The language of Soller
Published in the Majorca Daily Bulletin
Tuesday 6th November 2012
I love a good argument, an interesting debate and stimulating exchange of views. I have learnt not to take such discussions personally and accept them for what they are. To that end I am airing my ‘sitting on the fence’ contribution to the debate about the use of Catalan/Mallorquin as the language of choice in schools. I have watched with interest as the arguments between the contributors to the Bulletin have been filling the ‘Letters to the Editor’ slot. Let me say at the outset that I respect the views of the protagonists but I wonder if they live in the real world of Majorca in 2012.
As incomers to this Island my family arrived to ‘live the dream’ with children that needed educating as part of the deal. We made a choice to reside in Soller and live a normal village life. The rules are that on arrival you register your children with the local education department and they allocate you a school dependent on the places they have available. Sometimes that means you get the nearest school to where you live and sometimes it doesn’t. It is purely a matter of the places available when you register. The first hurdle is over and the children have a place in school. The learning curve begins and the language issue hits as soon as you land. In Soller the education is in Catalan/Mallorquin with Spanish and English taught as subjects. The playground language is largely Catalan/Mallorquin but the large South American population struggle with this and they speak to one another in Spanish. The English speaking children are in
‘confused city’ until their brains acquire enough of the dominant language for them to exist successfully in school.
This is the reality of Soller schools today. There is a commitment to develop a tri-lingual system but it is dependent on staff availability and training in the three languages. An announcement was made only this past week to say that in the future all games and physical education lessons would be held in English.
I can have all the objections in the world to the limitations of the Catalan language and I may work towards change but that doesn’t help my grandchildren in school today.
The only choice you have is a financial one. All sorts of choices are available if you have the money to pay the school fees and are prepared to travel to Palma,Calvia or Marrataxi. Excellent schools exist in Majorca that will teach your children in English, Swedish, German, French or Spanish. They will all teach Spanish and Catalan as subjects but the dominant language will be the one you pay for.
My argument is that as incomers who made a choice to live here we have to accept the status quo. It is of no benefit to our children to resist or comment on their having to learn the current language of Majorcan schools. If your children are not born in Spain you have a choice in the private schools of whether to learn Catalan or not. We were in this position with one of our grandchildren and my family made the choice to learn Catalan out of respect for the area we live.
The language of Soller is Catalan/Mallorquin and this applies to all age groups. Go to any community residents meeting and they all start in Spanish and change within five minutes to Catalan/Mallorquin. Go to an evening class and the same thing happens. My neighbours are far more comfortable with their own Mallorquin dialect and find it a strain to talk in anything else. I have witnessed heated arguments between our South American neighbours and some Soller people. They say that speaking Catalan/Mallorquin excludes them and this is unfair because they do have a common language that they can share. This is relevant to us English speakers because if we make the effort to learn Spanish there is no guarantee it will help us to communicate with our neighbours.
I know that the debate is much wider than I have given voice to and I am glad to listen to other realistic points of view. I also know there was a day in the recent past when children went to school and were taught in Spanish and the next day the language had been changed to Catalan. It is possible that this might happen again in reverse – who knows. We are where we are and our children’s 2012 school experience needs to be respected and worked with.
Soller is multi lingual beacuse of it’s heritage and French is many a Solleric’s second language after Mallorquin. It is not unusual to meet locals who have up to five languages that they can converse in if they choose to. This is the language culture
we have brought our family to live amongst. In time they will become the multi linguists of tomorrow – this is the fine gift we gave them when we all moved to Soller.