As ’tis the season to be jolly‘, I’d like to begin this post on a positive note:
Actually, Spanish are or should be good at learning English for the following reasons:
Firstly, many words in English and Spanish share etymological roots. In other words, there are masses of Spanish and English cognates (maybe 40%). Spaniards have a fairly good chance of correctly guessing the meaning of a new lexical item for this reason. Sure, there are lots of false friends but they are not as numerous as the number of cognates or near cognates. Grammatical structures in the two languages – such as time and aspect – are not as dissimilar as between, for example, Hungarian and Thai, so communicative breakdown due to incorrect or inaccurate grammar can generally be resolved through reformulation.
Secondly, Spanish need to learn English. They are highly motivated (instrumental and increasingly integrative) and not only to pass exams. Young Spanish do not see their short-term future in Spain and are increasingly looking to go abroad to find work. In order to do so, they realise a good level of English is a major advantage and are opting to gain internationally recognised qualifications such as the FCE or CAE in favour of local exams which are not acknowledged abroad. Furthermore, in order to study at universities in Spain, it is now necessary to have a B1/B2 level in English. More money for the Cambridge coffers! The other point to mention here is that – perhaps for the first time ever – lots of Spanish speakers are able to communicate effectively in a second language from outside the Iberian peninsula. Positive role models are everywhere!
Thirdly, Spanish can now watch TV shows in the original language. OK, this is not really an intrinsic quality that Spaniards possess but their love of ‘the idiot box’ means they can use it to improve their English. Lower level learners can listen to English and read Spanish subtitles if they wish and advanced students can challenge themselves and listen without a safety net. Constant exposure to the sound of English can only have a positive effect on speaking and listening skills, areas which were -until recently – neglected in the teaching of English in Spain. Online or on TV, English is everywhere. As mentioned in a previous post, many Latin Americans have a better phonological awareness of English than most Spaniards. Well, watch this space – Spanish will catch up in no time.
Next reason, Spain is still an extremely attractive location for native English speakers. The country is full of Brits living it up in the sun and Americans living out their Hemingway fantasies. There are lots of English speakers in the big cities, a smattering in smaller towns, and, due to books such as ‘Driving over Lemons’, lots of older Brits living in the country. So finding teachers or language exchange partners is fairly easy. It’s a lot easier to have a beer with a Brit in Alicante than Algiers.
Finally, Spanish love to talk. Quickly, loudly, enthusiastically, forcefully. Once they have overcome their fear of embarrassment (el miedo al ridiculo), they love to converse in English. Remember the tertulia (a social gathering to discuss anything and everything) is an important feature in Spanish social and cultural life (just watch TV in the morning) and Spanish students, in my experience, really enjoy discussion activities, role-plays and giving presentations. You’ll find the most challenging part of setting up a speaking task will be ending it! Buy a Klaxon.
Can you think of any other reasons why Spanish should actually be successful learners of English?