Teaching the Mother Tongue in Spain

[The following is an excerpt from the book, Teaching the Mother Tongue in a Multilingual Europe edited by Witold Tulasiewicz & Anthony Adams.  It is being reprinted here to give us an idea how other countries are managing their MLE programs. Note the similar circumstances under which the national language/languages are stipulated in the Spanish Constitution of  1978 and the Philippine Constitution of 1987 — including the right to autonomy of the regions in so far as the use of the regional languages is concerned.]


By Antonia Ruiz Esturla


The Spanish Constitution of 1978 finally established the right to autonomy of the regions and nationalities which form the Spanish State. The 17 Autonomous Communities (ACs) which comprise the state were constituted between 1979 and 1983, and each passed its own statute of autonomy, the basic institutional legislation which regulates the organizational aspects of the community and its authority. Not all ACs have the same degree of self-government nor the same authority. Only seven (Andalusia, the Basque Country, the Canary Islands, Catalonia, Galicia, Navarre and Valencia) have full authority over educational matters. In the remaining 10, the administration and regulation remains in the hands of the central government and edu­cation is administered by the Ministerio de Education y Ciencia (MEC) in Madrid, although steps are being taken to grant it to the ACs in the future.

Article 3 of the Constitution determined Castilian as the official language of the State and also that ‘all Spaniards should know it and have the right to use it’. It also granted regional languages official status and stated that ‘this language diversity should enjoy special respect and protection by institutions and citizens alike’. The Balearic Islands, the Basque Country, Catalonia, Galicia, the Valencian Community and some areas in Navarre are the communities in which a regional language is also spoken.

Since the early 1980s the different parliaments passed their own laws of Normalizacion linguistica to ensure that all citizens living in the community would be able to acquire the skills to communicate in both the official language of the state and that of their respective community. This has not been an easy process, especially if it is remembered that in pre-democratic Spain there was not only political but linguistic centralism. Castilian was the only language used in the government, in the press and broadcasting, in the classroom and in pub­lic generally, with very few exceptions.

The arrival of the Bourbon dynasty at the beginning of the eighteenth century brought them their ideas of uniformity and centralization in the administration of the state and reinfor­ced the status of Castilian as the official language of the monarchy. The remainder of the lan­guages, Basque, Catalan and Galician, were increasingly consigned to a marginal situation as local languages without relevance in teaching, culture and the administration. The use of the regional languages by sectors of the population with greater influence on the social development of the region was a key factor in determining the different status of these languages within the regions of the country.

In Catalonia people in power continued to promote Catalan and this contributed greatly to its status. This was supported by an existing strong literary tradition. In Galicia, where the population, predominantly rural, did not perceive Galician as a language of culture, this v as not the case. It was only in the nineteenth century that the Romantic movement brought a dif­ferent perspective and regional languages, such as Galician, improved in status.

The lack of a literary tradition, together with the political and social environment, also did not help the development of the Basque language. The changes brought about by the industrial revolution, with the immigration of people from other regions of Spain who did not speak Basque, held back its development in urban areas in the nineteenth and the first two thirds of the twentieth century.

The arrival of the Republic in 1931 meant a change of scenario. The Constitution declared Castilian as the official language of the whole Republic and recognized in law the languages of the provinces and regions of the country. This gave rise to the different statutes of autonomy for the Basque Country, Catalonia and Galicia, which granted the vernacular languages of these regions equal status with Castilian. The outbreak of the Civil War, however, prevented the Statute of Galicia coming into effect and the statutes referring to the Basque Country and Catalonia were abrogated.

The Public Instruction Act of 1945 established the Spanish language as the fundamental means of communication of the Spanish community’. For three decades, 1939-69, there had been no official acceptance of the regional languages until the General Education Act of 1970 recognized their study, where appropriate, as part of the school curriculum. What the law did not do was to make provision for their introduction into the school timetable nor for the train­ing of staff charged with teaching them. The Decree of 31 October 1975 eventually stated that all regional languages were to be considered as official languages in their regions and conse­quently they could be used by the media (Diez et al., 1980).



