After a good night’s sleep and a delicious breakfast, the group walked toward the Metro to meet Maria downtown. A group of 22 visitors on public transport is a sight worth seeing. Today’s visit was to the school / college vocational Institut Carles Vallbona in Granollers that was located around an hour from the city by train.
The aim of the visit was to hear more from the educational institution on how they integrated multilingualism within the curriculum in order to normalise language learning. This was an industrial area famous for the chemical industry, with some courses corresponding to the need for specific skills in this area.
We were welcomed by the Principal and then the staff and students were responsible for presenting us with an overview of the pioneering work on language learning.
The definition of multilingualism in Catalonia is the ability to communicate in Catalan, Spanish and English with all three languages being treated with equal respect, and each having three dedicated hours of teaching per week. They also introduce other languages, for example German and French. In order to demonstrate their awareness of the Welsh language they used Welsh words on their presentations, however Welsh is not on their curriculum just yet!
It is evident that project activity is a powerful tool that strengthens language skills and understanding of multilingualism and as a result improves the communication skills and employability of their learners. Each project includes partnering with other foreign countries, either by visiting or e-twinning. Certainly there is an opportunity here for Welsh colleges to partake in this activity, and some are already engaged.
We heard from two 15-year-old students who were particularly inspiring as they spoke fluently and confidently in plain English (their third language) on the importance of multilingualism. Students commented on how being bilingual enables them to access other languages, which consequently enriches their lives. They felt that language is an integral part of their culture and heritage, echoing similarity to the Welsh saying ‘A nation without a language is a nation without a soul’. Do Welsh students share and feel the same pride towards their own language? And if not, why not??
What was clear was that the languages were not only taught as subjects but used in subject teaching, e.g. marketing, business etc., to ensure that the relevant context was provided as well as the language. Language is a tool of communication.
There were similarities in their immersion scheme for welcoming new-comers (immigrants) as part of their ‘Welcome’ project to our ESOL program at home. The difference was that they were immersed in Catalan and not Spanish, whilst we remain focused on teaching English to newcomers and don’t necessarily introduce Welsh.
We visited the traditional college classrooms where they taught marketing, business, information technology and languages, in each class we heard (in plain English) about the student experiences of learning and use of languages. To some extent our questions regarding language training were rather odd as it is such a normal part of education for them in Catalonia, as they speak three languages as a natural part of their life at school / college as a direct result of wise and firm language legislation since 1983.
Over lunch in a small Italian restaurant we spoke some more with our host Maria and Olga from the college.
Following lunch Olga gave a presentation on the college education system including the curriculum delivery. The provision at this school includes compulsory education, vocational school, technical school and the provision of higher education all situated under one roof.
Echoes of messages from yesterday continued, with further focus on SMART specific labor market driven delivery that supported success for students in the long run. As part of this, the ability to use three languages in compulsory education and vocational education is evident.
Real life evidence of a system actively supporting multilingualism came from a higher education information technology student whose mother tongue was Arabic, and had gone on to be trilingual and was now speaking five languages as a result of the education system that has embraced multilingualism. He felt privileged to be Catalan, as it was a country renowned for facilitating, promoting and implementing sound and innovative linguistic policies.
As we left college, some of us were overcome with a feeling of envy to live in such a country where people use languages (two and more) naturally throughout their daily activities, where they compliment and add to the nations sense of identity. As the KA1 Erasmus+ Catalonia group sing the Welsh national anthem to thank the hosts, the sense of pride for our country and language and our shared hope for a truly bilingual (multilingual) country returns. O bydded i’r hen iaith barhau. (May the old language continue to survive (and grow!) ……