language exchange is becoming increasingly popular the world over, but it’s more popular in Spain than in any other country. There are a number of possible reasons which could attribute to this language explosion phenomenon which I will explore in this article. It should be noted that this article is written entirely from this writer’s point of view and others may feel different about their country or even about Spain.
Spain is interesting when talking about languages thanks to the fact that out of 17 autonomous communities, there are five which speak co-official languages and often have their own community language as the official governmental language in that territory. Catalonia, Valencia, the Basque Country, Galicia and the Balearic islands are the communities which have their own recognised languages.
This is of major importance when we are thinking about language learning and language exchange as people in those communities are often bilingual from childhood, speaking their community’s language and country’s language at school every day. Spain is also notoriously hard on those who have a low level of English, often requiring high levels in Cambridge or IELTS examinations if they want to obtain a well-paid job, go to university or do an exchange programme overseas. So perhaps this is the reason why Spain has a greater number of people trying to learn English and do language exchanges than most developed countries. It’s also very likely related to the fact that there are a number of languages being revived or sustained in various communities throughout the country too.
Catalan is probably the most well known of the unofficial Spanish languages and that would be thanks to a number of reasons.
Firstly, the historical political conflict between Catalonia and the central government in Madrid has caused an influx in the media attention given to the Catalan independence issue. While the media sensationalises this and makes it out to be the will of the Catalan people, the movement is only supported by roughly 47% of voters. The census states that there are around 5.5 million people living in Catalonia, but only 4.3 million are eligible to vote. 47% of 4.3 million is around 2.4 million which is 37% of the entire population. When this is considered, it becomes clear that this is not the will of the majority at all and there are a lot of factors surrounding this.
The language Catalan is spoken by the majority of the community’s citizens and is the main language taught in schools and at universities. Though the people are required to learn Castilian as well, few identities as solely Spanish and most feel a closer connection to their community than they do to their country. This is perhaps one of the reasons that people in this area feel that they need to learn English in order to have a greater connection with the world since their connections to Spain and the central government are not in the greatest shape.
There is an argument to suggest that Madrid has been pushing Catalonia into these issues for a long time to increase its own profits and portray Catalonia and their government as the “bad guys” as it were. Barcelona has a good language exchange company which meets at various locations around the city and holds events occasionally.
Valencia has a similar but less tumultuous relationship with the central Spanish government. In general, the people in Valencia are more reserved than in other locations in Spain, but most are able to speak in two languages. Valencian as a language is very well protected and admired by the people who live in the community. Although Castilian is more likely to be heard while exploring the city and its nearby towns, if you were to travel out towards Xativa, Javea, Altea or Gandia, for example, you’d find yourself hearing exclusively Valencian.
A lot of people are very proud of where they come from the heritage that they have gained from their community, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but in Valencia, it often goes two ways. You either embrace the idea of multilingualism and try your hardest to learn a new language that will benefit you in life and through your career or you shut up shop completely and decide that your community is the best, the place you’ll live forever and never leave. In my experience, I’d say the former are a lot harder to come by. There are a lot more people in Valencia who seem very patriotic about their community and act as though they never want to leave to explore new lands. Of course, some people are simply not able to since the economic climate in Spain is extremely poor and the way out is not simple.
I really feel for people in Valencia, especially women, since the job market, although increasing slightly in the past few years, has not yet recovered from the crash of 2008. Women are still seen as second class citizens in terms of pay and career gain. This is most likely the reason there is a high percentage of women from Valencia who try to do language exchanges in order to gain knowledge of English so that they can seek potential jobs from elsewhere in the world.
LANGUAGE REVIVAL AND POLITIC
Valencia has been the community which has really done a great deal in promoting its own language, not that Galicia or the Basque Country are far behind. While minority language revival and sustainability can be questionable in some circumstances, this hasn’t deterred the governments of these communities from investing a large number of resources into this issue. One of the best subway systems in Spain can be found in Valencia, where you will find all the instructions in Valencian, with its Spanish counterpart printed underneath.
At least there is a sentiment in Valencia that Castilian is still an important part of life in the country. This is a vast difference to the Basque Country for example, where Basque (or Euskara) is printed on every billboard, public service announcement, public transport system and everything in between. In the Basque Country, so I’m told since I’ve never actually visited, it seems that Spanish is less important than their own language and that the survival or Euskara must come above all. It is an extremely proud community which is portrayed across several media sources. The football team of Athletic Bilbao, for example, has very few players from outside of the Basque country itself. You are able to see the ideology behind Basque patriotism and their hatred towards the rest of Spain in the movie Ocho Apellidos Vascos. We can also see a rise in nationalism and dangerous ideals coming from the Basque Country in the form of the political party Vox, who have repeatedly made claims and statements which could be considered to be in line with the far right.
That being said, while I don’t specifically agree with nationalism or populism as a whole, I do understand where the anger is coming from. The Spanish people often feel like they have no power over the world and as though they must hold on tight to any menial job that they can get their hands on. Eventually, this wears people down and they start to get angry with life in general, especially when they’re struggling to pay for things, hence why political figures can play with this issue and manipulate it in their favour.
I hope that people reading my articles in Spain can find some solace in the fact that I appreciate where you’re coming from. I understand the ideology and the confusion when you are given two or more identities and are unsure which one you can use to really define you. It’s not an unknown issue for myself.
Although I didn’t have to learn another language as a necessity and learnt Spanish by choice later in my life, I did grow up with a number of identities that caused some confusion. When you’re from the north of England, it’s important to be proud of your northern heritage. Of course, I am proud of this and I’m happy with how my accent turned out. But there are people who will attack this when you’re travelling around the south of England. We also have the whole “Am I British or am I English?” thing going on which can cause a fair amount of confusion when you’re growing up, no different to how people feel in their communities in Spain or historically in their states in the USA. I’m proud to say I’m happy to be Northern, English, British and European. These are just geographical things that determine who I am in some way or other but don’t necessarily define me entirely as a person.
I’d be thrilled to hear about what you think in the comments and also recommend using our language exchange section to talk to others around the world who may be feeling the same as you!
Written by: Jordan Benyon, Staff Writer