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Hivern 2009

Factors explaining informal linguistic usage among Catalan schoolchildren: initial language, social networks, competence and vehicular language for teaching, by Mireia Galindo i F. Xavier Vila
i Moreno


The linguistic model of joint teaching in Catalan generally implemented in the school system since 1993 establishes that Catalan is the vehicular language for teaching in Catalonia and seeks to promote the use of Catalan among pupils. However, in contrast to the hopes of some sectors, the adoption of this model has had much less of an effect than expected on interpersonal use among pupils.

This article assesses the impact of the adoption of Catalan as the main teaching language on the informal linguistic usages of Catalan school pupils using materials collected in the School and Usage project, which includes declared and experimental data and observations of the linguistic beliefs and behaviour of pupils in the sixth year at primary school in Catalonia. The importance of different variables – the pupils' initial language, the composition of their social networks, the importance of the linguistic environment, their competence in Catalan and Spanish and the school linguistic model – for the configuration of these practices is then analysed.

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1. The model of joint teaching in Catalan and the impact of the vehicular language for teaching.
2. Languages in primary school playgrounds
2.1. The School and Usage project
2.2. Linguistic choices at break time
2.3. Declared data, observed data: between perception and reality
3. The factors explaining linguistic choice
3.1. The role of the family language and social networks on the choices observed
3.2. The relationship between usage and linguistic competences
3.3. Environmental linguistic conditions at the centre and in teaching
3.4. The weight of the variables: multivariant analysis
4. Summary and conclusions
5. Bibliography

1.The model of joint teaching in Catalan and the impact of the vehicular language for teaching

Between the 1980s and 1990s, Catalonia transformed its school linguistic model to the point where, in the majority of cases, it implemented the model of joint teaching in Catalan, based on teaching all pupils together, regardless of their first language, and on the adoption of Catalan as the normal vehicular language for teaching (Vila 2000, in press). In general terms, the educational and social agents involved in the project predicted that this school linguistic model would increase knowledge of the Catalan language among pupils and, as a side effect, would increase the use of this language in the informal linguistic practices of the new generations.

The current level of implementation of the model of joint teaching in Catalan is a controversial issue, but in general terms it can be stated that, more or less since the beginning of the millennium, this model has been strongly predominant in primary education and is present in the majority of compulsory and post-compulsory secondary education, although with many exceptions (Vila [coord.] 2006). In this context, various studies make it possible to assess the impact of the adoption of Catalan as the teaching language on knowledge in use. The results, although by no means negligible, show significant black spots in terms of the expectations generated in relation to the role of the vehicular language for teaching.

On one hand, it can be stated that knowledge of Catalan among young people and teenagers has increased significantly compared with previous generations in the four skills of comprehension, knowing how to speak, knowing how to read and knowing how to write (Vila 2005). However, despite this increase, mastery of Catalan in the new generations continuous to be more fragile than mastery of Spanish and, above all, shows a greater variation than in the case of the latter language. This is particularly related to the initial language, as Catalan-speakers tend to show greater mastery of Spanish than Spanish-speakers do of Catalan (see Arnau 2004). In this sense, several recent studies coincide in pointing out considerable gaps in the linguistic competence of the Catalan school population. So, for example, the assessment of the basic competences of pupils in the 4th year of primary school in Catalonia has shown rather negative results in terms of the linguistic capabilities of children who have gone to school in Catalonia (Education System Higher Assessment Council 2007a). According to these tests, the percentage of infants achieving the established levels of competence in listening and reading comprehension in Catalan was around 80%; in written expression, the results fell away dramatically, standing at just over 50%.

Another study that has warned of poor results in linguistic competences in Catalan is the PISA 2006 report (Education System Higher Assessment Council 2007b, Jaume Bofill Foundation 2008). According to this edition of the report, the levels of reading comprehension of 15-year-old pupils in Catalonia stood below those of pupils in the European Union in general and in the OECD, below those of several Spanish autonomous communities and only slightly above the Spanish average. The information in this report particularly indicates the effect of new immigration on the educational scene in Catalonia. In this case, the report makes it clear that the efforts made to address the linguistic incorporation of the new population are not providing the desired results, as the reading comprehension score for the non-native population in Catalonia is, comparatively, the lowest for all the countries in the sample.(1)

Finally, another recent study of the linguistic competences of Catalan pupils is the Socio-demographic and Linguistic Survey (2006) by the Higher Assessment Council of Catalonia (2008). This survey makes clear, among other things, that in terms of stated competence, secondary school pupils in Catalonia feel more competent in Spanish than in Catalan, even though, for a good proportion of them, Catalan has been the predominant language in their schooling.

Concerning the use of Catalan among the school population, the picture is also a complex one, and it is not necessarily positive for the Catalan language. On one hand, in demo-linguistic terms, various studies indicate that, in Catalonia, the number of children who have Catalan as their initial language is slowly but continuously growing in absolute terms, and there are increasing numbers of linguistically mixed couples who transmit Catalan to their children, even in the Barcelona Metropolitan Region (Galindo and Rosselló 2003, Torres 2003, 2005, Education System Higher Assessment Council 2008). However, this increase in absolute terms is not seen translated into an effective growth in the use of Catalan outside the home. This is both because the arrival of new speakers of Spanish and foreign languages puts Catalan in a demographic minority and because of the fact that unwritten rules continue to discourage its use in interactions between Catalan-speakers and non-Catalan-speakers. In this sense, the informal linguistic practices of children and young people have been the subject of various pieces of research (see a summary in Vila and Galindo 2008 and in Vila and Gomàriz (eds.) 2008). Unfortunately, little of this research was carried out throughout Catalonia as a whole. We might highlight the School and Usage project, focusing on the last year of primary education (Vila and Vial 2003, Galindo 2006, Vila and Galindo 2006, Galindo and Vila 2008), the study by Vial and Canal (2002), carried out among pupils aged 9 and 10, and the Socio-demographic and Linguistic Survey 2006, by the Higher Assessment Council of Catalonia (2008), applied at the end of compulsory secondary education. In the following sections, we will go into greater depth, particularly on the most important results than can be extracted from the School and Usage project, (2) the only one of the three based on observed linguistic behaviour.


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