My post today is dedicated to my mother, a "voluntària per la llengua"; a language volunteer in the capital city of my area, Figueres.
What is a language volunteer?
A language volunteer is someone who helps newcomers in Catalonia improving Catalan by giving them the opportunity to speak in this language in a natural context. Learners must have some knowledge of Catalan and volunteers have to be people who usually speak Catalan. Both should have a minimum of 1 free hour a week during 10 weeks. No BA, no MA, no certifications are needed: just the will to learn and to help learning.
Volunteers and learners or, simply "parelles lingüístiques" (language couples) meet, as I have pointed out, once a week at a place of their convenience. Some places (bars, restaurants, museums, etc) are volunteer-friendly and language couple might get discounts or special offers if they go there. A volunteer-friendly place will usually show this sticker near its door:
Besides meeting once a week to talk in Catalan, language couples are encouraged to take part in the cultural local activities promoted by the Consorci per la Normalització, Lingüística (Consortium for Linguistic Normalisation) which is the organisation in charge of coordinating the whole initiative.
Language volunteering is an initiative by La Generalitat (the Catalan government) to promote the use of Catalan. Though direct government implication in the programme began in 2003, the idea comes from university language volunteering, which began at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in 1996 and rapidly extended to other Catalan universities.
This is indeed a great way to promote Catalan, as opposed to boring, imposing language policies. Besides, volunteers and learners enrich themselves culturally and help the former see "the other" as an equal and the later can fully integrate in Catalonia, as the language will no longer be a barrier.
My mother became a language volunteer in March-April this year. She first was a volunteer for a very smart Moroccan girl until June and, since last week, she is a volunteer for a Colombian and a Polish girl. She is so happy people are eager to learn Catalan and she takes it very seriously. I believe she passed on this will to me too, as I am thinking to become a volunteer too! I just hope I find some free time ;).
By the way...my mother and "her" learners have become locally "famous" (just joking) because of this picture in one of the local newspapers in my area: