The one bright spot in Spain’s troubled economy is foreign language study, offering a hint at the direction of Spain’s labor force—out. Spain is the final letter in PIGS, the acronym used to describe those European Union countries overburdened with debt, and the Spanish economy, with 20% unemployment, is unlikely to get better any time soon.
So Spaniards have seen the economic writing on the wall, and have discovered that it’s not written in Spanish. More Spaniards than ever are seeking work in other EU nations. Problem is they don’t speak the language. The EU engine runs on English and German, and up until recently, it was all Spanish in Spain.
Raphael Minder reported from Madrid for the NYT: “The economic crisis is also forcing more adult Spaniards to return to the classroom—and not just to learn English. Applications to learn German this spring semester have risen 15 percent from a year ago, according to the Madrid office of the Goethe-Institut, which promotes German culture abroad. That follows a recent recruitment initiative by the German government to add about 500,000 engineers from other countries to keep its economy growing.”
For the kids, the focus is on English, in an attempt to reverse a decline in English knowledge reflecting a perceived general decline in education standards in Spain over the last generation. Richard Vaughan, originally from Texas and the owner of the largest English-language cram school in Spain, claims a Texas-sized English comprehension problem among Spanish college grads, where “fewer than 5 percent of the students graduating from schools of engineering, law or business posses a working knowledge of English.”
A new Madrid advertising campaign to promote bilingual education, “Yes, we want” irritates English purists (Dennis Baron writes long on this here), but is a sign of new language times for Spain.
With jobs short in Spanish, Spaniards have to learn other languages to work. The open employment market in Europe creates regional employment opportunities for those who speak the regional languages, and leaves monoglots stranded in-country. Eurostat has interesting numbers on foreign language learning in the EU. Paychecks are attractive regardless of the language they are printed in.
Learning a second language is accomplished for love or money. I suspect for most it is money, although in my case it was both. What about you readers? I wonder if those who learn for love learn more or less than those in pursuit of a paycheck.