The study of Castilian has been implemented in the curriculum throughout Spain with restric­tions where the regional languages are official. In 1990 the Ley de Ordenacion General del Sistema Educativo (LOGSE) was passed. It affected the whole structure and organization of the various educational levels: infant, primary and secondary. Education is compulsory from 6 to 16 years of age, however, 90 per cent of 4-year-olds and 100 per cent of 5-year-olds enjoyed full-time schooling in the academic year 1987-88 (Centro de investigacion 1991). In the same year 50 per cent of 16- to 18-year-olds also attended full-time school. Although the LOGSE established Castilian, alongside the other regional languages in their autonomous communities, as compulsory throughout schooling (6-18 years of age). in this section reference will be made only to mother-tongue teaching until the leaving age of 16 and the Official Curriculum published by the Ministerio de Educacion y Ciencia. This is because the different departments of education of the Autonomous Communities have approved a global treatment concerning the issue of language teaching, including official and foreign languages alike, in agreement with the MEC. This makes the study of one foreign language compulsory from the ages of 8 to 18 years.

The Official Curriculum is laid down by the MEC in terms of ‘General Aims’, ‘Contents’ and ‘Assessment Criteria’. These are statutory and were specified in agreement between the central government and the departments of education of the ACs with full authority over edu­cational matters, by committees of experts and practising teachers on secondment, who were in charge of drawing up the different programmes. This ensures that all the programmes in Spain, regardless of the language medium, are similar.

The Official Curriculum applies to private and maintained sectors alike. The Programmes of Study for the five different stages (6-8, 8-10, 10-12, 12-14 and 14-16 years of age) are left to the ACs to stipulate. Schools are responsible for implementing them through the school curriculum and the different subject departments’ schemes of work that must be handed in at the beginning of each school year. These should address, among others, aspects related to con­tents, didactic strategies and assessment. Non-statutory methodological guidelines and assess­ment criteria are also included.

In the late 1980s the MEC and the seven ACs with full educational autonomy set up com­mittees to discuss and agree upon the General Educational Aims for compulsory education (6-16 years of age) and the different attainment targets of the various key stages. Attainment targets were laid down in terms of procedures, strategies and values. Once agreement was reached, both the MEC and the different ACs published, through Royal Decrees, their own curricula which, in the case of the ACs, did not have to be submitted to the MEC for approval.

At the beginning of each academic year, teachers agree upon their Proyecto curricular de centro (School Curricular Project), which includes among other matters the different pro­grammes of study. This project is submitted to the Consejo Escolar (School Governing Body) for approval, where there is a representation of the teaching staff, parents, pupils and non-teaching staff of the school. Once this project has passed the Consejo Escolar it is submitted to the local authority, where it is then examined by inspectors.

In its introduction, the Official Curriculum stresses the fact that language serves a double function, that of communication and that of representation, through which individuals regulate their own conduct and that of others. Language provides the main instrument of learning and of acquisition of skills. In accordance with its stress on a functional concept of language, teaching moves away from the previous normative approach. The general aims of the Official Curriculum stipulate that language should be taught at discourse level, which implies helping learners to adapt their discourse to the situation and to produce coherent and cohesive texts. The ultimate aim of education in language is to help learners develop their personal command of the four skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing, with special emphasis being placed on writing skills and reflection upon language at secondary level. Children should be encour­aged to develop an awareness of how they and others use language. Since learners are active agents in the process of communication, the classroom and the school environment should provide opportunities for the active use of language.

