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What level of Spanish do Catalan children have?

Academic tests show that Catalan students have the same or better language skills as students across Spain

A child in a school in Barcelona on October 1, the day of the illegal referendum on Catalan independence.
A child in a school in Barcelona on October 1, the day of the illegal referendum on Catalan independence.

Catalan students have the same or better level of Spanish as the average student in Spain, according to the results of academic tests organized by the Catalan regional government and Ministry of Education. This is despite the fact that Catalan students are taught in Catalan as part of a language immersion program, which the Spanish government is planning to end.

There is no serious study that proves a Catalan-speaking child has difficulty learning

Maria Vinuesa, Rosa Sensat Teachers Association

The PISA tests, the most recognized international evaluation in the world, cannot provide comparable results because the students in Catalonia are given the test in Catalan, said a spokesperson for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

But the basic competency tests the Catalan regional government gives to students in sixth grade in primary school (aged 12) and fourth grade in secondary school (aged 16) show similar results in the two languages. In 2017, 71,000 sixth-grade students completed the exam. The average score was 75.8 out of 100 in Catalan and 73.4 in Spanish. In the older grade, 60,000 students took the exam, scoring an average of 74.6 in Catalan and 77.2 in Spanish.

“Catalan students are within the Spanish average. Their know Spanish as much as other regions,” says Ismael Palacín, the director of the Bofill Foundation, a cultural and education research organization without political affiliation.

In the most recent university admission tests, the average score in the Spanish language in Catalonia was 6.41, according to data from the Ministry of Education, just slightly below the Spanish average of 6.45. In a government exam from 2010, the average score of Catalan students in linguistic communication was 502 points – a little above the Spanish average of 500 and higher than the average of seven Spanish regions. “The percentage of Catalans with a high or very high level of Spanish is the same as the Spanish average,” adds Palacín.

In a 2010 language test, Catalan students performed higher that the Spanish average

The researcher rejects claims that Catalan students who only speak Catalan in school perform worse academically than students from Catalan-speaking families. “It does not harm performance in other subjects. If there is a difference it is because of socio-economic reasons,” says Palacín. Francisco López Ruipérez, the former head of the State School Council, wants these tests to take into account socio-economic differences: “We don’t have precise information about the effectiveness of teaching Spanish in Catalonia,” he says. “Whether it is equally effective in less privileged or more privileged sectors is key to the issue. Nevertheless, the United Nations education body recommends the mother tongue be used in the first years of school.”

Maria Vinuesa from the Rosa Sensat Teachers Association, a pedagogical renewal movement, defends the Catalan school model. “There is no serious study that proves a Catalan-speaking child has difficulty learning. If they have difficulty with one language, they will have difficulty with all,” she says.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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