In 2012, 26.5% of the Catalan population could have a conversation with someone in English, according to the most recent survey on foreign languages issued by the Catalan Institute of Statistics (IDESCAT).
The survey also revealed that the youngest population was the most skilled, with 50.8% of teenagers aged 15-19 having a good knowledge of English. According to EU studies on bilingualism and foreign language acquisition, Catalonia should offer a more positive context for English learning, due to having two main official languages, Catalan and Castilian (referred to as Spanish abroad). But quite ironically, despite the improvement on previous figures, dating back to 2008, the Catalans’ skills in English remain slightly lower than the Spanish average. Furthermore, according to the latest English Proficiency report on European countries and cities, Barcelona has gained much ground on Madrid but is still outdistanced by the Scandinavian leaders.
Nevertheless, the latest data points towards a positive change in trend, sparked by a school system that fosters bilingualism. Catalan and Castilian have traditionally coexisted in a peaceful manner in Catalonia, with the majority of the population understanding both languages. However, it is interesting to note that Catalan has become and still is the minority language, following successive waves of immigration from other regions in Spain and Franco’s political and cultural repression. As a consequence, many households are Spanish monolingual families and while all residents can understand Castilian, the same cannot be said of Catalan. Besides, in spite of the growing number of Catalan speakers, Castilian remains predominant in specific contexts such as the workplace, particularly in large-sized companies.
A higher percentage of Catalans know English, highest figures for the youngest population
The latest survey on the population’s English skills, issued by the Catalan Institute of Statistics (IDESCAT) in 2012, has shown that the number of Catalans with a good knowledge of English has increased since 2008. In 2012, 1.7 million people aged 14 and over (26.5% of Catalonia’s 7.5 million population) could have a conversation with someone in English, while 23.2% could write in the language. According to data from 2008, only 1.4 million people met the minimum requirements for all four language skills (reading, writing, speaking, and understanding).
Furthermore, according to the 2012 survey, there are significant discrepancies in language skills according to age. Indeed, the younger the population, the more skilled in English they are: in 2012, 50.8% of teenagers aged 15-19 years old had a good level of English, 28 points above the average for the total population of Catalonia. Such a figure dropped mildly to 44.2% for people aged 20-24 years old and further decreased to 35.5% for people aged 25-29 years old. The lowest percentage was registered by the elderly population, aged 65 and over, out of which only 3.9% knew the language. Such figures suggest that the English level of Catalans has gradually been improving. Interestingly, the growing abilities in the language mirror the growing number of Catalan speakers in Catalonia.
Now if only the English could reciprocate. Then we would all be making progress.