It is acknowledged in the curriculum that children already come to school with language experience. Therefore, work in the language classroomshould arise from the children’s real use of language. Their language environment together with cultural and socio-economic factors determine that use and bring about important dialectal, lexicographic and phonologi­cal differences in their language competence. Teachers should use this experience as a starting point and from there promote language patterns that enlarge the children’s opportunities of communication and social mobility. Pupils are encouraged to appreciate language varieties, ––not only among different languages but also within the same language as spoken by different users, and to respect those varieties that may be felt to be socially devalued but serve the legit­imate functions of communication and representation in a given social milieu. Pupils must also respect the other languages spoken in Spain that co-exist officially with Castilian. In this sense, education must cherish the knowledge and positive appreciation of the multicultural and multilingual reality of the Spanish State and, from there, that of the world as a whole. It is everybody’s concern in Spain that young people should be educated in democratic values and, consequently, come to acknowledge and respect this reality. This concern may be taken to refer to the citizens of all 17 ACs that comprise the state as well as the immigrant population of the late 1980s and 1990s.

The emphasis in primary education is on developing literacy skills within a framework of construction of meaning. At the end of the primary phase of education, the children should quickly associate graphic representations and corresponding phonemes. The command of both written and oral codes and the assimilation of language conventions, as regards use and usage, must give way to fluent communication between transmitter and receiver. The reading of printed texts is encouraged both for recreation and inquiry.

The contents laid down by the MEC are grouped into five targets, four in the case of primary education:

  • Uses and forms of oral communication.
  • Uses and forms of written communication.
  • Language awareness and knowledge about language.
  • Systems of verbal and non-verbal communication.
  • Literature, which is not a separate target in the curriculum for primary education.

Each target is then expressed in terms of concepts, skills and attitudes. The responsibility for the details of the programmes of study is that of the autonomous governments. The com­petences expected from pupils at the end of compulsory schooling are (Secretaria de Estado de Educacion, 1992):

1.       To understand the main idea and purpose of a variety of oral texts of different degrees of formality, and reproduce their content in writing.

2.       To summarize in writing an oral exposition or debate on a familiar topic, showing the main lines of argument and point of view of the participants.

3.       To speak about the overall meaning of written texts of different degrees of formality, identify purpose, main and secondary ideas, recognize possible ambiguities in their con­tent and give personal opinions.

4.       To incorporate personal viewpoints on a given topic to those found in other texts so as to elaborate a synthesis on the topic.

5.       To speak about a given topic following an outline, adapting language to the content and situation so as to gain the attention of the listener.

6.       To make use of organizational skills to produce different types of texts: narrative, descriptive, expositive and argumentative, adapting them to the situation.

7.       To make use of reference skills to plan and carry out different tasks, individually or in groups.

8.       To classify literary texts according to genre, identify the elements and types of rhetorical procedures used, as well as express personal opinions.

9.       To make use of personal ideas and experience to produce literary texts, consciously employing structures of genre and rhetorical procedures as well as turning to traditional literary models.

10.    To establish relations between those works, authors and literary movements that consti­tute key elements in the history of literature and the cultural, social and historical context in which they appear.

11.    To reflect upon the elements and mechanisms of language so as to broaden comprehen­sion of texts and linguistic versatility.

12.    To identify, locate and describe points in common between the different languages and main dialectal varieties of Spain.

13.    To identify some linguistic features characteristic of different social uses of language through direct observation and comparison of different types of speech.

14.    To identify various images and expressions in oral and written texts which denote some kind of social, racial, or sexual discrimination and explore alternatives to avoid them, making use of those alternatives in writing and speech.

15.    To produce messages in which verbal and non-verbal language is incorporated.

The Official Curriculum also includes some non-statutory methodological guidelines for the teaching of language and literature. The methodology favoured in the language classroom is one which ultimately aims to develop learner autonomy and to enable pupils to control and evaluate their learning processes. Pupils are no longer expected to learn grammar rules but to have a knowledge of language functions which allows them to communicate effectively, both orally and in writing, in a variety of contexts. Teachers are expected to adapt the curriculum to the pupils’ general cognitive competence, pay attention to their interests, needs and abilities, and acknowledge their progress by inviting their participation in classroom activities so as to enhance their motivation. This attention to diversity should be reflected in the teachers’ ways of delivering the curriculum, in their classroom organization and in the skills used to diversify work according to pupils’ abilities, within the general framework of aims and contents expressed in the Official Curriculum.

