In the final installment of our two-part series Spotlight on Spain, Marta Genis of the Universidad Nebrija discusses the status of languages within the education system and the importance of this to Spain as a whole.
The models for languages in education in Spain vary not only between areas, but also within them. For example, in Valencia (a bilingual community) there are different language models for non-university education. In the Castilian-speaking area Valencian is taught as a subject and the usual teaching language is Castilian. In the Valencian-speaking area there are several programs which include beginning with Valencian taught as a subject and gradually incorporating other subjects in that language; and teaching wholly in Valencian.
In Navarra, the language models range from teaching wholly in Spanish or teaching in Spanish but incorporating the study of the Basque language as a subject to teaching wholly in Basque. While in Cataluña, children are schooled totally in Catalan and learn to read and write in this language and Spanish is gradually introduced into the curriculum.
The ability to communicate in a foreign language is necessary in today’s society. It is also a pressing need within the framework of European unity, as movement of professionals and workers between the countries of the European Community increases along with foreign travel, cultural exchange and communication of news and knowledge. There is, therefore, a great social demand for providing students with a communicative competence in a foreign language in compulsory education. Spain, a multilingual country, with four official languages, lots of dialects and many immigration languages present in everyday life, should be sensitive to learning foreign languages.
In Spain English is the language chosen in most of the communities, although some communities have programmes for French, German, Italian and Portuguese. The teaching of a foreign language begins at 8 years old, but there are many autonomous regions in which it is introduced at 3 years old. Currently Spain applies two models in what has been called bilingual education. The main characteristic of the first one, called Secciones bilingües, is the coexistence, in the same course, of bilingual groups of students and others that are not bilingual. The second model consists of infant and primary schools in which English (or another foreign language) is taught to all students. As regards to teachers, their expertise is different depending on the levels. Primary teachers are generally non-native language specialists, while in secondary education teachers are mainly non-native subject teachers.
The preservation of cultural and linguistic diversity should be a main priority of Spanish language policy as it can affect greatly the rich variety of languages we enjoy. Cultivating language skills is absolutely necessary in this plurilingual world of ours for various reasons; firstly, they are the most outstanding vehicles for culture; secondly, they help value and respect other cultures, accepting differences more easily; and thirdly, they enable people to benefit from opportunities in employment and mobility. In addition, using different languages is necessary in order to participate in the social and political life of our plurilingual European countries. Thus, it is vital to adapt the education system to these new human needs since language is the most important mark of identity
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