Last month, Spain’s eighth education law in democratic history was passed by congress while creating a storm of anger and protest. One of the most controversial aspects of the bill is the elimination of a passage stating that Castilian Spanish (Castellano) is the “vehicular language” of Spain. Right wing commentators view this as a concession to Cataluña’s “linguistic immersion” model that uses Catalan as the primary language of instruction in the autonomous region. Spain’s minority government relies on support from regional parties to pass legislation.
Gloria Lago, leader of Hablamos Español (We Speak Spanish), a pressure group that campaigns for more Spanish-language education in regions with their own minority languages, told the Financial Times, “This is an attempt to ensure that Spanish is not a language with a presence throughout the country. It makes it very difficult to move from one part of the country to another, particularly if you want your children to be taught in Spanish.”
The government maintains that the goal is for students in bilingual regions to become fluent in both Spanish and their provincial language. Even poet Luis García Montero, director of the Instituto Cervantes warns against criticizing the change, “We should be very wary of language differences being used to foster tensions and hatred, when our cultural diversity—including minority mother tongues that deserve democratic support—is part of our strength.”
However, the more conservative Real Academia Española has called for the bill not to “put in question the use of Spanish in any territory of the state or to promote obstacles to citizens being educated in their mother tongue.”
The opposition Partido Popular claimed that the legislation represented a “break with our systems of liberties and constitution” and helped to stage demonstrations across Spain against the measure, which still requires Senate approval. Supporters of the bill claim the language issue is a diversion to undermine the main purpose of the bill which is to level the playing field between public schools and privately run, often religious schools that receive public funding and educate a quarter of the nation’s students.
It was only in 2013, under a more conservative government, that the reference to Spanish as the language of instruction was introduced.
“The charge that we are trying to rid of Spanish could not be further from the truth. This law will ensure that any pupil must leave school speaking Spanish and any other language, be it Catalan, Basque, or Galician equally well,” Juan Mena, education spokesman for En Comú, a left-wing party, told VOA. “The mention of Spanish no longer being the principal language is only because previous education laws said Spanish must be the principal language even in regions where other languages are spoken.”