The significance of English as a lingua franca in Spain

Diary submitted by Mathilde S, Erasmus+ internship in Madrid

“What motivates you to learn English?” sounds like a straightforward question. Yet, when I asked mystudents, their answers varied. While some of them are studying out of personal interests and love for the language, most of them mentioned external motivations, notably regarding work. Either for their current job, or for career prospects, all agreed that knowing and mastering English is now very significant in Spain. English has undoubtedly become the lingua franca, that is the language used for communication between two people whose mother tongue and cultural background are different (Cogo, 2012). English is also the primary international language of reference in many domains, including economy, trade, politics, diplomacy and media.

Spain has been going through a serious Economic recession for more than ten years. The 2008 crisis has dramatically affected the job market, including young people. So now people want to secure a good job and make everything possible to increase their human capital. Because younger people tend to have higher academic skills, knowing English is a way to distinguish oneself. In addition, companies often have branches in other countries, so it is necessary for employees to communicate in English. Inother words, there is a high “economic value” to learning English in Spain (Robbins, 2015). I haveindeed encountered some students who are taking lessons because they are planning to go to the UK to improve their English, work in the meantime and hopefully come back to Spain with a valuable experience in a foreign country and with reliable language skills. Furthermore, tourism is one of the biggest industries in Spain at the moment, so in this sector, knowing English is preferable if not required.

“Without even considering the millions of other visitors who travel to Spain each year, the necessity of knowing English as a Spanish citizen is a useful and necessary skill to interact and perform business transactions with the foreign visitors coming from the United Kingdom and Germany.” (Robbins, 2015: 30)

Besides the economic argument, the current significance of English in Spain can be explained by historical facts. Under the Francoist dictatorship, the nationalist rhetoric enforced unity around the Castilian culture, at the expense of regional dialects and English. As a result, Spain was not part of the trend of other European countries which opened themselves to English becoming the lingua franca in a globalised world. Another consequence is that the Spanish school system lags behind in terms of language learning. So after Franco, the Spanish government launched partnerships with British schools, notably the British Council. The focus was mainly placed on grammar, so now they lack speaking and listening skills. In 2005, the Barcelona Objective, a European initiative promoting multilingualism, forcefully encourages the learning of two foreign languages, in addition to one’s mother tongue.Similarly, the EU program ‘Education and Training 2010,’ promotes lifelong learning and notably encourages adults to learn foreign languages. Yet, Spaniards who are currently in their 30s-40s didn’tbenefit from such programs and now lack English skills.

These factors explain the growing market of English teaching and learning in Spain. Only in Madrid I was struck by the number of English academies. Private language academies are indeed a flourishing business in Spain. The clientele of such schools includes working adults who wish to improve their human capital, and teenagers whose parents picture English as a crucial tool for academic prospects. Passing a Cambridge exam or having any B1 or B2 certificate has become truly important for Spanish people. In conclusion, it is safe to say that in the current context in Spain, being an EFL learner and speaker is highly valued.


Robbins, Molly M., (2015). “What is the ‘Economic Value’ of learning English in Spain?”. Scripps Senior Theses. Paper 691. 1-55.

Cogo, A. (2012). English as a Lingua Franca: Concepts, use, and implications. ELT Journal, 66(1), 97-105.

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