Are English teachers in Spain underqualified?

Are underqualified native English-speaking teachers stealing Spaniards' jobs simply because of where they're from? The Local investigates.

Recently Madrid’s government caused controversy when it announced it would hire extra native English teaching assistants (auxiliares) for the region’s bilingual schools for the 2014–2015 school year.

Unions slammed the move, saying the teachers were being hired 'via the back door' and lacked the necessary Spanish qualifications – mainly the 'oposiciones', Spain’s public entry examinations.

They also criticized the fact that Spanish teachers are required to speak both languages whereas the "Anglophones aren't expected to speak Spanish".

"Being born in Ireland or the UK isn't anything special in itself," Miguel Muñiz, former head of FSIE, the largest Spanish union representing primary and high school teachers in Spain's private education sector, told The Local

His successor, Carlos Iglesias, agrees: "We have 6 million people unemployed in Spain, many of whom are qualified teachers.

SEE ALSO: Top tips for teaching English in Spain

"It seems like we want to put an end to the UK’s unemployment rate and not ours."

Both men reiterate they have nothing against the public school system in general but think authorities need to ensure those schools hire qualified teachers.

They also acknowledge that 'Anglos' are always more likely to speak better English than Spaniards.

"Native English teachers don’t necessarily have the grammatical knowledge or educational training to deal with and teach a classroom full of kids," Iglesias argues.

"That’s something qualified Spaniards who have done public examinations do most likely have.

"Bilingual education is what sells," the FSIE head concludes.

"Madrid’s government is slashing education funds everywhere and they’re using this native English assistant tactic as a marketing campaign."

Away from the state education system — whether public or private — requirements may be different.

Teachers working in the country's many private language 'academies' may not necessarily have to do training on how to engage with kids or 'drill' the language into a classroom of children, but is there still tension resulting from Anglos' being favoured over more-qualified Spaniards?

"There’s such a high demand for native speakers that some language schools will take on people with no previous experience or who don’t have any relevant qualifications under their belt," Fran O’Hara, recruitment agent for ASTEX language school in Madrid tells The Local.

According to O’Hara, speaking Spanish isn't a must when hiring teachers for her school’s company classes, although some pupils do request their teachers have "some knowledge of the language".

"It’s the clients who request the native speakers. They want someone who has cultural and contextual understanding of the English language.

"Spanish teachers of English may be very good at explaining grammar but they haven’t necessarily lived in an English-speaking country long enough to have the linguistic traits of a native.

"Pupils also want to lose their Spanish accents when speaking English and feel the only way to do so is with a native speaker."

Asked if she thought a Spanish qualification should be a prerequisite for native English teachers in the private sector, O’Hara suggested that a qualification such as a TEFL, CELTA or DELTA as well as some relevant work experience were sufficient to be well-suited for a position in the industry.

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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.