Are you a successful worker? Spanish bilinguals’ perceptions of their linguistic success

The importance of multilingualism and multiculturalism in today’s world is unquestionable. In this light, since the publication of the White Paper on Education and Training (European Commission, 1995), the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (Council of Europe, 2001, 2018), and the Language Learning and Linguistic Diversity Promotion Plan (European Commission, 2003), European educational administrations have begun to promote language learning and intercultural education among young generations to respond to the requirements of the 21st century.

To this purpose, bilingual education has become widespread due to its potential for the language learning process (in neurolinguistic terms, but also for its many cognitive, social, intercultural, academic, and professional benefits; Christoffels et al., 2015; Hemsley et al., 2014; Hipfner-Boucher et al., 2014; Lee et al., 2015; Rodríguez-Pujadas et al., 2014) of students all over the world. With these assets in mind, European countries, including Spain, implement bilingual education at schools aiming to improve the foreign language proficiency of students at all educational stages.

The scientific literature is profuse when analysing the implementation of bilingual education in Spain (e.g., Campillo et al., 2019; Fernández-Sanjurjo et al., 2019); however, little research focuses on neither the perceptions of students who have already graduated from bilingual programs regarding their linguistic success (in terms of intercultural competence, employability and mobility) nor their employment situation.

This communication analyses how both participation in Spanish bilingual education and employment contribute to speakers’ higher perceptions of linguistic success. Two research questions are established: (1) Do participants in Spanish bilingual education currently working have higher perceptions of their linguistic success?; and (2) Do participants in Spanish bilingual education who have ever worked abroad have higher perceptions of their linguistic success?

A web-based questionnaire is used to determine potential differences between Spanish bilinguals currently working and those who have worked abroad at some point in their life. First, the survey is distributed by Facebook after using Facebook Audience Insights for sample targeting. Then, SPSS V22.0 is employed for statistical analysis, applying the Mann-Whitney U-test and Wilcoxon signed-rank test to determine differences between groups.

The sample consisted of 741 subjects: 263 men (35.5%), 472 women (63.7%), and 0.8% did not provide this datum. The average age was 39.9 (SD = 14.6), whereas the average time of study in bilingual programs was 7.92 (SD = 6.35).

Findings show that 19.2% of the respondents have participated in bilingual education and 65.2% are currently employed. Furthermore, 32.7% have ever worked abroad. In both cases, perceptions of linguistic success (globally and in terms of intercultural competence, employability, and mobility) are higher than in unemployed respondents and in those who have never worked abroad.

This suggests the potential of Spanish bilingual education, at least concerning speakers’ perceptions) despite criticism to these programs (e.g., Paran, 2013).

The results of this study are part of the research project ‘Facing Bilinguals: Study of Bilingual Education Programmes’ Results through Social Data Analysis’ (Ref. no. EDU2017-84800-R), granted by the 2017 competitive call of the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation.

Palabras clave

bilinguals employment self-reported perceptions of linguistic success Spanish Bilingual Education

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Francisco Javier Palacios-Hidalgo

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      Salud Adelaida Flores Borjabad

      Comentó el 10/12/2020 a las 13:38:45

      Congratulations for your presentation. I think it is very interesting and useful. I teach French at the Unversity and many of my students say they are bilingual because they have passed C1 Cambridge Advanced. However, I agree with you. It is necessary to speak about "bilingual education graduates" as I think you have to grow up in bilingual context to speak two L1.


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        Francisco Javier Palacios-Hidalgo

        Comentó el 11/12/2020 a las 12:52:47

        Certainly, Salud, just having a language certificate (even if it's a C1 level) doesn't make you bilingual. However, I don't think it's necessary to grow up in a bilingual context but just to have an extensive and constant input of the languages (for instance, if you move to another country for a certain period of time, you may become bilingual too).




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      Kim Schulte

      Comentó el 06/12/2020 a las 21:40:20

      Hi. This is a very interesting paper, as it attempts to determine the benefits of bilingual education in Spain. I do, however, wonder whether it is legitimate to call all students who have participated in bilingual education "bilinguals"; of course it is true that they have a certain degree of proficiency in the foreign language, which makes them bilingual in the strict sense, but the term is usually used to refer to balanced or near-balanced bilingualism, which only few of these students attain.


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        Francisco Javier Palacios-Hidalgo

        Comentó el 10/12/2020 a las 08:43:43

        Thank you, Tim, for your comment. As you mention, the term "bilingual" is probably not the most appropriate considering that all students may not have a balanced command of their languages once they finish the bilingual program (and that someone may be bilingual in the strict sense without having participated in this type of education). In this presentation, I just use the word to make a distinction between those students who have gone through bilingual education and those who have not, but certainly, I should consider changing it for future papers. Maybe "bilingual education graduates" could be a good alternative.
        Many thanks :)


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