Academic journal article Babel

Plurilingualism and Multilingualism in Spain

Academic journal article Babel

Plurilingualism and Multilingualism in Spain

Article excerpt


In the last four decades, Spain has experienced deep political, economic and social changes. These changes relate to the reappearance of plurilingual and multicultural communities in relation to Spain's European and world contexts, as well as in response to the increase of non-Spanish-speaking immigrants. This report offers an overview of linguistic policies and languages learning strategies in Spain as the country attempts to keep pace with the expansion of the linguistic and cultural change. It focuses on education and the teaching of languages in Spain, with a special emphasis on the role of the Escuelas Oficiales de Idiomas (Official Schools of Languages). The Escuelas Oficiales comprise an extensive network of adult education schools that opened in 1960, and which are the fundamental axis for learning languages and contributing to adult language learning, as well as providing teachers of non-linguistic subjects with certified competence for the bilingual programs in their schools. Today, there are more than 300 Escuelas Oficiales de Idiomas in Spain, which teach 23 languages.


language policy in Spain, European Union, plurilingualism, multilingualism, pluriculturalism, multiculturalism, languages education

Plurilingualism, multilingualism; pluriculturalism and multiculturalism

Spain is a multilingual country where a subtractive bilingualism has overtaken and eliminated other major languages (Catalan, Galician and Euskera). This is the result the political imposition during Franco's dictatorship of the policy of 'one country, one language', which made Castilian Spanish the only official language spoken for over 36 years. A review of the recent history of languages and language use in Spain provides insights into changes to this position, and implications for speakers of languages, and also to the political and educational contexts of languages policy.

To begin, it is useful to define key terms. Plurilingualism, a key concept promoted by the Council of Europe in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) (Council of Europe [COE], 2014), is defined as:

an individual person's experience of language in its cultural contexts
[which] expands, from the language of the home to that of society at
large and then to the languages of other peoples (whether learnt at
school or college, or by direct experience). [H]e or she does not keep
these languages and cultures in strictly separated mental compartments,
but rather builds up a communicative competence to which all knowledge
and experience of language contributes and in which languages
interrelate and interact. (COE, 2014. p.4)

Multilingualism, is defined as 'the knowledge of a number of languages, or the co-existence of different languages in a given society' (COE, 2014, p. 4).

So, while the word 'multilingualism' is used to describe a situation as the existence of several distinct languages in a community, plurilingualism refers to an individual's competence with and use of languages, which varies according to the linguistic experiences of each speaker and the contexts in which they use languages.

Plurilingualism is linked to pluriculturalism, a concept also defined in the CEFR.

Plurilingualism has itself to be seen in the context of
pluriculturalism. Language is not only a major aspect of culture, but
also a means of access to cultural manifestations. Much of what is said
above applies equally in the more general field: in a person's cultural
competence, the various cultures (national, regional, social) to which
that person has gained access do not simply co-exist side by side; they
are compared, contrasted and actively interact to produce an enriched,
integrated pluricultural competence, of which plurilingual competence
is one component, again interacting with other components. (COE, 2014,
p. 6)

The concept of pluriculturalism is useful in considering the individual skills Spanish people need to develop in order to interact with other regional and social cultures within Spain, as well as other national, regional and social cultures across the European Union, and the world. …

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