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Plataforma per la Llengua warns of the language situation in school playgrounds and invites the education community to begin a national campaign

Only 14.6% of conversations in primary and secondary school playgrounds in urban areas of Catalonia are in Catalan, as the organisation announced a few weeks ago

"What's at stake isn't just the language, it is, above all, social cohesion," warns Òscar Escuder, chairman of Plataforma per la Llengua

"A high percentage of teenagers don't see Catalan as an attractive, useful tool belonging to them," warns the Catalan NGO

"The state of the language requires us to act on all possible fronts," says Escuder

This morning, Plataforma per la Llengua presented the sociolinguistic study carried out in the playgrounds of primary and secondary schools in the urban areas of Catalonia. The research, which the organisation partially previewed in InformeCAT 2019, presented a few weeks ago, notes that Catalan is present in only 24.3% of conversations. Òscar Escuder, chairman of Plataforma per la Llengua, indicated that the study has been carried out to make it possible to "speak properly" about the state of Catalan in children's and young people's leisure environments, such as playgrounds. "Playgrounds are one of the main places for interaction and leisure between children and teenagers, so this is where we can detect which tool they feel is more useful and appropriate for communication among themselves - their spontaneous common language."

Catalan is even losing the battle in majority Catalan-speaking areas

The study was carried out in 50 schools in 35 of the most populous municipalities in Catalonia representing the four provinces and accounting for 61% of the Catalan population. It was carried out incognito, so neither teachers nor pupils knew that their language behaviour was being observed, so that they would not change it. The schools were selected taking into account the surrounding language conditions, in other words the sociolinguistic situation of the area around the school: predominantly Catalan-speaking areas; more bilingual areas; and areas where Spanish-speaking was clearly predominant.

Overall, 24.3% of conversations were in Catalan. But while at primary school the figure reached 35%, in compulsory secondary education the use of Catalan fell to 14.6%. As for teachers, Plataforma per la Llengua highlighted that 27.8% - more than one in four secondary school teachers - speak to pupils in Spanish, ignoring Catalan's official position as the vehicular language of teaching, established by the Catalan Education Act. However, the organisation also wanted to stress that this percentage falls to 13.8% in areas where it is most necessary to speak Catalan - places where Spanish-speaking is clearly predominant. At these schools, the use of Catalan falls to 6.88% in primary schools and disappears entirely in compulsory secondary education, where there is 0% use.

For Plataforma per la Llengua, one of the most shocking conclusions is that Catalan is a minority language in secondary school playgrounds even in clearly Catalan-speaking areas, with just 45.8% of conversations in the language.

Despite the figures, however, Plataforma per la Llengua warns that it is impossible to extrapolate without other information, such as data on the use of Catalan among adults of the closest generation. "Many young people who today choose Spanish will return to Catalan when they are no longer teenagers. In fact, this conclusion can be drawn from the Survey of Language Use among the Population drawn up by the Government of Catalonia. But it is clear that the snapshot left by the study is serious and anomalous, and the failures of language policy in this country must be analysed and corrected."

Lack of references and convergence with Spanish

"The sociolinguistic situation in our playgrounds is serious: a high percentage of children and teenagers do not see Catalan as a useful, attractive tool - even those for whom it is their mother tongue," warned Escuder. "It is true that in the last 50 years there have never been so many people competent in Catalan, theoretically at least. But the figures from the study show that passing an exam in a language is not a sufficient guarantee that people will use it normally in everyday life," he noted.

What are the causes of this situation? According to Plataforma per la Llengua, there are many explanations and causes, but it noted several of them at the presentation of the study. Firstly, it noted the change in linguistic paradigm caused by the wave of migration. "But, be careful, this is basically the case not because the population of newcomers does not want to join in and speak Catalan but because of the language prejudices of the majority of Catalan-speakers, as we automatically switch language when we think someone isn't from here. That helps make them feel that Catalan isn't useful and isn't for them."

In line with the general trend, Escuder also noted a "degree of relaxation among teachers in terms of linguistic consciousness". "Teachers and the whole education community are not aware enough that we all act as linguistic models," he said. "Linguistic behaviour is never neutral: as teachers, if we give up Catalan outside the classroom, we are giving pupils to understand that the language is only useful for studying and nothing else. But he also said that "teachers' behaviour is not, by a long way, the only cause", because, although teachers do not carry on speaking Catalan so much in bilingual areas, in predominantly Spanish-speaking areas teachers do carry on speaking the language.

Another cause explaining the situation is the unwritten rule, present throughout Catalan society, of language subordination. "That means if there are Catalan-speakers and Spanish-speakers in a conversation, in most cases they give up Catalan and adopt Spanish," said Escuder. The proof that this behaviour is one of the key factors is the gap between primary and secondary education as, according to Escuder, "in primary school the children are not yet so impregnated with this linguistic prejudice".

But one of the most important causes, according to the organisation, is the lack of cultural and leisure references in Catalan. This is also one of the factors affecting the gap between primary and secondary education. "There is a much more serious lack of references and this has a far greater effect from the pre-teen period onwards, which is when we are looking to create an identity for ourselves." Catalan is very much a minority language on Netflix or HBO, but above all on social media like YouTube and Instagram, where people of that age now find some of their basic references, according to the organisation.

"Social cohesion is at stake, not just Catalan"

For Plataforma per la Llengua, what is at stake is not just the health of a language, with all the cultural value involved, but "above all, the social cohesion of the country and the construction of a society based on social justice to combat prejudices". When asked why the organisation associates the social use of Catalan with equality of opportunity, Escuder was clear. "The latest InformeCat tells us that people who regularly use Catalan, whether or not they are originally Catalan-speakers, suffer only half the unemployment rate of those who normally use only Spanish. In other words, those who regularly use Catalan have more employment opportunities." For this reason, Plataforma per la Llengua insists that it will make tireless efforts so that the citizens of the country, "whether they are from Ciutat Meridiana or Gràcies, Badia del Vallès or Banyoles, feel that Catalan is theirs and belongs to them".

A national campaign with the education community to reverse the situation

Finally, Plataforma per la Llengua announced that it is meeting the main actors from the education community in Catalonia to propose the launch of a big national campaign to reverse the current situation. The campaign would return the importance of promoting the social use of Catalan in schools as a fundamental tool for cohesion to the centre of the debate and, above all, encourage all Catalan nationalists to "lead the debate in a positive way instead of reacting defensively every time the language suffers attacks from those who speak of bilingualism, when what they really mean is that language diversity should not exist". It also says greater involvement must be demanded from the Administration. "The Department of Education must be required to comply with language campaigns, but the Department of Culture and the CCMA must also promote references and products in Catalan for our young people."

Plataforma per la Llengua, which hopes to launch the campaign in the autumn, wants everyone who loves Catalan and wants a cohesive country to feel inspired to make the campaign their own.

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