Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

I thought the word was plurilingual

There is a local language in the Valencian Community which is called Valencian in English, Valenciano in the worldwide version of Spanish sometimes called Castellano and Valencià in, well in Valencià. Most people seem to think that it's not the same language as Catalan but the academic body that looks after the the rules and vocabulary of the language says they are wrong and that Catalan and Valenciano are the same with local variations.

As you would expect, and as I've reported before, there is a fairly strong local movement to promote Valenciano as a cultural heritage. Maggie keeps saying she's going to have a go at learning some. Rather her than me; I have enough problem with standard Spanish. Lots of people speak Valenciano as their principal language but there are lots of areas in this region where Valenciano is hardly spoken. Apparently about 50% of the population in the Valencian Community can speak the language and 85% can understand it.

Yesterday, over my work days lunchtime sandwich, I was reading the magazine produced by the communications team from the Pinoso Town Hall. The magazine's name, Cabeço, comes from a local hill. You will notice it is a Valenciano word with one of those French type cedillas. Our local council has a socialist majority and, as you would expect from a team directly employed by them, the reports in the magazine tend to highlight all the good things that are going on in the town. Most of it is pretty anodyne stuff anyway; new park benches here, a bit of tarmac there, what's on at the local theatre but, if you want to, you can argue about anything - wooden park benches - in this climate? Money on park benches when people are out of work?

There is some space in the magazine for the opposition political parties. Not much space but some. I always enjoy reading that because it means I find out where the local frictions are. I nearly always find something I didn't know because the Spaniards I talk to don't talk to me about that sort of thing and most of the Britons I talk to know even less about local controversy than me.

So, in the magazine, the conservative bunch were having a bit of a dig at the local budget - how much of it goes on staff, why rent office space instead of using council property etc. Then I got to a bit about education and about the use of Valenciano in the local schools. I read it twice, then a third time. I understood most of the words, I understood the sentiment but I didn't really understand what it was talking about although the gist was obviously that Valenciano was being pushed in all the schools in the Valencian Community, as a result of a Regional Government policy, which was bad for people who mainly spoke Castellano and would mean they'd have to pay for English classes. How did English come into this?

For years parents in the Valencian Community have been able to decide whether their children do the majority of the subjects in Castellano or in Valenciano. Currently seven of every ten youngsters are taught in Castellano. The Regional Government, which is ruled by a coalition of socialists and nationalists, has decided to change this twin path for a multilingual option. Now state and state assisted schools have to decide whether to slot into one of three levels - basic, intermediate or advanced - depending on how much of their basic teaching is done in Valenciano and how much English they offer. If the school teaches mainly in Castellano they end up in the basic level, and those which teach principally in Valenciano go into intermediate or advanced.

I should mention here that a very common model in Spain is for a bilingual school. Outside of the communities with a local language this usually means that the school teaches in Spanish and English though I'm sure that there are some which teach in Spanish and French or Spanish and German. Murcia, the community next to Alicante, the one in which I teach, has tens and tens of bilingual schools. Maggie used to work in one where she taught English in English, Art in English and a subject, Conocimiento del Medio, which is a sort of mix of natural and social sciences, in English. Personally I'm glad that I'm not a Spanish youngster having to struggle with a foreign language as well as the intricacies of the subjects themselves but it seems to be an accepted idea here.

Oddly it's English that is the incentive in this change from teaching in Castellano to Valenciano. Schools which teach half of the curriculum in Valenciano can up the percentage of the curriculum that they teach in English to 30%. This means that at the end of their school secondary career students will automatically get a B1, lower intermediate qualification in English, and a C1, lower advanced, qualification in Valenciano. It also cuts the amount of Castellano to the bare minimum allowed by Central Government legislation.

The Regional Government argument is that Valenciano and English are minority languages with Castellano being way out in front, so this change gives youngsters the opportunity for good levels in three languages whilst also helping to preserve a local cultural heritage. The detractors say that schools which cater to Castellano speakers are basically being punished by denying them increased access to English which, in the long run, is likely to be more useful. That's where the link was to English. The argument I had read in the magazine was saying that by denying Castellano speaking schools as much English for free, in the schools, the good parents would feel obliged to send their children for private classes.

What I found really odd about this was that I didn't know. After all I live here. I read the news most days, I listen to radio news and I even sometimes watch news on the telly but this policy had passed me by all together.

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