Even President Franco could speak English, albeit his speeches were usually read from scripts, but in this modern day era, when the language is increasingly used in political circles, a recent survey carried out amongst English teachers in Spain says that nine out of ten feel that current Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, wouldn’t pass a high-school English test.
Indeed three out of four of those surveyed go rather further in saying that the PM, who recently turned down free English classes, wouldn’t even pass a primary school English exam.
These are just some of the findings of Cambridge University Press’s latest study on the status of the English language in Spain.
There was one famous example of course which was well publicized at the time of Margaret Thatcher’s death last year, which cause the Spanish first minister to breathe an almighty sigh of relief.
He was due to hold a press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron in which his famously questionable command of the English language was sure to be put to the test.
But news of the former British leader’s death meant that Cameron had to leave Spain rather quickly and Rajoy was spared the need to display his linguistic skills.
The most he could manage in his first encounter with Cameron was to stammer out a few words in Spanglish. A video of him telling the British Prime Minister “It’s very difficult todo esto (all this)” has had thousands of views on YouTube.
But it wasn’t only the proficiency of Rajoy that was called into question in the survey.
Of the 1000 teachers working here in Spain from schools, universities and private language academies that took part in the survey over 90% criticized their politicians for a lack of English language skills while 88% of them said that the country’s politicians had worse English than any of their peers in the European Union. 94% said they had felt embarrassed when listening to Spanish politicians speaking English.
They said that it would take 15 years for Spain to bring these levels up to those of other European countries.
Cambridge University Press spokesperson Julio Redondas told Spain’s Efe news agency “We have a historical and cultural hang-up which is hard to shake. But many things can change over a generation,” said Redondas who said “persistence” was key to learning a language. “
But he highlighted that almost all teachers (98 percent) said that Spaniards were more aware of the need to speak English than 10 years ago.
But while the teachers criticize many of their leaders poor foreign language skills, some are veritable inspirations.
The new King, Felipe VI, is fluent in English as well as speaking excellent Catalan, French and some Greek while his father, former King Juan Carlos, who abdicated just 2 weeks ago, can speak French, Portuguese, Italian and English. The former president of the Madrid region, Esperanza Aguirre, is proficient in English and fluent in French.
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