Education authorities at central and autonomous levels were faced with the challenge of providing teachers with specific training to meet the teaching skills necessary to deliver the new Official Curriculum.

Education of teachers

Teachers are required to hold a diploma (after a three year university course) or a degree (after a five year course) to teach in primary and secondary schools respectively. In the first case teaching practice is incorporated in the programme of study. In the latter, university institutes of education are in charge of initial teacher training, including both the theoretical and practi­cal elements. This can be combined with the last year of study at university or after gradua­tion. To qualify for a permanent position in the public sector teachers must pass a competitive examination set annually for the different subjects by the MEC and the departments of educa­tion of the ACs. Since 1993 Spanish nationality has no longer been a prerequisite for people who wish to sit the competitive examination.

In-service training (INSET) for language teachers has to be examined in the context of continuing teacher training as a whole.

In Spain, INSET is mainly provided by a network of Teacher and Resources Centres with a body of advisory teachers responsible for each subject area, the new technologies and cross-curricular subjects. University departments or institutes of education may also be asked to provide INSET. In the past few years, the MEC and the ACs have concluded agreements with the universities in their regions, so that these provide professional training for both primary and secondary teachers. The results seem to be encouraging. This is part of a much wider framework of collaboration between these institutions by means of which, for example, a small number of secondary school teachers are offered secondment at a university depart­ment. After a two- or a three-year period they return to school or, after successfully passing the required public examination, they become full-time university lecturers.

The MEC and the ACs have laid down the priority areas for in-service training within the statutory guidelines of the LOGSE. One of these is the supply of training courses and activi­ties directly linked to the implementation of the new school curricula, with special emphasis being placed on methodology and criteria for assessment and evaluation. The Teacher and Resources Centres concentrate their staff and resources in fostering school-based INSET, which starts with the analysis of the school needs and continues with the planning, develop­ment and evaluation of the teaching processes.

Priority areas in language education

The implementation of the LOGSE requires a very wide range of teacher-development activities in order to equip the teaching staff and the governing body of schools with the necessary skills which will enable them to face and deal with all the demands that will be placed upon them. There are some courses that are being offered throughout the country which are specifically related to language teaching, for example:

Modern foreign languages courses for non-specialists

Since the introduction of a compulsory foreign language at the age of eight — previously it was eleven — this course has become an area of particular attention. Courses, both in Spain and abroad, are directed at improving the teachers’ own linguistic competence as well as their methodological skills.

Cross-curricular courses

Cross-curricular courses on topics such as co-education, media studies, information technol­ogy as well as certain multi-cultural issues fall within the scope of language teaching. The co­education programmes have been planned in conjunction with the Women’s Institute of the Ministry of Social Affairs. One of its main aims is to raise awareness among teachers of sex­ism in language.

Published educational materials are being analysed and some will be reprinted to avoid such occurrences. Equally, in the academic year 1985-86, an agreement was signed with the Association of Newspaper Editors. This has contributed enormously to the introduction and development of discussion of the press in the classroom.

Multicultural issues

Teachers working in a multicultural environment have been offered training facilities in areas such as initiation into Spanish as Second Language, and cultural and social integration in the school environment and the community in general. This has not been a problem in the Spanish education system, except perhaps for children from the Romany community in certain areas. However, as more immigrants arrive in Spain, especially from North and West Africa, for example, Senegal, this is one of the issues being addressed.

The issue of inter-culturalism is dealt with in the Official Curriculum under the so called temas transversales (which include co-education, sexism, equal opportunities and health edu­cation). The idea is that these issues should be incorporated in every school subject. It is then up to the different schools, in their curriculum projects, to establish their priorities according to their particular needs and contexts.

As this is a new phenomenon, there is no national or regional framework that provides a general setting for all the initiatives being undertaken by different institutions. Both the MEC and the ACs have published Decrees to address intercultural and multicultural issues. In some cases Education Authorities have signed agreements with the Department of Social Affairs, the Local Authorities or Trade Unions. Teachers’ centres are offering in-service training to help teachers address these matters in the classroom. Adult Education is also offering courses in Spanish Language and Culture for immigrants and specific materials are being published.

