I was watching Spain play Sweden in the Euro 2008 championship last night (Spain won 2-1) when I saw this Nike advert about Fernando Torres, a Liverpool FC player. It brought to my mind the fact that Spanish is increasingly becoming more popular in primary and secondary schools across the country. It also made me think about the reasons why Spanish is becoming so popular. Unfortunately it also reminded me of the hostility some teachers of French and German feel against this invader.
Traditionally French and German have been the most popular Modern Foreign Languages taught in the UK. However there has been a trend in recent years that has seen a monumental growth of the popularity of Spanish, so much so that in some schools Spanish has become the number one language, often to the detriment of German.
I am a Spanish and German teacher, so I welcome the progress made by Spanish, but I am also a Germanist, so the fact that German is being pushed out of the curriculum worries me greatly: I’d like to remain a languages (plural) teacher, not just a Spanish teacher.
What really saddens me, however, is the attitude of some fellow MFL teachers, who clearly see the Spanish advance as an encroaching threat, not an exciting new opportunity for pupils. These teachers were mostly educated in an era, the 60s and 70s, when Spanish was not seen as an important language for business or culture.
Spain then was a pariah state, one of the only remaining dictatorships in Europe, having struggled to rebuild itself after a devastating civil war with no Marshall Plan Aid and having followed a misguided policy of self-sufficiency during the 40s. The problem is that that was then but some MFL teachers still think that Spain is a less developed, less sophisticated country whose language is not as worthy of being learnt as say French, German or Italian.
These preconceptions and prejudices annoy me intensely because the Spain these teachers knew I only know from History books (I was one year old when Franco died and Spain transitioned peacefully to democracy). They, of course, assume that things haven’t changed much since.
I also find ironic that MFL teachers who have spent countless open evenings extolling the virtues of learning MFL in general and fighting against an increasingly hostile attitude from parents and government, now switch sides to attack the apparent popularity of another Modern Language, Spanish, using the same misconceived rhetoric of prejudice and stereotypes.
Having been at the butt end of countless Manuel from Fawlty Towers jokes (which I take on the chin, after all it’s a very funny programme), I can bear witness to the fact that this stereo-typification is alive and well amongst people of a certain age. It’s funny but it does not represent the typical view most British young people have of Spanish people today: Manuel the waiter has metamorphosed into Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabregas, Fernando Alonso or Rafa Nadal, highlighting the fact that Spanish people are no longer perceived as poor and backward but as exciting, passionate and successful. Compare that to the average German or French stereotype and you have a partial answer as to why Spanish is becoming more popular.
Spanish is no longer the language you speak with your waiter while on holiday on the Costas. The facts are that Spanish has become the second most important business language in the world after English; Spanish companies now own the likes of Abbey, BAA and O2 among other companies in the UK and many other companies around the world; and the Spanish economy is the eighth largest economy in the world, bigger than that of Russia, Canada or India just to name three (out of 190 countries).
I am also not oblivious to the fact that Spanish is spoken by roughly half a billion native speakers in 21 other countries, mainly in Latin America and the United States, many more if you count those who speak it as a second language. Both Spain and Latin America have rich historical and cultural heritages, as well as a vibrant popular culture, making learning Spanish even more attractive to our young people.
I know I am probably preaching to the converted, but I sometimes feel so despondent that otherwise intelligent linguists persist in perceiving Spain by means of antiquated stereotypes that I want to say iros a la porra to the lot of them.
What is your experience? Do you feel the same way?
Click here to see similar adverts from the Nike website.