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‘Spain’s PM would fail high school English’

Nine out of every ten English teachers in Spain think the country's Prime Minister wouldn't pass a high-school English test, a new survey by Cambridge University Press reveals.

'Spain's PM would fail high school English'
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (L) and US President Barack Obama: File photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP

Three out of every four teachers surveyed also believe Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy — who recently turned down free English classes — wouldn't even pass a primary school English exam.

But it wasn't just Rajoy who came out looking less than brilliant in the survey.

Some 92 percent slammed Spain's politicians in general for slacking off when it comes to studying English while 88 percent believed the country's politicians had worse English than any of their peers in the European Union.

A further 94 percent said they had felt shame when listening to Spanish politicians speak English.

These are just some of the findings of Cambrige University Press's latest Monitor on the status of the English language in Spain.

The publishing company spoke to nearly 1,000 teachers in schools, universities and private language academies across the country to get its results.

It found that 73 percent thought the level of English spoken in Spain was "low" or "very low".

In fact, around half of all teachers surveyed also said it would take 15 years for Spain to bring these levels up to those of other European countries.  

"We have a historical and cultural hang-up which is hard to shake," Cambridge University Press spokesperson Julio Redondas told Spain's Efe news agency. 

"Many things can change over a generation, but not in two days," said Redondas who said "persistence" was key to learning a language. "Either you don't speak English and you are isolated, or you speak English and you are part of the world," he said.

SEE ALSO: 'I can't speak to Obama yet': Spanish Prime Minister

But he highlighted that almost all teachers (98 percent) said Spaniards were more aware of the need to speak English than 10 years ago.

At the same time, teachers surveyed by Cambridge believed cuts to education were seriously jeopardizing progress. 

An overwhelming 96 percent said budget cuts to education had reduced the quality of education in Spain, and nearly the same number said politicians had no idea what classrooms are really like. 

While Spaniards like to criticize their political leaders' poor foreign language skills, some of Spain's leaders have been linguistic powerhouses.

Outgoing King Juan Carlos can speak French, Portuguese, Italian and English while his son Felipe — soon to be king of Spain — has near-perfect English as well as speaking Catalan, French and some Greek.

The former president of the Madrid region, Esperanza Aguirre, is proficient in English and fluent in French.

Former Foreign Affairs Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos can even speak some Serbo-Croatian and Arabic. 

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TEACHING ENGLISH

Spaniards speak better English than ever: study

Spain is continuing to see big gains in its English language skills, with the country reaping the rewards of increased investment into language education, a new study shows.

Spaniards speak better English than ever: study
Photo of classroom: Shutterstock

Spain has ranked 20th among 60 countries surveyed in the latest Education First (EF) English Language Proficiency Index.

That is three places higher than Spain managed in EF's 2013 index, and means the country is now only just outside the High Proficiency Index which includes countries like Switzerland and Singapore.

It also puts Spain a long way ahead of countries like Italy, in 27th place, and France, which ranked 29th.

SEE ALSO: Ten things Spaniards hate about English

The results show a continuing trend towards better English language skills in Spain, with the country one of the biggest improvers since 2007 — behind only Turkey, Poland and Estonia.

"Spain is seeing the results of a significant change in attitude toward English language education. The Spanish government has defined English as one of  seven basic skills, alongside Spanish and math," the authors of the EF study noted. 

The report also noted the huge increase in the number of bilingual schools in the country, where students spend 30 percent of the day in an English-speaking environment. 

"Although other economic factors are hampering Spain’s recovery, training young people in essential skills  for a globalized economy is undoubtedly  a wise investment," the study said.
 
The latest EF English Language Proficiency Index showed Spanish women had slightly better English than Spanish men, while people aged 35 to 44 had the best English.
 
In terms of regions, the highest scores were in the Basque Country while the lowest were in Extremadura.
 
In terms of global standings, the Danes came out top as the best non-native speakers of English ahead of the Netherlands and Sweden, while 18 of the top 20 countries were European.
 
The EF study also concluded there exist strong correlations between English proficiency and income, quality of life, ease of doing business, Internet usage, and years of schooling. These correlations are remarkably stable over time, stated EF in its findings.
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