As for the Romany population, there has been recognition of their cultural features, but not `positive integration’. Measures have been taken (using social workers) to respond to specific problems, such as low school attendance and ‘abandonment’, that is, early withdrawal from school. Areas with a strong Romany population are designated as educational priority action zones, with reduced teacher—pupil ratios and the appointment of support teachers.

The MEC has a central office for Special Education and Attention to Diversity, responsible for setting up programmes to cover the areas mentioned. There are two units of inter-cultural education in the office, one in charge of organization, management and evaluation; the other in charge of materials design, methodological innovation and teacher development. There exists at present one mother-tongue programme of Portuguese language and culture, which reaches 63 primary schools and more than 3,000 pupils. It is completely integrated into the school curriculum and can assume one of two formats: either, both teachers, Spanish and Portuguese, work alongside each other in the same classroom or, they each work separately, though delivering the same area of the curriculum in their respective languages. This project involves the teaching and learning of language, humanities, natural sciences and arts. Because of timetable constraints, secondary school pupils attend Portuguese classes outside school hours. In 1994 an agreement was concluded with Morocco to integrate Moroccan teachers into Spanish schools. Apart from the programmes just mentioned, local councils and regional governments set up their own schemes to deal with cultural diversity specific to their area.



Basque, Euskera, is spoken in the three provinces that constitute the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country in the North of Spain, where it is the official language, alongside Castilian. It is also spoken in Navarre and in the French Basque Country. Due to the topog­raphy of the region up to seven distinct varieties can be distinguished; the two main ones are guipuzcuano and vizcaino. In all these provinces the use of Basque is not evenly spread. It is widely spoken in Guipuzcoa (43.76 per cent), not so much in Vizcaya (17.54 per cent), where it is mainly found in rural areas, and its use is very limited in Alava (6.71 per cent). (Information according to the Secretaria General del Gobierno Vasco, 1991). It is difficult to establish the exact number of Basque speakers. Some quote a figure of up to 500,000-­600,000 speakers in Spain and approximately 70,000-80,000 in France. It is widely agreed that for almost one in four inhabitants, Basque is their first language.

In 1983 a Bilingualism Decree was passed by the Basque Parliament that established a bilingual education system based on the criterion that both Basque and Castilian are compul­sory subjects in infant, primary and secondary education. The use of the two official lan­guages at these educational levels is structured around three models of bilingual teaching, A, B and D. A further model, teaching exclusively in Castilian, is now practically phased out.

  • Model A: Castilian is the language of instruction while Basque is taught as a subject.
  • Model B: Both languages are used as languages of instruction, with more emphasis being placed on Basque in the first years to counterbalance the knowledge of Castilian and familiarity with its culture, especially among children from a non-Basque speaking background.
  • Model C: Basque is the language of instruction and Castilian is studied as a subject. This is essen­tially the reverse of Model A.

This spread of models is intended to promote the specific culture of the Basque people and to favour the maintenance and recovery of the Basque language. The teaching of children under Model D will no doubt reinforce the position of Basque speakers, compensating for the constraints of the Castilian-speaking environment. Apart from these models of education, ikastolas, schools teaching solely in Basque, have existed in the Basque Country for the greater part of this century and flourished particularly in the 1960s and 1970s (Tarrow, 1985).

According to the Secretaria General de Politica Linguistica of the Basque Government, in the academic year 1982-83 models B and D accounted for barely 21 per cent of the total number of pupils in infant, primary and secondary education. Yet, in the academic year 1990-91, these models represented 38 per cent of the total. In the case of infant and primary education alone the total reached 50 per cent, which would seem to indicate that in the next few years the overall figure will increase further, including also the secondary level.

The main problems faced when introducing Basque as the language of instruction were the shortage of staff able to deliver any teaching in Basque and the lack of suitable teaching materials. For example, in the academic year 1976-77, only 4.6 per cent of the teaching work­force of state nursery, infant and primary schools were Basque-literate.

