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NEWS | Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Zapatero’s EUR1,000 gift brings students to Malta

Fed with a national reputation for not speaking foreign language, the Spanish government has embarked upon a campaign to ship out as many young people as possible to learn English, French and German.
And the result is a minor invasion of young Spaniards who took up to EUR1,000 each to study English – many of them choosing Malta.
Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero homed in on his country’s linguistic failings in his annual State of the Nation address to parliament to announce the subsidy for people aged from 18-30.
He admitted to his own linguistic handicaps: “I have set myself the task of overcoming our traditional shortcomings with regard to languages,” said Zapatero, who cannot speak English but once tried his uncertain French in an address to France’s National Assembly.
English is compulsory in Spanish schools but, according to the European Commission, fewer than 20 per cent of Spaniards can speak the language despite the needs generated by a massive tourism industry and a fast-growing economy.
That puts Spain near the back of the European Union class for foreign languages, beaten in the dunce stakes by English-speaking Britain and Ireland.
In the meantime, while French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s Maltese escapade may not have drawn crowds to Delimara, the vendors at the Valletta bus terminus have brushed up on their working Spanish as shouts of ‘agua frija… un euro’ (cold water… one euro) have become the order of the day.

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