The English Demand
There is a very strong demand to learn English as a second language nowadays. As more and more bilingual schools open, the demand for bilingual teachers increases. Qualified bilingual teachers are more likely to get permanent teaching positions and are more likely have job security, two very important things to have during Spain’s financial crisis. Those who do not have a C1 speaking level, the required level to be able to teach bilingually, are jumping on board to learn English. This means going to an English school at least twice a week, receiving private lessons from language assistants like myself, and doing their own self-study on top of teaching full-time, having families, children and you know those things called “lives”. It’s time-consuming, expensive, and stressful. They feel as though they are forced to do all of this because, if not, it means unemployment.
But why are they being “forced” to learn English? As a result of globalization, English is dominating the world as a main language. We, as a society, are more connected than ever and have to communicate in some way. Over 50 countries use English as their primary language. Throughout the business and technology world, English is the primary language spoken. It is also often used as a third party language to communicate across cultures. I was on a flight back from Berlin to Madrid and the flight attendant needed to tell a Spanish couple sitting in the emergency exit seats that their bags needed to be moved. She did not speak Spanish and the passengers did not speak German. How did they communicate? English. Without this common language it would have been a very confusing situation.
However, just because English is the global language does not mean that native English speakers shouldn’t bother to learn a second language. Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in the world, followed by Spanish. English comes in third. There are 399 million Spanish speakers in the world and over 20 countries where Spanish is the primary language. So why aren’t we (English speakers) ‘forced’ to learn a second language? Because we don’t have to. I’m not saying that as an ignorant English speaker, but the reality is that we are very lucky to speak English. Teachers in the U.S. aren’t going to be without jobs if they don’t speak a second language in comparison to the situation I described above. We have the privilege of watching all mainstream movies and TV shows in their native language, English. We have the privilege of traveling from one country to another with ease because all airports have information in English. And we are made to feel that we are given a “hall pass” from learning a second language because it isn’t stressed at all in our public school curricula. But does that mean we should take that hall pass? Not acknowledging that fact that we are lucky to speak English, and assuming everyone does and should speak English, is ignorant. Another situation that happened in Berlin prompted my motivation to write this blog and the story goes as follows:
I was ordering food at a café and I wanted to know if there were any breakfast sandwiches with eggs. The cashier didn’t understand my question and spoke very little English. Luckily a young man in front of me translated everything and the result was no, no egg sandwiches :/ (a shame because I really wanted one). But more importantly, I felt embarrassed. I felt that the cashier felt embarrassed because she couldn’t understand what I was saying. But shouldn’t it have been the other way around? Shouldn’t I have been the flustered one for not understanding German? After all, I was in Germany!
Of course for every country you go to you cannot become fluent in that language. That’s not realistic. But I do think that it is our job to try, out of respect for each other’s cultures, to learn basic communication points. That means learning the basic words like hello, please, thank you, goodbye and cheers.
Throughout my time in Spain I have met people who only speak Spanish, but I’ve met more people who speak Spanish and English. I’ve met others who know Spanish, English, French, and more. Some of my students speak Spanish, English, Romanian, and are learning French. I’m 22 years old and can speak one language fluently and am currently working on the second. I don’t know anyone from the United States who has gone to a bilingual elementary school. I think it’s time we move away from the English-only mindset and broaden our language abilities. Just because we, native English speakers, are not forced to learn another language, doesn’t mean we should discount the benefits of doing so.