Bilingualism In Spain: Another Brick In The Wall

The knowledge of a second language is widely believed to be essential for students to succeed in an increasingly interconnected world. Nowadays, bilingual programmes are present worldwide, responding to an increasing demand partially driven by the potential personal and economic benefits from being proficient in a foreign language. Within this context, the Spanish government has been implementing and promoting bilingualism at school in an attempt to boost the EU students’ English level.

In fact, the boom in public bilingual centres in Spain has been remarkable. In the 2010-2011 period, 240,154 students were studying in a bilingual programme in one of Spain’s regions. In the 2016-2017 period that figure had jumped 360% to 1.1 million, but all that glitters isn’t gold.

According to experts, regional governments are using students as guinea pigs to meet electoral promises. It is true that bilingual methods have been proven to be effective: transitional bilingual education, the dual language or the immersion approach, all of which are based on a deep knowledge of the second language, but this is another kettle of fish. The point is that many teachers don’t feel comfortable with their positions in public schools or high schools. Teaching History, Geography or Science in English (without it being our mother tongue) is not only a demanding challenge, but also a counter-productive business.

In other words, bilingualism implies much more than teaching some subjects at school. It requires a serious commitment, not only by the educational administration, but also by the central government, taking into account other daily issues which mainly affect the acquisition of the Foreign Language (FL). Such is the case of public television or traffic signs. What is undeniable is the fact that it is a complex process and it cannot be applied overnight.

This is the dark side of the Spanish government’s bilingual school programme. It promotes English at the expense of Science, History or Geography and the result is that children learn neither English nor Spanish. Furthermore, families are often making misinformed decisions and choose these centres because they are socially prestigious. They set learning expectations that are not realistic.

Finally, another issue with bilingual schools is how students are divided according to their English level. It is clearly discriminatory because secondary students are separated according to an exam result. This model definitely­ segregates students according to their economic possibilities and in most cases students have trouble learning. Thus, why don’t we change our educational framework? Why don’t we fight to get a bigger investment which improves our students’ results, otherwise we will be another ‘brick in the wall’ for this oppressive system.

María del Mar Sánchez Martínez
Escuela Oficial de Idiomas de Molina de Segura