Thursday, March 26, 2009

Language Education in the Spanish State

The article by the Guardian Weekly that you're about to read is quite a departure from the one written by Basque-phobe Keith Johnson a couple of years ago. Here you have it:

Spain's lessons in multilingual teaching

Spain offers some valuable lessons in Clil policy argues María Jesús Frigols Martín. She explains how the the promotion of Spain's regional languages in schools along side Spanish has helped to establish the teaching of content subjects through students' and teachers' second and third languages.

"There has been no single blueprint, yet Clil is now firmly entrenching itself as an innovative educational approach," states Hugo Baetens Beardsmore, one of the international figures in this field. This is very true of Spain, where Clil is now starting to go mainstream after a decade of pilot and experimental projects.

The Spanish experience of Clil continues to be eclectic. There is no single Clil model taking root across the country. There are as many models as regions, different in application but following the same core fundamentals. Spain could be viewed as a "microcosm" of Clil worldwide. This one country is developing different models which share the same main objective: upgrading education and competence in languages throughout the population.

The twin drivers that have powered the uptake of Clil in the last decades are regional and global citizenship. The energy has come from both the general public and, increasingly, political decision makers.

To understand Clil in Spain you first have to understand how the nation functions as a "state of autonomies", a unitary country with 19 autonomous communities (17 regions, plus the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla). Each of these has its own laws, and the power to administer certain aspects of the education system within its own territory. The Organic Act of Education (Ley Orgánica de Educación, LOE) establishes the general frame for the whole country.

This structure is very significant in terms of languages. Whereas Spanish is the official language of the country as a whole, certain communities (the Basque Country, Navarre, Catalonia, Balearic Islands, Galicia, and Valencia) also have their own regional languages, namely Basque, Catalan, Galician, and Valencian. In these communities, both the regional language and Spanish are mandatory in education at the non-university level.

The stage was set for Clil when regional languages were granted official status in the 1980s. From this point onwards regional languages started making their way through the mainstream education systems as medium of instruction. This would become an invaluable experience, for the expertise acquired after years of practice could be easily transferred from bilingual to monolingual communities, and proved to be an excellent starting point for the design and implementation of programmes aiming to produce young people speaking two languages in addition to their monther tongue (MT+2).

Stepping from regional to foreign languages was a natural way for Clil to evolve at a time when increasing priority has been given to global citizenship. This meant generalising the use of more than one medium of instruction. That in turn meant that educators needed to adapt their teaching to suit this context and focussed interest on Clil as the best way to achieve their goals.

There was a transfer of know-how within the regions and across the country that allowed monolingual areas to keep pace with the bilingual regions.

This resulted in scenarios where education was:

* partly in Spanish, and partly in one or two foreign languages
* partly in Spanish, partly in a joint official language other than Spanish (Basque, Catalan, Galician, or Valencian), and partly in one or two foreign languages.

This has given the Spanish Clil spectrum a leading place in Europe. Clil programmes have been implemented in mainstream schools with direct support from educational authorities. The different models vary significantly from one region to another, but can be summarised as following one of these objectives:

* Promoting bilingualism in a monolingual community
* Fostering multilingualism in an already bilingual community

Even though Spain's regional Clil models are diverse, there are certain issues which have been addressed by central government. For example the teachers’ level of language competence has been given special attention. It has been set at B2 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages for vocational, secondary education, and the Baccalaureate; and B1 for pre-primary and primary. In addition, vocational education is required to have at least two subjects taught through a foreign language. Meanwhile, the communities decide on questions such as subject choice, teaching time invested, and other operational factors.

The learning curve for teachers and administrators has been steep. For years, teacher training has been a major challenge for both central and regional governments. To provide teaching professionals with the necessary linguistic and methodological skills, a specific Clil training programme (Pale, Plan de apoyo al Aprendizaje de Lenguas Extranjeras), comprising improvement of communicative competence, methodology and periods of study abroad, has been designed and implemented. It is funded jointly by the central government and the autonomous boards of education.

Lack of teaching materials and resources is one of the major difficulties Clil teachers have to face. This is common to all the regions. As a general rule teachers develop their own materials by using realia from a target language country, translating and adapting first-language course books, or downloading resources from the internet. Exchanges through seminars, networking, creating data banks, collaborating over the internet, and using blogs have become common means of support.

It is too early to make definitive statements about the impact of Clil across the country. One reason is because some of the separate Boards of Education have not yet carried out extensive evaluation of their Clil programmes. But preliminary research indicators appearing from different communities point to the fact that content acquisition is similar when compared to education through the mother tongue, that learning in Clil substantially improves students’ linguistic and communicative competence, and that it would also appear to assist their cognitive development.

Clil is now consolidating as a trend at all stages of the Spanish educational system, including higher education. It’s a leitmotiv for profound change in the autonomous education systems which are rapidly attempting to adapt to the demands of the knowledge society.

As Rosa Aliaga, a Clil expert at the Basque Board of Education says: "It is fascinating to observe how four- and five-year-old children play, create and have fun in different languages. Their motivation is very high, and they are prepared to take risks in communicating with others with no fear or embarrassment of using the wrong words."

Contrary to common belief, Spaniards have long been keen to learn foreign languages, especially English. The barrier has not been lack of interest so much as lack of response to often outdated language teaching methodologies, and availability of curricular time. The Spanish Clil scenario is one which can serve as a dynamic and realistic model for other countries wanting to reduce barriers to language learning.

María Jesús Frigols Martín works for the Programa Plurilingüe at the Conselleria de Educación de la Generalitat Valenciana, Valencia

One thing we would like to point out is that the advances in education when it comes to Basque and Catalonian are taking place DESPITE Spain and not thanks to its language policies. If it was up to Madrid, the only language spoken in the Spanish state would be Castillian. Just wait and see what will happen to Basque education programs when Spaniard Patxi Lopez takes the presidency of the Basque autonomous community.

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