A little bit of context: what and when.
What: Catalan immersion in schools in Catalonia consists of teaching all main subjects (except for Spanish and foreign languages) in Catalan.
When: During Franco’s dictatorship teaching in Catalan was forbidden (you can still find traces of that: most over 55-year-olds who have not taken Catalan courses are unable to write in Catalan properly). When Franco died (1975) the transition started and so did the regeneration of education in Catalan as a first language. However, the immersion at schools did not happen until 1983.
Ok… but why Catalan and not Spanish?
We are talking about two languges with two completely different status. Spanish is a powerful language spoken all over the world; Catalan is a minoritary language but it is also a marginalized language due to the political context happening during the 20th Century (and before). For many years, Spanish was the only legal language and Catalan became a language which you could only use at home, among your friends or to sing songs. In order to reverse the situation and save the weakest language from disappear, some experts decided to protect Catalan against the influence of powerful one (remember that at that moment all the media, laws and public context in general was only in Spanish. Moreover, during the dictatorship the government encouraged monolingual Spanish immigration from all over Spain to go to Catalonia in order to strengthen the Spanish language and culture in the region).
Nowadays, Catalan and Spanish are official languages in Catalonia. Both languages can be found in the streets and in the media, although Spanish is wider-spread in the media (it is logical: there is more media in Spain than only in Catalonia) and in most of the cities it is still the prevailing languae among the speakers, as I am going to explain now.
What about the results? Is it working?
Let’s check what statistics say. According to Idescat statistic of 2013, 31.02% of people have Catalan as their first language and 55.14% Spanish.
And if we check the use of Catalan among age range, we can see that people under 24 (age is first column on the table) are the ones with the best knowledge of the language whereas from 24 to 89 the level decreases steadily (pay attention to the written part, which is the 5th column: Escriure’l. You can really see the impact of Franco’s dictatiorship in there).
I also attach the Spanish language chart so that you can check that the knowledge of the Spanish language has not diminished at all: it has even increased steadily in the writing and reading.
So yes, according to these statistics it works. The knowledge of Catalan has improved, as well as the knowledge of written and read Spanish (which is a common tendency in this side of the world).
I need more evidence.
We can also check some studies. A study by Melina Aparici, Joaquim Arnau, Aurora Bel, Montserrat Cortès-Colomé, Carme Pérez and Ignasi Vila by Universitat Oberta de Catalunya speaks about the results in non-language subjects in Catalan schools. According to this study, researchers could not find a link between results and language immersion at schools.
PISA’s assessments also support the immersion. In the previous study they used 2010 PISA’s assessments, in which Catalonia got more points than the average in Spain in the three areas (reading comprehension, math and science) and it was even above the average of the OECD regarding reading comprehension and maths. If we have a look at the 2016 report, Catalonia is still over the Spanish average (504 vs. 493 in science, 500 vs. 493 in reading comprehension and 500 vs. 486 in math).
Another study by Noemí Llamas-Gómez (L’escola en català, ara i sempre?) focuses on the exams after primary school (12-year-olds) and secondary school (16-year-olds) to check the students level in main subjects. The results support the theory that students in Catalonia have had slightly better results (a maximum of 4 points) than the average. The author points out the fact that school failure is linked to the social and economical background of the children rather that the language in which they are taught.
Even the Council of Europe has praised this language immersion programme. You can check it on their website*.
Come and visit us.
Some people will still insist that this data is fake, as there are many political interests going on nowadays. So I simply recommend to visit a Catalan school and listen to the languages children speak. Maybe if you go to a tiny village (as the one where I was raised) you will hear mainly Catalan. However, in most Catalan towns you will hear a mix of Catalan and Spanish, and in many places basically Spanish. And this is not a problem for children. You will hear a child talking in Catalan to another one who replies in Spanish. And it will be perfectly fine.
Catalan in schools has helped the cohesion of society, as there is no difference on the language you speak once you are at school. This is very important to avoid segregation or marginalization. Moreover, it gives equal opportunities to all students, as they finish compulsory education with a native level of both Catalan and Spanish, no matter what their first language is (now we should start to talk about English…).
The problem is that minority and marginalized languages need to be protected as the tendency worldwide is that languages with fewer speakers will continue to disappear. A language is not only a way to communicate, it is much more. It is about culture and roots. And we cannot afford to lose any language in the world.
Council of Europe ( 1992) European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
(ECRML). Available at: http://www.coe.int
Council of Europe ( 2005) Monitoring the implementation of the European Charter
for Regional or Minority Languages. Reports and Recommendations: Application of
the Charter in Spain. Available at: http://www.coe.int/