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Spain's rulers don't need to speak English: Ex-PM

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Spain's rulers don't need to speak English: Ex-PM
Former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero relied on interpreters and translators during his time in office. File photo: Georges Gobet/AFP
17:48 CET+01:00
Former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, mocked for his lack of foreign language skills when in power, has said demanding fluency in English would exclude the "sons of workers" from positions of responsibility.

The remarks by the former leader of the Socialist party came during an interview with Spanish TV show, "Viajando con Chester", according to Spain's Huffington Post.

Although Zapatero prefaced his remarks by insisting that learning languages was "essential" and "very important" he added that "in Spain there are a lot of people who don't speak English" and that to exclude them from highest office for that reason would be "reactionary".

Zapatero's own language skills, or lack thereof, were derided by Spaniards during his time in office, as the video below shows. 

The socialist's latest comments show that despite political differences he has much in common with his political predecessors and successors.

Right-wing dictator Francisco Franco spoke next to no English and, like Spain's first democratic president Felipe González, preferred French.

Popular Party EX-PM José María Aznar now makes huge sums as a guest lecturer on the American university circuit but his oratory skills in English have also been heavily criticized.

Meanwhile, current PM Mariano Rajoy has freely admitted his linguistic limitations.

Despite three hours per week of English classes at taxpayers' expense,  he still struggles and has admitted in the past that "several generations of politicians have been burdened by Spain's lack of interest in language education in the past. I'm also a product of my times".

But while an inability to speak the world's political lingua franca could be seen as a weakness, Zapatero, who didn't study English at high school, insists that interpreters are on hand for all important meetings.

Spain's leaders are certainly not alone in their inability to pick up other languages.

The UK's David Cameron speaks only English and former French PM Nicholas Sarkozy spoke only French. Barack Obama said in 2008 that American children should learn Spanish and set about learning the language himself.

Although far from fluent, he has improved enough to be able to deliver scripted speeches to potential Latino voters.

It remains to be seen which language he and Rajoy will choose to communicate in when they next cross paths.

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