No Love Lost for English in Spain

I think there is a certain amount of passion, motivation and even charm to be spilled by the teacher that could change this in the classroom. It’s all about a change of perspective: cast a spell, make English the carrot, and stop using it as a stick altogether.

Yes, after several years of teaching English as a foreign language in Spain, and after months of trying to inspire my students to love English for its versatility, liveliness, richness, and even playfulness, I have come to terms with the hard truth: Spaniards don’t like English.

Maybe there is no likability there; maybe that is a moot point; maybe there are several reasons to it. But the fact stands. I am not trying to make it a general statement, to fly this slogan over all Spaniards, or to impose my opinion on just about everybody. Let’s just say I currently don’t see any love lost for the English language in Spain.

From what I could gather, English has always been what Spaniards call la asignatura pendiente – a booed curriculum subject of sorts that pupils and students alike had to stumble upon at some point and that is doomed to never be ticked off the list. For some, the rejection started with the very first primary school English teacher who did not speak English and yet forced irregular verbs and plurals, tenses and adjectives on their pupils. For others, the resentment grew when once on a highly competitive and at the same time relatively restrictive labour market, they found themselves served with the mandatory English exam. To some, English is just the foul-smelling pill they have to swallow to have a chance at a job for life in the public sector. To others, it is just something they have to have in their resumes, since you know… you never know.

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A Tearful Footballer and People Dressed in Flags

It goes without saying that being for or against Catalonia’s hypothetical independence does not help Spaniards pay their mortgages or find decent jobs, make their small businesses take off or stagnate, feed their children or offer them better opportunities in life. Walking on the streets of beautiful Madrid wrapped up in a Spanish flag does not keep anyone from having to go back to work on Monday or taking their kids to school nor does it help them make ends meet.

It was only after I came back from an amazing trip to Vietnam this summer and I was telling a friend how much I had enjoyed it and how I had just fallen in love with the country’s exquisite blend of modernity and authenticity, its mix of cosmopolitan touch and specific traditional nuances and colors that I realized I should come back down from my cloud-eleven holiday. Vietnam is beautiful, but I live in one of the best countries in the world.

And Spain being one of the best countries in the world makes this madness of showing off flags and giving out dramatically dense and yet sadly locked-in, narrow-minded, and immovable political speeches all the more absurd and aberrant. The mere fact that the drama-queen tears of a Catalan footballer made it to the headlines of news bulletins around Europe is ridiculous. That footballer maybe leaving Spain’s football team because of what he said on national TV – along with the utter nonsense of professionals actually showing interest in what he had to say on the topic as to allow him precious on-air time – is just bad journalism and definitely not news.

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The Small Box of Everything

There is always one little box in my house (there was one in all the houses I have lived) that I never get to unpack and it just remains stranded in a corner or a cabinet, but always easy to be found and forever open. I had filled a whole box with all the tickets, invitations, train or plane fares, brochures and whatnot when I first came back home from Germany and I am currently filling one up with everything I want to remember from Spain.

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In the Basque Country, it’s All About the Stories and the Food

The first time I came to the Basque Country, it was pretty late during my stay in Spain. I had traveled to Valencia and Andalucía, to Catalonia and even remote Galicia before I ever got the chance to visit the first marvelous Basque city. One of the great things about my job back then was that I didn’t have to be a common tourist. I didn’t have to take pictures, make sure I was in those pictures, take long walks with an itinerary at hand and come back to the hotel, exhausted, but with wonderful memories to tell my friends once I went back to the normal routine of life. Nope, I got to visit each of those parts of Spain with a purpose – a professional purpose.

First I was in Bilbao to cover a huge anniversary exhibition honoring a Romanian sculptor at the Guggenheim’s and I discovered a gorgeously clean town, wishing I could go back and live there when I retired; then I came back at an international congress on political communication and mysteriously enough, an enchanted book called “The Basque History of the World” came my way; I was sent to cover the famous film festival in San Sebastian during some wonderfully sunny fall days; more recently, I think I got to understand what it was all (or almost all) about the Basque gastronomy and especially one part of it where it isn’t just that, the food, because Vitoria-Gasteiz also means jazz, history, monuments, marvels and even inspiration for contemporary fiction.

I thought I knew all about the history, the unique ancient language these people talk, their unknown origins and even the radicalism of some political views. Continue reading “In the Basque Country, it’s All About the Stories and the Food”