Mired in an economic crisis, more and more Spanish people are facing the question “¿Habla inglés?” as they search for jobs.
Being able to speak English fluently is a huge advantage in Spain right now simply because being bilingual gives you a better chance of being able to find a job in another country. According to the New York Times, Spain currently has a 20 percent unemployment rate.
However, being bilingual is an advantage that relatively few Spanish people seem to possess at the moment. The New York Times was not able to find reliable statistics, but did speak to the owner of an English language school in Spain, Richard Vaughn. He estimated that only about 5% of graduates of engineering, law or business programs were able to communicate fluently in English.
Because of this, Spain has begun to revamp its education programs to provide more emphasis on learning a foreign language, usually English. For example, in Madrid, 1/3 of the primary state schools are now bilingual, with students receiving instruction in English as part of their day-to-day classroom experience.
Spanish education official Lucía Figar told the New York Times:
“This is a major step. Until very recently, getting to a decent level of English was simply impossible for any child whose parents didn’t have the money to send their child abroad or to a private school.”
It’s not just English education that’s booming in Spain right now. Enrollments in adult programs that teach German have increased dramatically, as people try to tap into the booming German economy.
The study of Portuguese is also up, as employees of multinational corporations try to master the language to hold on to their jobs. Portuguese teacher Miguel Flor de Lima told the New York Times:
“The crisis means that more companies are treating Spain and Portugal as a single Iberian market and then asking their people to adjust to that. And that leaves employees with no other option than trying to master both languages.”
The situation in Spain is a timely reminder that foreign language skills are a definite advantage in any job market, but especially when things get tough. It’s a message that people in English-speaking countries would do well to heed – after all, some day the shoe may be on the other foot!