Am I talking your language?


I AM occasionally rebuked for criticising the inability of key Spanish personnel to speak at least some English.

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Much of the Costas infrastructures are no-go areas for English speakers.

‘Hello. This is Spain’ I am told. Yes I know but tourism, lifestyle, retirement and commercial investment is as important to Spain as coal once was to northern Europeans.

What do you do when you want it; you mine it. Spain is deficient in the tools needed to attract investment. Most emigrating Europeans that head for Australia, Canada, New Zealand and U.S. do so because they are English speaking.

That is lost investment; jobs and prosperity to rivals. Spain’s housing sector 1.7 million jobs reportedly lost by 2012 with tourism probably similar.

As an Irish national I am conscious of second fiddle language; my father spoke Gaelic. As a small child I moved to a Welsh village where everyone spoke their language, not mine.

I adore Latvia, dubbed the Canada of Europe. There, language is a thorny issue; 40 percent of the people are Russian speaking.

But I am a realist and know the importance of the English language in the world of commerce.

A Spanish restaurateur is a realist too: ‘I couldn’t run this business without English-speaking staff but I could without Spanish.’ Common sense at last! I am not suggesting the Spanish become English speaking. That is a matter of choice and expediency. But, if I was a Spanish business owner and as many as 50 per cent of my potential clients were English speaking – which is not the same as being English – I am going to set out my stall in the language of my customers.

Robert McCrum, hardly an English name, writing for British daily The Observer, writes: ‘Through the power of global media there is more than ever before a market for literature where the default language will be British or American English.’

Translated this means that whatever your language it would be wise to sharpen up your English language skills. According to the British Council, backed by reliable sources, about half the world’s population, 3.5 billion people, have knowledge of, or acquaintance with, ‘some kind of English.

For the first time in human history it has become possible for one language to be transmitted and received virtually anywhere on the planet.’ Unlike the universal English language Spanish is confined mostly to Spain, Latin and Central America.

It is perfectly understandable that this is an emotive issue but let us understand something about language, especially the English language.

It moves: Less than 1,000 years ago the ruling language of England was French; peasants spoke Germanic Saxon. The French language, like Spanish, is mainly of Latin (Italian) origin.

English is pidgin European with so few words uniquely English we couldn’t converse without the German and Latin input. There is no language more suited to being the rest of the world’s second language.

Build it into the Costas infrastructure and massive investment will follow.

Photo credit: Andrew Havis


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