Spain Not Serious About English

MyProfe   Tuesday, August 31, 2004, 10:13 GMT
Whether you believe that the education our children receive in today’s schools should include a wide range of subjects or whether they should be allowed to specialize early on in a specific field, you can’t deny the importance of second language skills. The failure of the government and the educational system to take the proper steps to address this issue has given rise to an ever increasing number of people being refused entry into the job market because of a lack of language skills. Having lost the opportunity to pick up a second language at an age and in an environment conducive to learning, these young adults are forced to put their profession careers on hold in order to study on their own what they should have been taught in school. The politicians claim that they have everything under control and that the next generation of children will be bilingual.
nic   Tuesday, August 31, 2004, 11:53 GMT
Especially when you know it must be a serious advantage to speak spanish and english which is more usefull than english-french. If you speak spanish and english, you can communicate with the world. With french only a few countries.
Sanja   Wednesday, September 01, 2004, 15:37 GMT
I agree. It happens here as well. Most people don't learn English in school that well, they just learn what it takes to get a grade and then forget it. Most people go to all kinds of courses to learn English, because it is hard to get a well paid job without it. I learnt English on the Internet much better than I did in school. :)
MJGR   Friday, September 03, 2004, 15:40 GMT
I am from Spain and it is true what you say about language teaching in my country. One of the biggest problems is that usually, and especially in the public education system, English teachers have no idea about the subject they are supposed to teach. In fact, during the 80's a lot of teachers were employed by the Government without having being obliged to pass any examination. Indeed, the most important factor to obtain the job were your "friends". It is a total shame, especially for the underprivileged classes as they cannot afford no alternative English.
Jordi   Friday, September 03, 2004, 16:41 GMT
I also am from Spain. In Spain to work in the Public Education System you have to pass public service exams known as "councursos-oposiciones" and you need to have to have a degree in English (4/5 years at Uni) with a special CAP course to teach afterwards. It is exactly the same system as France, for example and most of the western countries I know. It has always been like this, for ages, since I went to school here in the seventies and eighties.
I agree, and I've said so elsewhere, that the aural level of non-native English speakers isn't always the best --since more importance is given to writing than to speaking but this is one thing and another quite different is to speak without knowing what one is speaking about. I will not discuss this subject any further since there is enough information in the web regarding qualifications and exams in the Spanish education system. The only schools that can choose --just with an interview-- their teachers are private schools and, of course, that is where the better-off Spaniards send their offspring. I would have thought they would have chosen even more carefully than the rest of lower mortals, but since the best teachers are usually in Public Schools it's hardly surprising that they sometimes have to choose amongst their ex-students.Anyway, these also compulsorily need to present the right qualifications (a degree in English Philology or English Translation and a CAP for teaching).
Mxsmanic   Friday, September 03, 2004, 17:28 GMT
Latin countries as a group tend to show very poor performance in foreign languages. It's cultural. Unless cultural attitudes change, I don't expect to see any improvement.
MJGR   Monday, September 06, 2004, 08:59 GMT
Excuse me Jordi, but you are a little wrong. I have a lot of relatives who are teachers and who know what has happened in the last years. Perhaps saying that a lot of English teachers in the 80s have not passed an "exam" at all is an overstatement but the truth is that the concept of exam is a little ambiguous. An extremely easy exam is an exam? Is an exam a real exam if the people who have the chance to take part in it are only those who have been previously chosen in an obscure way to teach at the public schools in a temporary scheme?
I have studied in the Public School and, as far as English teaching is concerned, it is a total shame. And the teachers are the main culprits of that. I don't say that because all teachers are bad, but just the opposite. As there are teachers that are not so horrible you cannot doubt that others obtained their job in spite of their knowledge of the English language.
If you say that the situation has changed I hope it to be the truth but what nobody can deny is that there are English teachers in Spain now who lack the basic skills needed to teach English and even to use it.
Jordi   Monday, September 06, 2004, 10:04 GMT
Excuse me MJGR but I don't pretend to be too much of a Spanish patriot --remember I'm Catalan-- but I happen to be a Spanish University graduate in Translation and Interpreting (major in English), and an ex-professor, and your previous post was quite devastating.
The exam for "oposiciones" (competitive examinations) has always been extremely difficult and far too memoristic. Over 100 themes (temas) and a few years without seeing the light of day for the lucky ones. Quite useless, sometimes, I agree, all the way from Old English...
Unfortunately the oral part has never been well evaluated and far too much importance is given to writing and theory. Not everybody is born to be a teacher! I agree to that, as is the case in many other European countries. I've heard English teachers of Spanish and French teachers of Spanish and their oral Spanish is quite often not as good as it should be, specially for those who haven't spent to much time travelling, speaking and listening. Then again, as far as languages are concerned, I'm more and more convinced that there are those who've got it and those that don't, although much can be achieved through effort and some potentially bright students never got the class level.
Regarding who are the main culprits of the Education system's results, Spain isn't different to the rest of the civilised world. Education depends on the family, on the school and, last but certainly not least, on the student. Although, one must never forget how much the Government spends on Education and foreign language laboratories, for instance. Many 25 year olds complain at how little English (or French, or Spanish) they learnt in school due to their teacher's fault and hardly remember how little attention they paid to their English classes when they were 15. I agree that 3/4 hrs. per week isn't enough, specially if the student isn't interested or motivated to pursevere in his own time. I agree that there are teachers that are good or worse as there are doctors, lawyers or whatever that don't really excel in their job.
When I gave classes, a few years ago, I was the same teacher for all and I can tell you I loved my job. How do you explain, then, that some learnt English whilst others didn't learn any English at all? We could write a thesis and never end. The fact is that mainly stress, due to some of the worst students, those who complain the most and do the least, made me move to greener and more profitable pastures because teachers' wages aren't exactly want one expects from life if one is ambitious enough to move on. Furthermore, I'm not supposed to teach good manners and discipline to teenagers since I'm qualified to teach English. I've always thought that was their parents' job but I'm quite sure most parents would say they've got nothing to do with this.
MJGR   Monday, September 06, 2004, 11:23 GMT
To Jordi,