In 1983 the Education Department of the Basque Government launched the IRALE programme (Programa de alfabetizacion y euskaldunizacion del profesorado) which was directed at teachers of all educational levels. Each year 700 teachers were seconded from classroom teaching for a maximum of two years to pursue language courses which were designed especially to help them acquire enough Basque, or the literacy skills necessary to teach in Basque. This programme is now about to include a period of teaching practice for these teachers to smooth the transition from Castilian to Basque as language of instruction.

These models of bilingual education have been criticized in some sectors for not being generous enough in favouring bilingual education. However, according to the education authorities, they correspond to the socio-linguistic configuration of the Basque Country and no radical changes are expected to take place in the short term, though it is accepted that by the end of compulsory secondary education, the knowledge of Basque reached by 16-year­olds is limited. They can get by in a Basque-speaking context but they are far from being bilingual.

The 1991 census showed that the Basque-speaking population had increased by 200,000, despite a fall in the population as a whole. Nevertheless, and although it is used in the govern­ment, education and the media, this has not produced a mirror effect in society in general. Basque is learnt but it is not used as much as it could be, having to compete with Castilian-speaking settlers from other parts of Spain (Intxausti, 1995).


Of the more than 10 million people in the Balearic Islands, Catalonia and Valencia communi­ties, Catalan is understood by a large majority (88.5 per cent) and is spoken by nearly 60 per cent. The ability to read and write it is much lower (Departament de Cultura, 1992).

In 1983 the Llei de Normalitzaci6 Linguistica was unanimously approved by the Catalan Parliament. Its purpose was to protect and encourage the use of Catalan in Catalonia, to guarantee its status as an official language in the public service and in education and to secure for it a stronger position in the media. As a result of these measures as well as initiatives by private individuals and organizations, the use of Catalan has been restored and expanded in many fields. Parliamentary sessions are conducted in Catalan and it is also widely used in the public services. At the University of Barcelona, in 1985-86, between 25 per cent and 87 per cent of lectures, seminars and classes (depending on the faculty) were conducted in Catalan and 31 per cent of the theses and dissertations presented in universities in Catalonia were in Catalan (Hall, 1990). The development of radio broadcasting and, especially, television in Catalan has been remarkable. In 1983 the Catalan Government set up its own station, TV3, broadcasting entirely in Catalan. In 1988 a new channel, Canal 33, was introduced. All this has caused an enormous impact on the knowledge of Catalan by residents of all ages and social and cultural backgrounds.

It should be added that Catalan in Catalonia, unlike in Valencia, even at a time when it did not have official status, had always been widely used in private circles regardless of class. Furthermore, it enjoyed prestige as the language of the middle and upper-middle classes with above-average educational standards, as opposed to Castilian, the language of large numbers of immigrants from other regions in Spain that settled in Catalonia in the 1960s in search of a better standard of living.

The following can be considered the general principles that underlie the language policy for education in Catalonia:

  • Catalan, as the mother tongue of the majority in Catalonia, is also the language at all educational levels.
  • It will be taught progressively to all levels, grades and courses of non-university education.
  • All children regardless of their language when starting compulsory education shall be able to use Catalan correctly and appropriately by the end of their studies.

In 1992, the education department of the autonomous government, Departament de Cultura Generalitat de Catalunya, published a report which stated that for the academic year 1989-90, 56 per cent of primary school pupils had Catalan as the language of instruction against 10 per cent that had Castilian. The remaining 34 per cent enjoyed bilingual education (Departament de Cultura, 1992). All pupils had Castilian and Catalan as compulsory subjects with similar timetable allocations per week. These figures are very different at secondary level. According to the same source, though all schools offered Catalan as a subject, only 40 per cent were offering it as the medium of instruction for the minimum of the two areas of study in Catalan as stipulated by law. Private schools might not even reach that percentage.

