Educational Policies In Spain. The Current Linguistic Panorama Of The Valencian Community
This theoretical approach of this study is to compare four bilingual educational systems from Spain: Galicia, Catalonia, Basque Country and Valencian Community. To carry out our objective, we explore to what extent different educational systems promote bilingualism in some communities of Spain where local languages have received special attention over the last years. For this purpose, we used comparative methodology of deductive character, in order to contrast some variables of each structure educational system such bilingual programs, types of schools, curriculum, school access, bilingual teachers, native and immigrant students. In the case of Valencia we present the main characteristics of educational system of Valencian Community, where Valencian is the official language together with the state language Castilian Spanish. Bilingual educational programs are an extremely useful tool for a Europe which is interested in conserving its present linguistic and cultural diversity. In providing detailed accounts of the socio-cultural dimension of different Autonomous Communities from Spain and the characteristics of each context in which policies are inserted, this paper enriches our understanding of the limits and possibilities of the bilingual education models.
Keywords: Bilingual education; Valencian Communityeducational policieslanguages
In the age of globalization and migration, which brings increasing diversity to the multicultural
Spain, we find ourselves in a landscape where the political, social, economic and educational context is
grounded on a particular understanding of the concept of bi/multilingualism.
Nowadays, using two or even several languages is a natural phenomenon in many regions of the
world (Aronin, & Singleton, 2008; Cook, 2007, Graddol, 2006). The advantages of speaking and being
proficient in two or more languages are valued throughout society strengthening and enriching a person’s
ability to succeed in life. During the past decades, research in bilingualism has made tremendous progress
and provided evidence that speaking more than one language facilitates general cognitive functioning and
results in more elaborate cognitive structures. As Commins & Miramontes (2005, p. 118) argue, “to be
bilingual is more than knowing two different languages. The presence of the two languages in the
speakers’ brains provides them with increased cognitive flexibility. Another advantage of being bilingual
is the ability to communicate with people from more than one linguistic background and thereby from
different cultural backgrounds.” Schools are a major site for the formation of knowledge of languages and
cultures. In this sense, it is crucial to recognize that the learning and development as such learning is
mediated through learners’ languages and cultures.
Spanish or Castilian is the official language in Spain along with other three co-official languages:
Galician, Catalan, and Basque. The 1978 Spanish Constitution (see Article 3 of the Spanish Constitution
below) states that Spanish is the official language of Spain, and recognizes the co-official status of
Galician, Catalan and Basque:
3:1. Castilian is the official Spanish language of the State. All Spaniards have a duty to know it
and the right to use it.
3:2 The other Spanish languages will also be official in their respective Autonomous
Communities, in accordance with their Statutes.
3:3 The wealth of Spain’s distinctive linguistic varieties is a cultural patrimony that will be the
object of special respect and protection. (Spanish Constitution)
In order to establish a direct communication between citizens of different language contexts of
Spain, Castilian is used as a lingua franca. Preserving the inclusion of these minorities’ languages,
multilingualism in Spain has been a difficult task. To achieve this goal, it is necessary a complex process
to preserve cultural and linguistic identity among the various regions and peoples of Spain. Since the
death of Franco, the situation of the legal status and promotion of these minorities languages have
remarkably advanced. Nevertheless, a clear growth in the spoken use of these languages, and full legal
equality with Spanish has not been reached yet.
In this paper we focus on bilingual language policies in Spain, as these policies are the main
instruments through which minorities languages are conventionally allocated curriculum space in
mainstream schooling. Languages policies construct the role and function of languages in complex ways,
and policies and their discourses are an important part of the context in which language education occurs
(Liddicoat, 2013). In order to understand how policies allocate space to the minority’s languages and how
these provide a context for understanding the dynamic of education, it is necessary to examine the ways
that policies construct educational possibilities for students in linguistically diverse contexts.
2.Bilingual Approaches to Language Learning in Spain
According to Beswick (2007) and Herrero-Valeiro (2003), Galician is an autonomous language
closely related to Portuguese and to other Romance languages like Spanish or French and it is spoken in
three main dialectal areas:
1. Eastern Galician, which includes the dialects spoken outside the Galician administrative area, the
most important of which is the Galician spoken in Asturias;
2. Central Galician, among which the Mondoñedo and Lugo-Ourense varieties stand out;
3. Western Galician, where the dialects of the Fisterra region in the north and of Tui and Baixa Limia
in the south stand out (García-Mateo, & Arza, 2012).
Galicia is an autonomous community where Galician is the co-official language which “everyone
has the right to know and use it” according to Statute of Autonomy of Galicia. The 1983 Linguistic
Normalisation Act guarantees and regulates citizens’ linguistic rights, regarding the fields of
administration, education and the media. Regarding the educational system, Galician language is
guaranteed and promoted in the region of Galicia.
