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Languages at the UPC

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Welcome to our information page about languages at the UPC. Many of you might have questions regarding the use of Spanish, Catalan and English at our university and we hope this FAQ answers them.

  • What languages are spoken in Catalonia?
In Catalonia, the main languages used for communication are Catalan and Spanish. Catalan is the native language of Catalonia, a region with political autonomy of great importance in Spain due to its historical and cultural wealth. In recent years, Catalonia’s linguistic heritage has been further enriched by languages brought by immigrants from many parts of the world, including Arabic, Berber, Chinese and Urdu, and the languages of more traditional European residents, such as French, English and German.
  • What is Catalan?
Catalan is not a dialect, as it is sometimes believed, but a language in its own right. It is derived from Latin, just like Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese, so if you know any of these languages you might find it easier to understand. On paper, it looks like a cross between French and Spanish.
  • What are the regulations regarding languages at university?
The law says that Catalan shares official status with Spanish. This means that students and lecturers can use either of the two languages. The UPC has a specific Language Plan that governs multilingualism at the University and promotes the knowledge, use, quality and interaction of languages across the University. The Plan also promotes the use of Catalan as the language specific to the territory of Catalonia and the use of English as an international language (http://www.upc.edu/slt/pla-llengues-upc).
  • How widely are Catalan, Spanish and English used in the classroom?
In degree courses, around 60 percent of classes are taught in Catalan and 40 percent are taught in Spanish. These figures vary for the different UPC schools. In postgraduate, master's and doctoral degrees, Spanish is more prevalent and English is becoming more widespread: 23 master’s degrees are taught in English at present (2011–2012 academic year). The lecture material (notes, handouts, overheads, slides, dossiers) is generally available in either Catalan or Spanish, and increasingly so in English.
  • How widely is English used?
As a result of the rise in international mobility at all levels, English is being increasingly used at the UPC, which means that many lecturers, students and administrative staff use it on a day-to-day basis. The e-Office is available in English and it allows students to register, submit applications and obtain official documents in English. English can also be seen on campus signposts and administrative documents. Furthermore, the UPC aims to enhance the knowledge of English and other languages by setting up courses and offering a wide range of learning resources.
  • Is it possible that one course has two groups, one in Catalan and another in Spanish?
This can happen, but there are no set rules. It all depends on the language that the lecturer chooses to use, so if a course has more than one group it might be offered in both Catalan and Spanish, but then you might also find that a course is taught in just one language.
  • Are lecturers free to choose the language they teach in?
Lecturers can choose to communicate in either of the two official languages (Catalan or Spanish), just as students can. Some lecturers may use other languages in class, particularly English.
  • Will I get help from Catalan-speaking lecturers?
Lecturers who teach in Catalan are generally willing to help you to understand their classes. They might, for example, summarise their lessons in Spanish at the beginning or end of each class. You can also visit them personally during office hours to clear up any doubts.
  • If a lecturer speaks in Catalan, should I speak Catalan too?
Not necessarily. It’s up to you. Unlike other European universities, the UPC doesn’t require you to know the language of instruction, so if a lecturer teaches a class in Catalan, this doesn’t mean that students are obliged to use it. According to the law, students have the right to express themselves verbally and in writing in whichever official language they prefer. Therefore, any student—native or foreign—may speak in class and answer test questions in either Catalan or Spanish.
  • Am I required to know Catalan or Spanish to study at the UPC?
The law does not require students to know how to speak Catalan or Spanish, so speaking Catalan or Spanish is not a requirement for studying at a Catalan university, although it is necessary. We recommend that exchange students have at least an intermediate level of Catalan or Spanish when they come to study here, but language certificates are not required.
  • Can I choose the language in which I take my exams?
Exams and projects can be done in either Catalan or Spanish, regardless of the language used by teaching staff. For subjects taught in English, students may be required or given the option to take the exam in English.
  • How can I find out the language of instruction before enrolling?
The information regarding the language of instruction must be made available. Before enrolling you can ask your school about the languages that lectures are given in.
  • Is Catalan hard to learn?
Learning Catalan is neither harder nor easier than learning any other language. People who want to learn a language can do so relatively easily. For people who speak one or more Romance languages, Catalan is very easy to understand. This is especially true for written and scientific language, which is what we use most at this university.
  • If I know Spanish or another Romance language, will that help?
It helps a lot. Most foreign students who come to Catalan universities already speak Spanish. This knowledge of Spanish provides an excellent base for learning a little Catalan as the vocabulary and the grammar rules are quite similar.
  • How can I learn Catalan before moving to Catalonia?
Catalan is taught at many universities all over the world. The Ramon Llull Institute (http://www.llull.com) is the organisation that coordinates the teaching of Catalan worldwide. On its website you’ll find a detailed list of all of the universities where you can learn Catalan. You can also learn Catalan on the Internet. The Generalitat of Catalonia sponsors Intercat (http://www.intercat.gencat.cat), a collection of electronic resources for learning Catalan.
  • What Catalan and Spanish courses are available to me once I have moved to Catalonia?
All exchange students who come to Catalan universities have the right to take a Catalan course at low fee. Spanish courses are also available. Take a look at the website of the UPC's Language and Terminology Service for more information about these courses and other learning programmes such as Hola.
  • Besides universities, in what other spheres of society is Catalan used?
Catalan is used in all spheres of society, to a greater or lesser extent: public administration, media, cultural life, social and economic activities, etc. Intercat provides detailed answers to questions regarding Catalan and its presence in society (see the “I live in Catalonia” section: http://www.intercat.cat/en/viure-catalunya.jsp).
  • How many people speak it?
Catalan is spoken in Catalonia, much of Valencia, part of Aragon, the Balearic Islands and Andorra. Altogether, these regions cover 60,000 km² and are home to more than 11 million people. Of the 11 million people who live in the Catalan-speaking regions, about 10 million use it at least passively, more than 7 million know how to speak it, and at least 5 million use it as their main language of communication.
  • Do people speak English?
Most people in Catalonia have studied English at some stage in their lives and young people in particular have an acceptable level. In fact, English is considered to be vital and this is especially true at university, as students are expected to be able to use English after graduating. Owing to tourism and globalisation, English can often be heard on the streets of Barcelona, in museums and at concerts.
  • What do I gain by learning Catalan?
Learning Catalan can open a lot of doors in social and professional spheres. Locals warm to foreigners who have made the effort to communicate with them in Catalan and a knowledge of Catalan is considered to be an advantage when it comes to looking for work. Therefore, learning Catalan is highly recommended for doctoral students and anyone who intends to study and work here.
  • Where can I get more information?
If you have any queries related to this FAQ or would like more information, feel free to contact us at web.slt@upc.edu.

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UPC Language Plan PDF