To extend the use of Catalan to all levels of compulsory education, especially in the indus­trial towns surrounding Barcelona to where most of the immigration had gravitated, pro­grammes of ‘immersion’ were introduced in the early 1980s. Schools could take part in them if approved by the school council, which apart from representatives of parents, teachers, pupils and non-teaching staff includes a member of the local government. However, for the academic year 1993-94, the Generalitat extended ‘immersion’ to all children of up to seven years of age, regardless of their cultural or language background, with recommendations to schools to make provisions for those families whose native language is Castilian and who wish their children to be taught in that language. The methods currently employed to that effect are that either the child is taken out of class to have individual or small group tuition in Castilian for a fixed number of periods a week. or a support teacher works alongside the form teacher helping the Castilian-speaking children by addressing them in their own mother tongue and generally ensuring that they follow the classroom activities. These measures have encountered considerable opposition in some sectors of the Castilian-speaking community in Catalonia, who claim their constitutional right to be taught in Castilian as the medium of instruction is being violated.

The guidelines sent to schools from the Catalan Education Department at the beginning of the academic year 1993-94 stated very clearly that it was the responsibility of the school to help pupils acquire and develop their features of national identity through the use of Catalan for all purposes within the school, and for all communications between school and the outside world. Headteachers must ensure that all staff meetings and school council meetings are con­ducted entirely in Catalan. The individual school curriculum must also include details of its language teaching and learning policy. Schools still using Castilian as the language of instruc­tion must offer, apart from Catalan as a separate subject, one or two areas of study, Sciences, or Humanities, or both, in Catalan.

Similar language policies have been adopted in the other Catalan-speaking communities of Spain. In 1986 the Llei de Normalitzacio Linguistica in the Balearic Islands established the official status of Catalan at all levels in the islands. Three types of schools emerged from the enactment of the law:

  • Schools using only Catalan as language of instruction.
  • Schools offering one or two subjects per year in Catalan.
  • Schools offering pupils a choice of instruction in Catalan, in Castilian or both.

At present one can safely say that the majority of secondary schools are delivering the whole, or at least part, of the curriculum in Catalan, and it also seems that most pupils will choose the Catalan or the mixed option of instruction in preference to the one entirely in Castilian. However, the percentages for the use of Catalan in the private sector are considerably lower than for those of the maintained sector.

In the Community of Valencia the situation is somewhat different. The territorial duality of the region with a Catalan coastal strip and an Aragonese area further inland, together with a tendency in the past to regard Castilian as the language of prestige and a symbol of social pro­motion, as well as the Castilianization of cities like Valencia and Alicante with the arrival of Castilian-speaking immigrants, have given rise to two completely different views on the lan­guage issue. One view supports the linguistic substitution of Castilian for Catalan; the other endorses attempts at recovery and linguistic and cultural normalitzacio in favour of Catalan.

The Statute of Autonomy declared Valencia (Valencian) as co-official with Castilian. There has been a long controversy as to what the language spoken in this region should be called. It is generally agreed that Valencia is a variety of Catalan which presents some differences in pronunciation and vocabulary. Despite this, different regional governments have put strong emphasis on the term Valencia as a way of marking the specificity of the language spoken in the region. In November 1983 the Llei d ‘Us i Ensenyament del Valencia (LUEV) established Valencia as a compulsory subject at all non-university levels of education, though in the Castilian-speaking territories its introduction would be gradual, ensuring that all pupils received instruction in their first language. However, the ultimate goal was that all children should be able to communicate orally and in writing in both languages. Parents in Castilian-speaking areas could obtain exemption from Valencia for their children.

The law also decreed that teachers should know the two official languages, Castilian and Valencian. Those who did not have the skills were expected to acquire them through a policy of voluntary and gradual professional development. In the province of Castellon 80 per cent of primary school teachers could speak both languages with about 64 per cent in Valencia.

The use of Valencia in compulsory education falls under one of two categories: a percent­age of the intake has either Castilian or Valencia as the language of instruction, or some of the subjects in the school curriculum are delivered in Valencia. In either case the study of the other language as a separate subject is compulsory.

