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Monday February 11, 2013

It’s about time that British and Spanish politicians learnt another lingo

Shadow Europe Minister Emma Reynolds, MP, has been criticised for claiming more than £600 worth of Spanish lessons on expenses but was it really such a crime?

The British are notoriously bad at learning to speak other languages and so if a politician has made the effort to attend classes presumably with a view to communicating more effectively with her counterparts in Europe, I think that’s to be applauded. Aside from notable language enthusiasts such as London Mayor, Boris Johnson, MEP Daniel Hannan or deputy PM Nick Clegg- who luckily has a Spanish wife with whom to practise his grammar- it’s rare to hear of British politicians speaking confidently in another tongue. Predictably they expect everyone else to opt for the universally adopted English language but they’d have one heck of a problem over here in Majorca.

The Spanish are almost as phobic as the British when it comes to learning other lingos although admittedly in areas of mass tourism on the mainland, Baleares and Canary islands, the English language is spoken widely by those in the hospitality and travel sectors. Still, when it comes to Spanish politicians there’s a real resistance to bucking the trend with president Mariano Rajoy admitting to a poor grasp of English while his predecessor, José Luis Zapatero was ridiculed for his lack of linguistics.

In Majorca, birthplace of British holiday packages, it’s even worse. Some years ago when I had dealings with the Balearic tourism department I was genuinely shocked at the lack of basic language skills among those politicians promoting tourism to the English and German markets. In a decade of living in the Baleares I don’t think there’s been one tourism minister capable of uttering an entire sentence in our language or in German for that matter. Do please correct me if you know better.
Word has it that recently installed Balearic president, José Ramón Bauza, has a good knowledge of English which must be a relief to visiting British tour operators although none will get very far with Carlos Delgado, current Balearic minister for tourism who is more famous for his deer hunting than his ability to dalliance with the English language.

Some have a natural talent for languages while others sadly do not. For many it can be a hard slog and require determination, diligence and a lot of practice. However, once conquered there is nothing more satisfying that being able to converse with a native speaker even at the most basic level.

It would do our insular politicians – both in the UK and Spain- a world of good to take a leaf out of MP Emma Reynolds’ book and attempt to learn a new language instead of resting on their laurels. Internationally English might indeed be most widely spoken closely followed by Spanish but there is no excuse for complacency.
Languages open doors to truly understanding the culture and idiosyncrasies of another country. If politicians on the world stage are too apathetic to make the effort, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever arrive at the point where we’re all speaking the same language.

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