Par Armelle Pape Van Dyck | Publié le 16/07/2020
After 15 years in the communications department of the 1st Spanish bank, she decided to reconcile professional and personal life, as a freelance journalist in French or Spanish. She is vice-president of the Association of Foreign Press Correspondents.
Living in Barcelona
Besides Chinese, Spanish is the most widely spoken language worldwide, just behind English, with nearly 600 million Spanish speakers. However, in Spain, the birthplace of Cervantes’ language, Spanish is increasingly discriminated against.
A language is above all a fantastic communication tool and, in this sense, Spanish is undoubtedly the language of the future. The number of people in the world who speak Spanish is steadily increasing and exceeds that of native English speakers. Latin America has a lot to do with it, but not only. One only needs to travel to the United States to find that a significant portion of Americans speak Spanish.
What is less often imagined is the future of Cervantes’ language in his country of origin. More than 40% of Spaniards live in territories with co-official languages, in addition to Spanish (also called Castilian to differentiate it from Catalan, Basque or Galician). A priori, a wealth of sharing and cultures. But for these people, it is often very complicated, if not impossible, to educate their children in their mother tongue, that is to say in Spanish. In addition, access to jobs is generally conditioned by the imposition of the co-official language.
Thus, in the regions concerned, officials must prove a level of Catalan, Galician or Basque which varies according to the category and according to what each autonomous community dictates. In most positions, this is a requirement. For some others, knowledge of the language is not eliminatory but it gives points to receive professional career bonuses.
Two hours of Spanish per week at school
In Catalonia, where the model has been in operation for 30 years, the language used in schools is Catalan. There are two hours of Spanish per week in elementary school, three in middle school and two in high school. Many families have come forward to demand more hours in Spanish and especially the right to be able to choose the language in which they want their children to study. The situation is similar, of course with specificities, in the other regions.
“We estimate that 6 million students cannot study in Spanish – affirms Gloria Lago, president of the association for the defense of Spanish ‘Hablamos Español’ -. Simply, looking at a map of the territory, we see that ‘ in the Basque Country, in Galicia, in part of Navarre, in the Balearics, more and more in the community of Valencia, and of course in Catalonia, teaching is bilingual, but the few subjects in Spanish (2 or 3 hours per week) are those that do not include text, such as sports, physics or chemistry. Suddenly, these students who never write in Spanish make big language mistakes. “
An association for the defense of Spanish, you will say? Incredible but true. Hablamos Español is a platform launched in 2017 by various associations across Spain, made up of parents of students, doctors, teachers or officials who have come together to guarantee the language rights of Spanish speakers. They are simply defending a language policy comparable to those of countries with several official languages, that is to say based on the free choice of language.
Spain is a unique case
“The European Charter of the Council of Europe was created to protect the rights of speaking people of regional and minority languages - explains Gloria Lago – because it is assumed that in countries, it is the majority language that is privileged. But here, the opposite is happening, and an association like ours had to be created to protect the rights of Spanish speakers, who are victims of discrimination. There is no other similar case in the world and no one can imagine that a situation like the one we are experiencing here could occur. No country in the world prevents education in the official language, in the language common to the whole country! Spain is a unique case “.
And as the association reminds us, the pressure is growing. Incidents are frequent, the most recent having occurred a few days ago during the university entrance examination (EVAU).
Thus, the Catalan language test designed in the Balearics for this year’s university entrance examination consisted of a text commentary on an article that reflected on new technologies … which do not allow the use of Catalan and only work if spoken to in Spanish, “the language of the empire”.
As for Catalonia, the teachers denounced the “discrimination” of the Catalan selection exam, after receiving written instructions inviting them to distribute the exam papers first in Catalan and only in the Spanish version, if a student raised his hand to ask specifically. In this case, the teacher had to record it in a report as if it were an “incident” (such as delays, no-shows, or lack of materials), then had to leave the classroom to go and request a copy in Spanish.
But the problem is not only with language teaching. “Everything is written in the co-official language – says the president of Hablamos Español – and very rarely in both languages. For example, in Galicia, everything related to transcripts, communications to parents, extracurricular activities, or in the health sector, the medical file or the vaccination record, absolutely everything is written in the co-official language, never in Spanish, it is forbidden. It is to make the inhabitants understand since a very young age that to really belong to the place, the “right” language is not Spanish, but the other, the co-official. And not to mention the regional content that the pupils study. They will learn for example the date of the first train arrived in the neighboring town, but not the major historical dates of Spain “.
The conclusions of the first report of the Hablamos Español association on “indoctrination in language books in bilingual autonomous communities”, which has no less than 144 pages, show how the mention of ‘Spain’ is avoided and replaced by the cold concept of the Spanish state, and how Spanish still receives negative connotations. “We receive more and more parents – explains the president of the association. People are starting to be very worried, because they realize that through language, nationalisms rise slowly, as we can see in the last autonomous elections in Galicia and the Basque Country. Thanks to language and education, children, who will be the voters of tomorrow, are indoctrinated “.
The association also denounces the discourse according to which Spain is a multilingual country and that Spanish has never been the common language. “There is a real balkanization, with the promotion of very local languages or dialects, such as Bable, Cantabrian or Leonese. Why the Cervantes Institute, instead of selling the Spanish language abroad, as they do? Does the Goethe Institut or the Alliance française promote the teaching of co-official languages with, for example, subsidized courses in Catalan? “.