This year, I am fortunate enough to be both teaching (English) AND taking (Spanish) classes in two of Spain’s “Escuelas Oficiales de Idiomas” (Official Language Schools). These schools exist all over the country and offer classes in a variety of languages including Spanish language classes for foreigners like myself. The schools are public and very low-cost. I paid just 70€ (about $90) for an entire school year of classes–4.5 hrs/week or a total of over 120 hours of class. That means I pay less than $1/hour to attend classes. When I started attending classes at the University of North Dakota back in 2006, I remember learning that my cost per hour of class instruction was around $20/hour. And I’m sure it has increased substantially in the past six years. Put another way: attending classes in 2006 at one of the cheapest universities in the US cost me twenty times more than attending classes in 2012 in the center of one of Spain’s largest cities. Go figure.
With Spain’s economy in the dumps, many educational programs are on the chopping block. Just like everywhere else in this recession, cuts need to be made somewhere, but I definitely side with the argument that education should be one of the last places to be making cuts. The whole reason why I’m able to be here in Spain today is because of a program that was created for the need for Spanish people to learn English so they can compete in the global job market. If language programs continue to be cut, the young Spanish people currently out of work (currently almost 50% of young adults in Spain) will fall behind even more. The low-cost language classes offered at these schools are crucial for Spain’s future.
Side note: If you are a native English speaker, take a second to be REALLY grateful for that. Somewhere along the way, English became the most important/useful language in the entire WORLD, and you’re already a master at it just because of where you were born. Now, more importantly, realize that the fact that you are indeed a native English speaker: 1. is by pure chance 2. does not make you better than anyone else, and 3. shouldn’t make you feel like you’re off-the-hook for learning another language. Learning another language (or two or three) will broaden your worldview astoundingly. In summary: don’t be an ethnocentric a-hole.
Below is a video created by the Oficiales de Idiomas de Cádiz y San Fernando in the South of Spain to raise awareness of the importance of keeping Spain’s Official Language School programs alive. The video is subtitled in Spanish, but the people in the video are all speaking the languages they’re currently learning (French, Italian, English, German, etc.) at one of Spain’s Official Language Schools. Even if you don’t know Spanish, it’s worth watching.
The text at the beginning of the video says:
“I don’t learn languages to speak. I speak languages to learn.” Isn’t that beautiful?
Near the end of the video, the creators sum up their plea by saying: “¡Que no nos dejen sin palabras!” which means “Do not leave us speechless!”