Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Language and Market

A country where the educational system has changed 10 times in 30 years is just not viable. It shows the inability to get to a minimum consensus between right and left, and between different nationalities and identities. The new Wert’s Law makes matters worse and, leaving aside some good decisions such as moving away from some trendy ideas which turned out to be ineffective to improve school performance, this is, above all, an ideological law because of its anti-secular revisionism and its obsessive Castilian identitarian approach.


The Government’s excuses regarding the need to guarantee a certain level of language skills do not stand up to scrutiny. So far, all findings on language skills show Catalonia, Galicia and other communities with two official languages to be average. Funnily enough, Canary Islands, Extremadura and Andalusia are always at the bottom. Could this be a result of a historic violent process which caused a forced substitution of the local language, a powerful substratum which remains strong and refuses to disappear?


Another point that tends to be linked to any policy that imposes uniformity such as the education policy is market unity. In 21st century’s globalization, this point is rather pitiful. All Castilian Spanish speakers know Castilian Spanish, but many Castilian Spanish speakers are monolingual.


In this respect, when I was Conseller (Minister of the Catalan Government) I often had to handle a Jacobinist intoxication which stated that the reason for big corporations not establishing their head offices in Catalonia was the Catalan language. If there is any actual linguistic issue in the Spanish state is the lack of English skills, which is caused by the wrong presumption that Spanish is good enough to travel around the world, when, in fact, it is only useful for Latin America. This week there was a debate about the poor level of English shown by French students. This does not happen to Dutch or Finnish students.


The monolingual speakers of big languages assume that they do not need to learn languages. Speakers from countries with low/medium language demographics are more multilingual.

In Europe, Spanish has the same demographic weight as Polish. The languages of market and innovation in Europe are, in this order, English, German and French. The Spanish tantrum showed when the European patent was not approved because Spanish language was absent is an unimaginable option for those who are used to go through life with linguistic modesty.


But there’s more. A survey commissioned by the EU on Multilingualism and SMEs concludes that due to the lack of multilingual capabilities (not only English), companies lose more than 30% of business opportunities. English is required, as well as any of the biggest languages of communication. However, as it was made clear in the Higher Business School of International Trade (ESCI), where lessons are given in Catalan and other languages, for a global professional, academic and business person a good command of more than one language of communication is a pre-requisite, but it is not sufficient. Among those with equal abilities, those who have the mental openness to quickly learn languages of low/medium demography are the ones who will succeed.

A businessperson or a professional sent out to Denmark can get by with their level of English, but they will triumph if they have the mental openness required to learn a language spoken only by five million people. In a context of globalisation, those who speak languages of low/medium demography have the edge.


Language speakers of former empires with an arrogant attitude will let key business opportunities slip away.

Let’s say for a moment that Spain wakes up one day being Swiss. We would find a firm support to make Galician official; the promotion of bilingual teaching in Galician-Portuguese, or trilingual schools in Galician, Portuguese and English –and for very obvious reasons: the more than 200 million inhabitants with Galician linguistic origin who are distributed across America and Africa would welcome the presence of Portuguese speakers closer to the heart of Europe.

Portugal would get spoilt by Spain through Galicia and would not be mistreated –just as Italy does with Germany through Alsace, or Italy with Austria through South Tyrol. However, Galicia shows more lack of self-esteem than in Fraga times, where the Partido Popular party (PP) is full of politicians who, in “colourful” regional slang are branded as "snooty” and “alien”, who see Galicia as an area of traditional clientelism where hope is not an option. There is no single Galician high school, for example, which is bilingual with Portuguese as a second language, and the official Galicia turns its back on Portugal and Brazil.

If Spain woke up as Swiss, it would promote Catalan through bilaterality with Andorra and the Department of Eastern Pyrenees, where Catalan shares space with the French language. Catalonia’s traditional love of all things French due to familiar or historical reasons would be seen as a competitive advantage and not as a suspicious act of treason. The facts speak for themselves: Catalonia has been linked to France longer than to Spain. Today we could be celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Catalan Republic. That’s right. Do not be surprised. During the Napoleonic war, Catalonia become a French province under the name of Department of Ebre, and Catalan was an official language.

If Spain woke up as Swiss, it would make use of the historic and cultural links from the former Andalus to avoid making a fool of themselves in the Maghreb, where, despite its proximity, Spain falls behind France and, in some economic areas, behind Italy, Germany and United Kingdom.


This cross-border policy is promoted by Switzerland from the German, French or Italian cantons.


Why is it that Spain will never be Swiss, as shown by Wert’s Law? Why isn’t it able or willing to take advantage of the competitive edge that a responsible multilingualism offers in order to project itself to the world? Because to make this model and conceptual change happen Madrid’s oligarchy must disappear.





Josep Huguet i Biosca
Minister of Innovation, Universities and Enterprise (2006-2010)
Minister of Trade, Tourism and Consumer Affairs (2004-2006)
President of the Josep Irla Foundation
@josephuguet

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