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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Do I need to learn Valencian if I live in Spain’s Valencia region?

Most locals in Valencia, Alicante and Castellón either speak or understand their regional language, but do foreigners who have made a home in this part of Spain need to learn Valencian?

Do I need to learn Valencian if I live in Spain’s Valencia region?
Street names are written in Valencian in Valencia. Photo: Nicolas Vigier/Flickr

How many people can speak Valencian?

According to the last national survey into language usage in Spain, Valencian was the fourth most spoken of Spain’s official and co-official languages with 5.8 percent of the population knowing how to speak it.

The same study by Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE) found that 35.2 percent of people in the Valencia region have Valencian as their mother tongue.

Another poll from 2017 found that 51.8 percent of residents in the region can speak Valencian.

When in 2015 the Generalitat government asked its population if they spoke the regional language, 37.2 percent stated that “they do not speak Valencian, but they understand it.”

There are numerous other studies and surveys with varying data, but the general trend seems to be that most of the Valencia region’s 4.97 million inhabitants have some grasp of the language without necessarily being able to speak it fluently.

It’s worth noting however that pretty much all Spaniards, regardless of where they’re from, can get the gist of what’s being said in ‘valenciano’ due to the similarities with Castillian Spanish. 

The prevalence of the letter X in the Valencian language. Photo: fourthandfifteen/Flickr

Are there places where Valencian is spoken more?

There are stark differences between La Comunidad Valenciana’s three provinces, and even between cities and municipalities.

Another Generalitat survey from 2015 found that Valencian is more widely used in municipalities with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants.

In the province of Castellón, 36 percent of respondents said they spoke it ‘always or almost always’ whereas in Alicante province 43.3 percent responded that they never speak Valencian, and in the city of Alicante only 2 percent of residents choose to speak Valencian over Spanish.

The same trend is seen in the regional capital of Valencia and its province.

Only 1.3 percent of people in Valencia city regularly speak in Valencian, according to a 2019 city hall survey. They prioritise the use of Spanish in 76 percent of cases, even though the city has two co-official languages.

The further out from the city centre you go, to the peripheral metropole and rural areas (but still within the Valencia province borders), the more Valencian is spoken: 30 to 35 percent favour Valencian outside of the cities. 

Despite this general trend towards less Valencian being spoken in central urban areas, there are big differences between cities such as those of Gandía, where 67 percent favour Valencian over Spanish, and Torrevieja where 63 percent speak only in Spanish.

Either way, this lack of Valencian in cities worries defenders of the Valencian language the most.

Photo: Nicolas Vigier/Flickr

Is Valencian important enough for foreigners to learn?

From an economic standpoint, Valencian reportedly generates €2billion annually for the region and more than 56,000 jobs, especially in the education, translation, culture and media sectors.

Knowing Valencian isn’t a requirement at universities in the region as is often the case in Catalonia where many lectures are given in Catalan, but Valencian faculties do encourage foreign students to learn their regional language at courses they offer.

READ MORE: Spanish vs Catalan – Which language should you learn if you live in Barcelona?

It would be fair to say that foreigners shouldn’t prioritise Valencian over Spanish as it’s still far more useful to speak “castellano” overall, but depending on where you live in the region learning “valenciá” as well could help you integrate into the community better, and more quickly too.

As with other minority or smaller regional languages around the world, it’s the cultural significance that a language carries – especially if it’s at risk of disappearing – that can result in native speakers really appreciating foreigners going to the trouble to learn it. 

To locals it means you are committed to integrating into their community and understanding their traditions, literature and culture. Even making the effort to learn a few Valencian expressions such as “ché” (an interjection meaning ‘hey’) can break the ice and help you become less of an outsider.

Although some of the surveys previously mentioned have shown that Valencian is spoken primarily among friends, regional employment reports show one in five employees in the region uses Valencian at work all the time.

It won’t necessarily be a requirement at a job interview but depending on the workplace it could help you feel part of the team.

Another study by Stockholm University found that even in cities such as Alicante where Valencian isn’t widely spoken, young people see Valencian as a key part of their identity and use it in both formal and informal settings.

So there you have it. The ‘need’ for outsiders to learn Valencian may not be quite as strong as it is in Catalonia with Catalan, but learning the Levante region’s language is a great way of becoming a fully-integrated ‘valenciano de adopción’.   

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MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

READ MORE:

Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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