The Impact of Sociocultural Knowledge in Immigrants’ Acquisition and Use of Catalan

Author: Monica Malamud (Cañada College, America)
Speaker: Monica Malamud
Topic: Applied Sociolinguistics
COMELA 2021 General Session


In 2018, 18.2% of the population of Catalonia was foreign-born.  According to the last survey on the use of Catalan(1), around 11% of the population has a native language other than Spanish or Catalan.  However, only 4.4% of the population does not use those languages regularly.  Although Catalan is the native language of 31.5% of the population, it is regularly used by 36.1% of the population.  But surveys on the use of Catalan only measure the use of the language in different spheres of life and present the data based on demographics.

In this paper I explore the questions of why the courses offered by the Consorci per a la Normalització Lingüística (CPNL)(2) are successful at teaching Catalan, and, more importantly, how they succeed at getting learners to actually use the language.  To this end, I enrolled in the three courses that correspond to the Basic Level; after completion of these courses and an exam, students are certified as having accomplished Level A2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.  For courses offered in 2018, 72.4% of the students were born outside of Spain.  While living in Barcelona for several months in 2018-2019, I experienced the CPNL approach to language learning myself, examined the teaching materials, and interacted with other students in order to understand how these courses resulted in their actual use of Catalan.

The goals of the courses go beyond linguistic competence.  Even more important is to introduce the learner to the new cultural environment.  Course materials and activities are designed to familiarize students with sociocultural knowledge that allows them to navigate everyday life with ease, by promoting the use of newly-acquired language skills in tasks that newcomers must undertake, such as using public transportation, finding an apartment, interviewing for a job, interacting with public officials, obtaining health services, etc.  Local traditions, festivals and celebrations are prominent too, and the learner’s own culture is acknowledged and welcomed, with the goal of promoting a positive attitude towards the cultural diversity that exists in Catalonia today.

The experiences of students in CPNL courses, including my own, strongly suggest that the sociocultural content of these courses, which is central to the curriculum, has a direct impact on the use Catalan by immigrants in Catalonia.

Enquesta d’usos linguistics de la población de Catalunya 2018,
Consorci per a la Normalització Lingüística,