From now on, I must stop allowing people to switch to Spanish as soon as I make a mistake. True, my Spanish is still better, but I now have a formal proof that my Catalan is "sufficiently" good. It will not develop further unless I force myself to use it even when I talk about complicated matters. I am aware that more than once will this lead in funny situations where I persist in speaking Catalan to locals as determined to help by answering in Spanish. That fight is the price I will have to pay for proficiency and it is a duty I have to all students of Catalan on lower levels.
Passing the C-level exam will not be the beginning of the end of my Catalan studies. Rather the opposite - in a very refreshing way it marks the end of the beginning. And I feel more motivated than ever.
- - -
Technorati tags: Catalan, Catalonia, Spain, Spanish, Vilanova, Wirdheim