As I have said some of my relatives are teachers in the Public System. My sister obtained her job as a Maths teacher a couple of years ago after studying very hard for two years. She obtained very good grades while she was in the university and I am sure that she is very prepared to teach Maths. But, for example, my mother is also a Maths teacher and she has workmates who dare not teach to the higher years because they lack the neccessary preparation for that. And among the reasons that provoke that situation one of the most important is that they have obtained their stable jobs as teachers after making an easier exam (it was called "turno restringido") reserved to people who had been working for several years as temporary teachers or, even if the did the same exam than other people, they were given a lot of points per every year they have been working. And among who have benefited from this policy sometimes there are people who have not studied Maths at the niversity but other options such as Biology.
I understand that if you are a teacher who has worked very hard to obtain your job it is very unpleasent to feel that you are being compared to people who have become teachers without the necessary effort, specially if you strive to teach your students as much as you can. But I think that it is also necessary to looke at things from the other point of view, that is, the students' point of view. For example, I obtained while I was in High School the best grades in English ("sobresaliente", the equivalente to A or A+ or something like that) the four years I spent there. And the fact is that I didn't discover until I was 17 years old that adjectives in English are invariable (that is, you say "red cars", not "reds cars"). Can you imagine somebody obtaining the best grades and not knowing that after more than five years studying English? Were my teachers paid for that?
Because of all this, I think that it is the good teachers in the public system who should be the most eager in trying to remove the policies that have allowed the Education System of our country to deteriorate so much and they should be the first to recognise the mistakes that have been made in the selection processes.
Jordi   Monday, September 06, 2004, 12:25 GMT
I found your post very interesting and I've taken note of all that. I now know what you were speaking about. The reason why those Spanish professors people worked several years with temporary contracts was because the Government, specially in the late seventies, could pay them less and exploit them more. They usually came from the "Oposiciones" lists since professors who had passed lower on the list, without being given a permanent job, were afterwards called upon with lower salaries. They had to struggle for quite a few years since at a certain moment of life young people tend to get older and want to get married and have a home and children. That doesn't leave much time for travelling and up-to-date courses.
After many years, they were given "points, so as to be able to compete for the job with younger generations. A job they had been doing for quite a few years and, many of them, quite well. I understand the later generations --many of whom had been their students-- were probably better prepared but it became a political issue and trade unions had to fight for these people, who had worked in very hard conditions. Anyway, as I told you before, I've known young brilliant professors losing ground and more mediocre ones blossoming and thriving throughout the years.
Obviously, your present day level of English is excellent, meaning that you have made great progress since your High School days. People wanting to be really bilingual or even trilingual need to start really early. In that sense I was lucky because I lived in several countries as a child due to my father's job.
Some public schools in Catalonia are implementing new programmes where children learn Catalan, Spanish and English from 1st grade in Primary School. That should do a lot to make sure future students have a good knowledge of languages in the future. As you know, speaking three languages makes it easier when learning the fourth, and the sooner you do it the more your brain is a sponge.
I spoke four languages fluently by the time I was 10 years old (Catalan, Spanish, English and French) and I've learnt several languages afterwards (Italian, Portuguese, Occitan and German.) The languages I speak the best are the four I spoke as a child but that has made me much better with other languages; specially those that are in the linguistic family tree.
MJGR   Tuesday, September 07, 2004, 08:44 GMT
To Jordi,

That remark of "your present day level of English is excellent" was very pleasant. Yours is also very good :-).
Jordi   Tuesday, September 07, 2004, 09:19 GMT
Dear MGJR:
The fact is I learnt French and English before I learnt Spanish. I was born in France and brought up in Australia, since I was little more than a toddler, and my parents only spoke Catalan at home. By the way, both my parents also speak French and English.
I learnt Spanish in Spanish classes at the Spanish Club of Sydney, from the time I was 7 or 8. As you can see, there is not need to change languages at home to learn a foreign language, which happens to be official in your native country. When we moved back to Catalonia my Spanish improved greatly and I sound like any other Catalan speaking Spanish. ;-)