It is thus appropriate to remember that during the Franco dictatorship (1939–1975) coercive
measures were applied, prohibiting the use of Galician, along with Catalan and Basque, in public domains
(Freitas, 2008). Galician was recognized as an official language, as well as Spanish in 1981 through the
Statute of Galician. Therefore, the students shall have the same writing and oral skills in Galician to the
same extent as Spanish. The educational authorities are obliged to provide the “means necessary to
promote the progressive use of Galician in education” establishing as the minimum aim the “on finishing
the two cycles in which Galician is obligatory” and the children have the right to receive education in
Galician, their mother tongue. The main goal for the bilingual education in Galicia is to ensure that
students obtain full linguistic competence in both official languages (Galician and Castilian) by the end of
obligatory education. Another goal in the educational area is to convert Galician into the vehicle language
of the Galician education system. In Galicia’s bilingual programs, students are never segregated into
groups according to their L1, and both languages, Spanish and Galician are used to teach content
(Fernández Paz, Lorenzo Suárez, & Ramallo, 2008).
With regard to the Catalan community, we can say that Catalonia is an officially bilingual territory
situated in the north-east of Spain. Catalan is spoken in four European states. In Spain has been declared
official in three autonomous communities (Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and the Region of Valencia),
and also is spoken in some border villages of Aragón and Murcia. It is the only official language of
Andorra and it is also spoken in the French department of Pyrénées Orientales), and in the Italian city of
Alghero, in Sardinia. Catalan is a Latin language, closer to the most commonly spoken Romance
languages, Italian and French from both a lexical and phonetic point of view. In Catalonia the majority of
people are bilingual. A 2013 census found that 95% of the population of Catalonia understand Catalan,
55.8% can write it, and 73.2% can speak it, but this latter number increases to 96.4% when restricted to
people born in Catalonia.
The language normalization policies were implemented in the early 1980s, after democracy was
restored. With the restoration of democracy, the 1979 Statute of Catalonia and the 1983 Statute of the
Balearic Islands recognized Catalan as their own and official language, as well as Spanish. As is well
known, during Franco’s dictatorship, it was abolished the teaching in any language other than Castilian
and thus, Castilian has become generalized. The Catalan language and culture were intensely persecuted
and discriminated against and it was a tool aimed to limit its use to private and family spheres being
excluded from public communication, prohibited in education, in administration and in any media
Regarding the educational context in Catalonia, students are bilingual and illiterate as a
consequence of mastering Catalan and Spanish when compulsory education finishes. The model of
language immersion allows all students to learn to read and write in Catalan, as children are schooled
totally in Catalan, and gradually they continue to learn in Spanish and to master this language. Then, what
they know in one language, they can learn to express in the other as they gain fluency.
In the Catalan schools there are large numbers of immigrant children who have migrated to
Catalonia from different countries of the world bringing with them their cultures, languages, customs, and
ways of life. These students are going through a process of acculturation, trying to establish a foothold in
the Catalan system. To address the process of acquiring the minimal skills for communication, the
Catalan government has created a temporary support for the new immigrant children aged 8 to 16 from
other countries who are new to the Catalan education system and unfamiliar with Catalan, so-called
“reception classrooms (RC)” (
school time in the RC, and it is recommended that they remain there for no more than two years, when
they should have reached level A2 (basic oral and written communication) of the Common European
Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) linguistic ability index” (Trenchs-Parera & Patiño-
Santos, 2013). Such classes of knowledge of Catalan language, help the students to be familiar with
Catalan, a necessary requirement for integration in the Catalan educational system. Sanz (2008) defines
the school immersion programs in Catalonia as “programs [that are intended to] form bilingual pupils
with balanced illiteracy and a greater mastery of the two languages, which they often use as is required by
the sociolinguistic context in which they live.” (Sanz, 2008: 224).
We can conclude, that the educational model in Catalonia works and Catalan students know
Catalan, the language of instruction, and they also get the same results in Spanish language exams, if not
better, than in the rest of Spain.
Another region with an official language is the Basque Autonomous Community where Basque or
unrelated to Romance languages.During Franco’s regime, speaking
(Breton, & Ruiz, 2008), thus, the language suffered an irreparable loss. By the end of the Franco’s
dictatorship, a network of private schools
parents with the purpose of introducing Basque into the educational system. Some limited financial
support was provided by central government to
Basque language started a recovery process from the 80’s, after the creation of the Autonomies.
The revitalization of the Basque language has been one of the priorities of the Basque Government. In the
educational system this revitalization has been very successful and
significantly to the increase in the number of Basque speakers (Ardeo, 2014).
In the Basque Autonomous Community, Basque was officially introduced in the public education
system in 1983 with the law that regulates the use of Basque and Spanish in the Primary and Secondary
School. For the Primary and Secondary School three models were created, giving the possibility to each
institution to choose the model to offer. In model A, almost all teaching is carried out in Spanish, and
Basque is taught only as a subject. Model B is an intermediate model, in which Basque and Spanish are
used as means of instruction, some of the subjects are taught in Spanish, and another part in Basque. This
model is the way for children from Spanish speaking homes to achieve a good command of Basque. In
model D – the letter C is not normally used in Basque – Basque is the vehicular language and Spanish is
only taught as a subject. This model is designed primarily for students from Basque-speaking homes. In
fact, the Model A has been losing students progressively, and it is in constant decline, whereas more than
half of pre-university students are registered in model D, the model with the greatest number of students.
