English has always been important in Spain, but there have been some notable changes in its use and importance since I came to teach here in 1986, in Catalonia.
Then, anybody who could afford the steep fees would send their children to private British or American schools in Barcelona to ensure they achieved a high level of fluency and a good accent, but in modern, post-Olympics Catalonia, state schools have fought back. More hours of English are now taught, and the subject is introduced at an earlier age. Teachers have become better equipped to face the challenge of teaching English to large classes with a huge range of educational resources now available to them.
However, I would argue that in the attempt to make the textbooks livelier and more interesting, quality has suffered. Students are now faced with searching frantically through an overload of trendy vocabulary, most of which they will never use, to find the grammar points, and then they are also expected to cram answers into the tiny spaces provided. Their level of English, however, and especially spoken, has improved without a doubt. As a lover of literature, I would love to be able to claim this was due to the influence of Shakespeare, Keats, Orwell or even J.K.Rowling, but I am afraid to say that it’s down to Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.
The internet has had a bigger effect on the spread of the English language than anyone could have predicted. Computer and internet technology started in English and is still used worldwide. Even children are familiar with computer jargon and the boom in the video games industry has led to millions of young people connecting online to play against each other. YouTube has also played a huge role in encouraging young people to watch videos in English or follow their favourite bloggers.
For Brits like me, there has been a price to pay as British English has been knocked off its pedestal by its American cousins. I am resigned to the fact that when I ask my students how they are, they will answer ‘I’m good’ instead of ‘I’m fine’, and talk about High School and Shopping Malls but that’s okay. I’m cool with it!
The one thing that is alarming me, however, is the intrusion of English into Spanish and Catalan. With two rich languages to choose from, what need is there to start using English terms?
Back in the 80s there was some spanglish around – a dinner jacket was a esmoquin, there were campings and parquings, and nylon tights have always been pantys, but all of a sudden we have been completely inundated with it. Wellness, peeling, lifting, marketing, footing, mitin, over-booking … the list is endless.
Baloncesto flows beautifully off the tongue so why do we have to use (incorrectly) the English word basket? Does English sound more efficient and innovative for some reason? Why has Caixabank become a store? Can you buy T-shirts and key-rings there? And even if you could, why not call it a botiga? What is happening? Estate agents are busy trying to sell people lofts when a loft is, in fact, the neglected space under the roof where you keep your Christmas decorations.
And what about strange hybrid words? Who on earth came up with puenting? Why not call it saltaponts? The prize, however, has to go to alto standing.
Please, whoever you are out there, if you are going to steal some words from English – then at least use them correctly.
This article first appeared in L’Eco de Sitges on 6 August.
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