Spanish schools are seeking increasing numbers of foreign language educators
But experts stress the importance of classroom expertise over nationality
Spain’s public education system began getting serious about teaching in English almost two decades ago. The first 43 public bilingual centers opened in 1996 as a joint project of the Education Ministry and the British Council, a model that was later adopted and adapted by various regional governments. Students are no longer embarrassed to speak in English, and growing numbers of universities are now offering bilingual degrees.
In the midst of this race to get Spaniards speaking languages early in life, one particular region has reopened the debate on which is the best teaching method. Former Madrid Premier Esperanza Aguirre rebelled against the system in order to hire native speakers without going through public competitions first. By the time a legal change made it possible, Aguirre had already hired around 30 educators from Britain and Northern Ireland to teach physical education, technology and plastic arts in public schools. These teachers speak English, but no Spanish.
This choice – which other regions such as Andalusia want to imitate after establishing the necessary legislation – raises several questions. Is it better to be taught by a native speaker? What is the state of foreign language learning in Spain? What are the essential skills for a language teacher? While there is no one single right profile, all the experts consulted by this newspaper (and the representatives of the main parent associations) agree that the main thing is not so much for the educator to be a native speaker as for him or her to be a good teacher.
(By PILAR ÁLVAREZ & ÓSCAR CORRAL -EL PAÍS)