Catalans must pass English to get a degree

A new law will mean that all candidates who began their degree studies in the Spanish region of Catalonia this year will have to pass an end-of-course English exam in order to graduate.

Catalans must pass English to get a degree
Critics claim that the extra work required could interfere with the studies of those failed by language education in secondary schools. Photo: Flickr/andreasmarx

The goal of the new legislation is to ensure that Catalan graduates “have no problems with English” when they leave university, something which is not the case at present.

A study by the OCU (Spain's Consumers and End-Users Organization) revealed that only one in ten graduates currently claims to have an advanced level of English, while a report published by the Cambridge University Press showed that only 13 per cent say they have a “high” or “very high” level.

University students graduating from 2018-2019 onwards will have to pass a test in English – or another third language – equivalent to level B2 (upper intermediate) in the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for Languages.

The new law will apply to students at all of Catalonia's 12 public and private universities, according to newspaper The Huffington Post.

Similar measures have been implemented in other universities across Spain but most of them have set the bar lower, at lower intermediate (B1) level.

Union leaders reacted to the news by slamming the increased demands it would place on less wealthy  students.

Juanjo López, of Barcelona's Student Union, claimed that, “Ultimately, what it is going to achieve is that only those with resources will get degrees while those who now have to work to pay tuition and have no time to study English outside the classroom will be hurt.”

That argument was rejected by Pilar Garcés, coordinator of the English module in the Master of Teaching in Secondary Education at the University of Valladolid.

“You can work part-time in English-speaking countries and there are many free courses with which you can learn English without problems . English will exclude people from working in an international context if it's not learned,” she said.

Others, such as Julio Redondas, Communications Director of Cambridge University Press, saw both sides of the controversy.

He claimed that it would create “difficult situations” because the current level of English teaching in Elementary and Secondary schools left many students entering university “far from B2 level”.

These students would be “forced to make an extra effort to catch-up” which could affect their performance in the other academic subjects of their chosen career.

However, he added: “It's not the end of the world. I think you can get to B2 in four years… but I understand the students' arguments.”

Compulsory English hit the headlines last week when it was revealed that basic knowledge of the language would soon be mandatory for taxi drivers in Seville, in the south of Spain, in order for them to receive their taxi licences.

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The essential Catalan phrases you need in Catalonia

Even if you speak Spanish, if you're living in Catalonia, it's a good idea to learn some Catalan too. Here are some basic phrases you need to get by.

The essential Catalan phrases you need in Catalonia
Image: Photos_Marta/ Pixabay

While everyone in the bigger Catalan cities such as Barcelona or Tarragona will speak Spanish, it’s a good idea to learn some Catalan too.

Not only is this sure to win you some brownie points with the locals, but it will enrich your experience of living in the region and allow you to make new friends. This is particularly true when travelling to the smaller towns and villages in rural Catalonia too.


Greetings are a great way to start out practicing your Catalan. Your neighbours will be delighted and appreciate greetings in their local language. Because the phrases are short, they’re easy to remember and don’t invite long answers that you won’t be able to understand.

Bon dia – Good day

This phrase is used all the time in Catalonia, even more so than ‘Hola’. You would use it for greeting someone anytime up until the afternoon, after which you would say 'Bona tarda'. 

Encantat! Molt de gust! – Pleased to meet you.

Com estás? – How are you?

Bona nit – Good night

Greetings in Catalan. Image: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels


Being polite

Another very easy way to slip in some Catalan here and there is to use it in small polite phrases. Even if you don’t know the Catalan for the whole phrase, you could easily add please or thank you on the end.

Si us plau – Please

Moltes gràcies – Thank you very much

De res – You’re welcome

Saying thank you in Catalan. Image: Ka Young Seo / Pixabay 

Eating out

When you’re a bit more confident with your Catalan, eating out is the perfect time to put it all into practice. You don’t have to keep the conversation going a long time and there are particular useful phrases that you can memorise.  

Teniu una taula per dos? – Do you have a table for two?

La carta, si us plau – The menu please

El comte, si us plau – The bill please

No puc menjar… – I can’t eat…
This one may be useful if there’s something that you’re allergic to or can’t eat, such as gluten or dairy for example.

Eating out. Image: Ji-yeon Yun / Pixabay 


Like eating out, shopping is another perfect chance to put your Catalan out in the real world.

Quant costa això? – How much does that cost?

Tens un altre color? – Do you have a different colour?

Tens una talla més gran/petita? – Do you have a bigger/smaller size?

Pots ajudar-me? – Can you help me?


READ MORE: Ten colourful Catalan phrases you should learn right now