English in the school system
All students in Spain study English in primary and secondary school. In the 2007/2008 school year the starting age was dropped from 8 to 6 as English became a high priority for the Spanish Ministry of Education. There is no requirement to learn a second foreign language, although French, German, Chinese and other languages are sometimes offered. Universities in Spain are struggling to adjust their curricula to the European Bologna Plan, according to which students need a B1 level in English to graduate from university. Over 100,000 Spanish students study abroad each summer in an English speaking country through their school or a private company.
Over the last ten years, Regional Governments have trained thousands of students and teachers in ESL and paid for many of them to take training courses abroad in an effort to raise the level of foreign language education in Spanish schools. As part of a national push to improve foreign language skills, the Ministry of Education established a scholarship program in 2007 which funds language courses abroad for teachers and students over 15 and commonly known as “Becas Mec”. Since then over 150,000 students have spent three weeks studying languages abroad at the expense of the government, and 10,000 teachers have received 6 week scholarships for professional training abroad.
Despite the ubiquity of English in school, a recent survey by the official Spanish statistics institution (CIS) revealed that 63% of Spanish people claim they cannot speak English and only 23% claim to speak English well. English learning has changed significantly in the Spanish educational system over the past decade and the results of those changes are not yet visible in the adult population.
English at Work
According to a recent survey by The Hay Group, 70% of Spanish senior managers do not speak English, one of the highest levels in Europe. However, only 40% of Spaniards told the CIS that they felt they had been disadvantaged at some point in their careers due to their poor English skills.
Each year 100,000 people in Spain take the Cambridge ESOL exam in order to have accreditation of their English language skills when applying for a job. But although 17% of Spain’s workforce is officially employed in the tourism industry, English skills are not necessary in the workplace for the majority of the population.
Culture and Attitudes towards English
The overall attitude towards English in Spain is that it is a requirement for the future according to the media and politicians, but that it is a chore to acquire and maintain according to popular sentiment. In day to day life, Spanish people have few opportunities to put their English to use and little motivation to seek out those opportunities. According to the CIS, 40% of the adult population agrees that mastering English is important but less than 6% is actively studying it. Spaniards are far less likely to travel internationally than other Europeans and one third of the population has never been abroad. They spend less per holiday than members of any other major European economy, indicating that their trips abroad tend not to take them far from home for long periods.
It was not until the late 60’s that the very first foreign films were screened without dubbing. They had no commercial success, and to this day there are few cinemas in Spain that show foreign films in their original language although the number is increasing in large cities. The size of the Spanish-language market has always justified the dubbing of TV and film imported from abroad. Spain is the 5th largest feature-film producing country in the world after India, the US, Japan and France.
In October 2010, a heated debate began when the current Minister of Education suggested that the policy on dubbing films and television shows in Spain be revised to show more media in its original language. He argued that this would force both adults and children to become more comfortable with spoken English. The opposition argues that Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language in the world, and Spain should focus more on its regional languages than on English.
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