The sound economic position of Catalonia, coupled with the widespread knowledge of Catalan, has favoured the vigorous language policy of the autonomous government and helped the production of teaching materials.


Galician and Portuguese constitute a subgroup within the Iberoromance languages. There are approximately 2.5 million people who understand Galician with just over 2 million who are active speakers (Green, 1994). The language is spoken in Galicia and also in parts of neigh­bouring Asturias and Castile-Leon, and also by large communities abroad, in particular in Latin America and elsewhere; in the United Kingdom alone, for instance, there are more than 25,000 Galicians.

In 1983 the law of Normalization was passed by the Galician Parliament, with the aim of introducing Galician in all sectors of society, school, public administration and the media. The aim was to combine individual language rights with the abolition of the existing inequality of the two official languages of the Galician Community. In the same year Galician became a compulsory school subject, with the same time-allocation as Castilian, though pupils from other ACs or abroad could be exempted. Nevertheless, this proved insufficient if children were to acquire full proficiency in the language at the end of their schooling. Consequently, in 1988 Galician was decreed the official language of educational administration and also the language of instruction for at least part of the curriculum. All school councils are responsible for ensuring that there is a balance between Castilian and Galician as languages of instruction in Galicia.

Infant education was to be delivered in the children’s first language, Castilian or Galician as the case might be. From 8 to 14 years of age, apart from Galician as a subject in its own right, one area of studies, Humanities, was to be delivered in Galician. From 14 to 18 years of age, two subjects of the curriculum, apart from Galician, were to be taught in that language, to be chosen from a range including Sciences, Humanities, Technology and Philosophy. In response to the demand of the Galician-speaking families settled in the United Kingdom, Galician is one of the options offered by the Spanish Ministry of Education (MEC) at its school in London.

The growing demand for lessons in Galician made it necessary to make provision for courses specially designed to improve teachers’ competence in the language. These courses were structured at three levels: initial, improvement and specialization in language and litera­ture. Similar courses had been taking place since 1971 run by university language centres and other educational establishments. These courses are promoted by the education authorities both because they represent a way of introducing Galician in the classroom and because they lend an element of prestige. For infant and primary school teachers there are specialization courses of 280 hours, containing elements of literature, history, geography and teaching methods. This is a way to supplement the limited offer of Galician in teacher-training colleges. In 1992, 72 introductory and 99 advanced language courses were offered, as opposed to 42 and 49 respectively in 1990. The number of teachers attending them increased by 55 per cent (Comision Coordinadora, 1993). These courses are available to all teachers, inspectors, non-teaching staff and parents’ associations.

According to the same source, 95 per cent of infant and primary school teachers know the language at threshold level, 80 per cent at an advanced level and 38 per cent have specialized in Galician. In secondary education these percentages are somewhat lower. The figures seem to indicate that, in theory, there are enough teachers to meet the requirements of a minimum of two subjects of the school curriculum to be taught in Galician. Nevertheless, the courses represent only a first step, because teachers require specific training in the language and teaching methods of their speciality in order to encourage them to use Galician as the teach­ing medium.

Several other measures have been pursued in order to extend the use of Galician in schools. Teachers of different subjects constitute a cross-curricular department in charge of promoting the use of Galician within the school. The school curriculum must include in its language policy the number of subjects to be delivered in Galician and also the kind of extra-curricular activities devised to promote the language. Printed and audio-visual materials have been produced in order to provide support for teachers, including the publication of specific glos­saries for the different subjects, especially those related to vocational training. Higher educa­tion lacks a common legislation; nevertheless universities have subscribed to agreements with the Department of Education of the autonomous government, the Xunta, to enhance the Galician language.


The languages discussed show a very different degree of acceptability, which can be ascribed to a clash between the distinctiveness of the medium itself and the degree of its standardization and the personal situation of its speakers.

In all, the study of mother-tongue teaching in Spain provides an important illustration of the difference between rhetoric and reality in terms of liberal governmental policies of a language-diversification scheme on an impressive scale.

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