Bilingualism and Multiculturalism in Catalonia

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As I was lying down on the pebbled beach of ‘La Vall’, in El Port de la Selva (Costa Brava, Spain), a couple with a small girl caught my attention. Mum and child were playing in the sea while the father was watching them from a rock nearby. The girl, slim and blonde, was swimming -or floating, rather- on top of an inflatable penguin. Her mother was by her side with the water to her waist.

Apart from the loving family picture my interest was aroused out of the mother and child oral exchange: while the mother spoke to the girl sometimes in Catalan, sometimes in Spanish, the small girl invariably answered in Catalan. ‘Estás cómoda, eh?’ (Sp.) (‘you’re comfortable, uh?) would change into ‘Vols una bocata?’ (Cat.) (‘would you like a sandwich?). As they approached the beach, the father would comment, on an equally perfect Catalan..’ja marxem, oi? (‘shall we go back home?’). And both mum and daughter would answer in Spanish and Catalan alike.

To bring more hues to this canvas of multiculturalism, a fair-haired French boy of a similar age to the Catalan girl came running to them, as he saw that the family was getting ready to leave. ‘Vous voulez voire une meduse?’ (‘do you want to see a jellyfish?)-he said. The mum translated for the girl: ‘diu que si vols veure una medusa’ (he asks if you wanna see a jellyfish). In a moment, all the family went to see the newly caught jellyfish, to the boy’s delight.

In Catalonia, the majority of its population speaks bilingually: Catalan and Spanish. Until the 70’s Catalan had been forbidden by Franco’s dictatorship government, so Catalan was secluded to home use. The effect of diglosia was clearly seen: Spanish for official use, and ‘any’ use, Catalan for family use (if you ‘dared’). But, with the democracy, Catalan was publicly restored and its status redeemed in all the Spanish territory.

Nowadays, a scene like the one I described above is very commonly seen. Catalan people are proud to speak with equal fluency two languages and shift from one to another with no problem at all. An average child like this small girl, will grow to have listened to -and very often practice in the case of French and English, thanks to tourism- at least 4 languages of international relevance.

Any problem with that? On the contrary! To us, EFL teachers and ANY language teachers, the more, the merrier. Or, to put it in linguistic terms, the wider the input, the better the ability to learn a foreign language.

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