It is clear that in the Basque country, the educational system is bilingual. Regarding the Basque language,
it is obvious that it enjoys an important status in the region where Basque is spoken (Singleton, Fishman,
Aronin & O Laoire, 2013).
Finally, Valencian is an autonomous or indigenous language (
State of Autonomy and the Spanish Constitution, recognized as the official language of the Valencian
Community in 1982. As suggested by historical facts mentioned above, during Franco period, Valencian
was totally forbidden and used only in the family and in rural areas. The only language employed in the
educational system, mass media, etc. was Castilian despite the use of Valencian in informal settings. The
majority of the people consider Valencian a distinct language from Catalan; however, some linguists
consider it a dialect of Catalan or the same language as that spoken in Catalonia. The Valencian Academy
of Language states that laws, norms and acts of the Generalitat Valenciana shall be promulgated and
published in the two official languages. At the same time, with regard to the regulation of official use of
Valencian, it is accepted Valencian as a language through which people have the right to address the
administrative bodies of the Valencian Community in either of its two official languages. On the other
hand, the people have the right to know and be taught in Valencian. The Government of Valencia shall
adopt measures in order to ensure knowledge of both languages.
As for the educational system, Generalitat Valenciana promotes, supports and guarantees the
teaching and use of Valencian to all students. One of the major objectives is to create a balanced presence
of Valencian and Castilian at all educative stages through a bilingual education which must guarantee that
pupils obtain a good command of Castilian and Valencian by the end of their compulsory educational
period. The bilingual educational model incorporated in schools was
taugh in Valencian and others in Castilian. Later, were developed two other programmes known as PIL
instruction in Castilian and only one subject is taught in Valencian. In time, to ensure bilingualism, the
hours of subjects taught in Valencian progressively increases, except for Castilian language and literature.
The second programme PEV includes the use of instruction in Valencian from the early stages at primary
education in 90%, whereas Castilian includes only 10% of instruction. Finally, we can state that
depending on the educational context and the sociolinguistic situation of each province, the schools of the
Valencian Community include one or two of these bilingual programs in their curricula.
Empirical investigations on the level of competence between context-embedded oral L2 (second
language) skills compared to literacy-related skills in L2 have shown that immigrant students can acquire
considerable fluency in the dominant language of the society when they are exposed to it in the
environment and at school. However, and as demonstrated by many researchers (Collier, 1987; Cummins,
1981b; Hakuta, Butler & Witt2000; Klesmer, 1994), despite this rapid growth in conversational fluency,
it generally takes a minimum of five years (and frequently much longer) for immigrant students to catch
up with native-speakers when it comes to academic aspects of the language.
Schools are becoming more diverse culturally, with the number of different languages spoken by
children increasing. Accordingly to European Commission (2008), it has become clear that the percentage
of immigrant students that arrived from their countries of origin has increased three or four time since
In the Spanish context, some researchers have looked especially at the language acquisition
process by immigrant pupils (Díaz-Aguado, Baraja & Royo,1996; Maruny & Molina 2000; Huguet,
Navarro, Chireac, & Sansó, 2012). In this respect, Oller & Vila, 2011 carried out a study with 396
immigrants pupils from primary education in a bilingual context. The results indicated a time period
required of six years for immigrant students to develop Catalan and Spanish academic skills at similar
competence as native-speakers. The study also points out that the participants were seen to have lower
levels of linguistic competence in their L2 compared to those which used the same language in school and
in the social environment.
However, as we have noticed, in all the studies presented, length of stay in relation to the age of
onset (the age at which a person begins acquiring the target language) is an important factor in explaining
the participants’ ultimate level of linguistic competence. It may provide stronger indicator of the effects
of the L1 on the process of acquisition of the L2 and L3.
This paper discussed major implementation challenges of bilingual education in four Autonomous
Communities from Spain with co-official languages, main problems faced and solutions offered from the
government of each region. As it was mentioned above, the historical evolution of the Galician, Catalan,
Valencian and Basque Countries and their current status present differences in political, linguistic and
The bilingual educational systems from Galicia, Catalonia, Basque Country and Valencian
Community face similar implementation challenges, but they are different in terms of languages involved.
The bilingual programs should be a priority with full support from the government, policy makers,
teachers and the society, like quality education for students with limited resources, training of bilingual
teachers, by maintaining student’s native language and improving the academic performance of students.
In short, bilingual educational programs are an extremely useful tool for a Europe which is
interested in conserving its present linguistic and cultural diversity. In providing detailed accounts of the
socio-cultural dimension of different Autonomous Communities from Spain and the characteristics of
each context in which policies are inserted, this paper enriches our understanding of the limits and
possibilities of the bilingual education models.
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