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Sociolingüística catalana
Summer 2001

Acquisition of the Catalan language by Moroccan students in Compulsory Education, by Lluís Maruny Curto and Mònica Molina Domínguez
The objective of this research was to study the Catalan acquisition process in students originating from the Maghreb, with a view to improving organisation and teaching resources aimed at students joining the Catalan education system. The sample was of 25 students in obligatory education in the Palafrugell school area. The results evaluate both oral and written competence and identify different stages in the Catalan acquisition process of the students. This article originates from a paper presented in the Eighth Language Colloquium of the University of Barcelona, organised by Club-8 on the 13th of December 2000



1. Introduction

2. Sample

3. Methods used for acquiring data

4. Methods used for data analysis

5. Language use of the Moroccan Students taking part in the sample

6. Results in relation to the variables under study

7. Results of the process of learnig catalan by students of moroccan origin in compulsory education

8. Proposed stages in the process of learning Catalan

1. Introduction

Girona, the Baix Empordà, and more specifically Palafrugell, have a significant concentration of economic immigrants from Morocco. In February 2000, Moroccan children made up 10.2% of students in all the schools in Palafrugell, although distributed unequally. The largest number by far is made up of students born overseas. The arrival of these students started earlier than 1990 but noticeably increased from the 1993-94 school year, as a result of the Llei de Reagrupament Familiar (Family Regrouping Act), which allowed for the gradual arrival of a large number of children of immigrants.

The first aim of this research was to study the real process in which these students acquire the Catalan language by looking at the stages and the regularity involved and finding out the main difficulties facing these students in the process of learning Catalan at school. Understanding the process of learning Catalan could contribute towards the improvement of organisational and teaching resources aimed at students entering the Catalan educational system.

Secondly, we aimed to study the results of Catalan language learning by these students in terms of their ability to communicate in a variety of speech and text exercises. The level of competence achieved may be an indicator of academic advancement and success at school.

2. Sample

Twenty-five primary-school students were selected (12% of the total of 214 Moroccan children being educated at Primary level) and 24 ESO students (24% of Moroccan students at ESO, or Secondary, level), all from the school catchment area. Students were aged between 8 and 17 and were educated to levels between the third year of Primary and the fourth of Secondary.

Six students were taken from each of the third, fourth, fifth and sixth Primary year courses and the same from the first, second, third and fourth courses of the ESO level. The exception to this was in the fifth Primary year, from which a seventh student was selected, making a total of 49 students in the sample. Students younger than 8 years old were not included for methodological reasons, given that they would have necessitated a different research approach.

The students were divided into three groups depending on the length of time that had elapsed since their arrival in Catalonia. Thus, for each school level, two students had arrived less than 18 months earlier (group A), two between 18 and 36 months (group B) and the other two had been at school more than three years (group C). All were born in Morocco and had come directly to Palafrugell. Each group was thus made up of 16 students with the exception of group A, which had 17.

There was a total of 18 girls and 31 boys. The imbalance arose from group C (3 girls and 13 boys), and is representative of the population under study. This seems to suggest that girls came to Catalonia later than boys, as part of the family regrouping process.

3. Methods used for acquiring data

This research aimed to study comprehension and verbal and written expression skills. The half-way point of primary education is taken as a reference point, which is considered to be approximately equal to functional literacy in adults. The possibility of including a control group of non-immigrant students was rejected due to limitations on both material and time.

The written texts were selected from those used in the middle cycle of Primary education: a narrative text, the fable of The fox and the crow, a journalistic article on the arrival of a young giraffe at Barcelona Zoo and an expository text on airports. All of these were extracts from textbooks or assessment tests used at this level of schooling. The only text that varied was the narrative text used for older students in the second ESO course and above; though of similar structure and complexity, the text was changed in order to avoid it appearing too childish.

As far as the speech and oral aspects were concerned, a communicative situation of a one-to-one child/adult interview was devised using a tape-recorder and carried out in a relaxed and natural manner at school. While this is not an everyday situation, it is typical in a school context and professional experience suggests that the majority of primary school students are best able to demonstrate their abilities in this manner.

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