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Economy Pushes Spanish to Learn English

A book fair in Madrid. More Spaniards are learning English these days.
A book fair in Madrid. More Spaniards are learning English these days.

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

Spain is struggling with a recession. More than one in five Spaniards are out of work. Unemployment is the highest of the seventeen nations that use the euro. But one area of the economy that seems to be doing well is English classes.

A report this year from the EF Education First company listed Spain is a "low proficiency" country in English. Spain ranked just below Italy and just above Taiwan.

About a fifth of the world speaks Spanish.


There are many Spanish language TV shows and movies. Spaniards can also watch Hollywood movies dubbed in Spanish or news from Latin America.

One of the few English voices on Spanish TV belongs to Richard Vaughan.

RICHARD VAUGHAN: "Hello and welcome back to another half-hour segment of Cloverdale's Corner. Today is Tuesday, and Lourdes has had to leave but we still have four people here ... "

Richard Vaughan is from Texas but for thirty-five years has lived in Spain. He operates that country's biggest English teaching company. It even has its own TV channel. "Aprende Ingles" -- Learn English -- is Spain's only national channel in English.

He says people watch his channel and take his classes to get a better job.

RICHARD VAUGHAN: "People don't learn English here for cultural reasons. Some do. But the motive is always, ninety-nine percent of the time, professional."

Modern changes in the world economy -- globalization -- may offer chances for a better job in another country. But economic problems at home can also make people feel they have few other choices.

NICK BYRNE: "People realize, you know, they are not only going to have to be mobile out of a choice, but they are going to have to be mobile because of necessity."

Nick Byrne is director of the language center at the London School of Economics.

NICK BYRNE: "We found that, in our university language centers across the UK and indeed across Europe, that language learning is up. We're not talking about people doing a whole degree in languages, but people going on evening courses -- English courses particularly."

In Spain, some of those studying English hope for jobs in Britain or the United States. But others want to work for international companies with offices in Spain. Many companies now require workers to be bilingual.

Dominic Campbell is an American who lives in Madrid and teaches English part time.

DOMINIC CAMPBELL: "It's a lot of jobs now are actually mandatory that you know at least two languages and a lot of them actually want at least Spanish and English. And, a lot of them are asking for Spanish, English and French -- especially airlines."

Mr. Campbell says many of his students thought speaking Spanish was enough.

DOMINIC CAMPBELL: "They just think, you know, 'My English is poor, I don't want to speak it, I don't want to learn how to speak it. I've got Spanish, that's all I need.'"

But people also need jobs. More than forty percent of Spaniards in their twenties are out of work. Inigo Gomez has a degree in education.

INIGO GOMEZ: "I'm a teacher, and I couldn't find a job here. So I think it's a good idea to go to the United Kingdom and try to find a job as a Spanish teacher."

And while he does that, many Spaniards for the first time will be spreading their new education in English at home.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report. I'm Bob Doughty.


Contributing: Lauren Frayer