Mallorca belongs to Spain and has two official languages – Castellano and Catalan. However, long-established Mallorquin families will always speak Mallorquí with each other. Mallorquí is a dialect of Catalan although Mallorca has nothing to do with Catalonia, the region in the north-east of Spain where people speak Catalan. A Mallorquin will explain that Mallorquí does not exist as an official language as there is no written language. Therefore, although people will communicate in Mallorquí, children will learn Catalan at school. Catalan is an autonomous, Romanic language spoken by approximately 11.5 Million people.
Let´s talk about families whose native languages include German and English. The primary concern when moving to Mallorca is whether their children will be capable of following class content if they go to a state school where mainly Catalan is the language of teaching. This always depends on the age of the children. Up till the age of 5 incorporations into the new language (Catalan or Spanish) will happen gradually and with no difficulty. After that, things become a bit more complicated. I am not saying that it is impossible to study in a foreign language after the age of 5, but parents need to keep in mind that learning will happen slower and extra support is fundamental. It is always a saying that “children are like sponges” and they “absorb the new language” which is entirely correct in many ways. However, it should not mean that we neglect our attention to those children. Vocabulary acquisition which happens at home builds a different environment than that at school. We cannot assume that they acquire the same vocabulary in two completely different settings where a variety of topics and themes are talked about so, e.g. if the subject at school is about animals, children would not automatically know the names of the animals in both languages. Children who are six years and older will find it significantly harder to adapt to a completely foreign language environment without support. I have seen children sitting in class not able to follow anything that was said, and it has been a waste of their precious time. Support in schools is not always available promptly. The German school in Madrid does have a high percentage of Spanish students with little or no German. The school has found a fantastic solution. The first 1-2 years the newly inscribed students form a language class where their German is being brought up to scratch, and then they are in cooperated with their usual course.
Keeping up with the language in class can be a struggle even if the child speaks English and is inscribed into an international school where the curriculum is partly in Catalan and Spanish. This should be kept in mind as well. School and parents need to be waiting in the wings to offer appropriate support to those students.
Children who grow up bilingual, and I do know of a few examples on Mallorca, sometimes happen to have no cooperating accents, means that you can’t tell if they are British or Spanish. One parent from Australia pointed out that although his daughter spoke perfect English and Spanish, he could not figure out whether she had an accent at all. Another example is a now grown-up man whose father is Spanish and mother English and who also does not have an explicit accent when speaking in English.
As we have the two official languages here on Mallorca, parents sometimes feel that Mallorqui is not of importance to their children. I was sitting in the same boat, but after living here for a vast amount of time (8years!!!), I can genuinely admit that I have changed my opinion. While I still consider Spanish the more important language for my children and myself, I do with all my heart want my children to learn Mallorqui. One reason is that it helps with integration. To speak a bit of Mallorquí will help to connect with the locals. Often official documents or administrative signs are written in Català. Foreigners usually take it for granted that Spanish is spoken everywhere and this sometimes causes clashes as they see the use of Mallorquí as social marginalisation. However, a Mallorquin would not see it like that, given that Mallorquí is one of the official languages on the island.
I consider language the most essential tool we can give to our children. The experience of speaking more than our native language is priceless. If you are lucky enough to live on Mallorca go out, take the opportunity, and absorb the new idioma!