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¿Hablas ingles?

July 26, 2010 – 9:30 am

One of the things that really galls me (me fastidia, me cabrea, me molesta, me enfada) about living here in Spain is dubbed television. I loathe and detest it. The voices are all the same – I think there’s a stable of about five people they use – young woman, old woman, young man, old man, and a spare. The intonation’s always the same. Sandra Bullock sounds the same as Meryl Streep. It’s wrong, wrong, wrong. Which is one of the reasons I love going to Portugal. They have all foreign movies in VOS (version original con subtitulos). The first time I stayed in an apartment there (as opposed to camping), a film with Cate Blanchett, one of my favourite actresses, was on. I’d never seen it before. Instead of sitting out on the balcony, admiring the view across the beautiful, unbuilt-up saltmarshes to the sea, and sipping a glass of chilled white wine with my then-boyfriend (now husband), I was glued to the sofa (with my drink, of course), transfixed, while people on this TV in Portugal spoke English! Their mouths moved in sync with the words! It was a normal film! ¡Que maravilla!

Interestingly (always learning, you see), I read that the doblaje was thanks to Franco, who made sure all foreign programmes were dubbed, so they could be censored more easily, and to make sure all voices and accent were correct – no hint of foreignness was allowed. Ah, that explains a lot. Old habits die hard, eh?

Now that we have our TDT, films on TVE 1 and TVE 2, and some cartoons on Clan, can be watched in English, occasionally even with Spanish subtitles (my TV always claims my Idioma audio is ingles, even when it isn´t.) We seem to have less luck with FDF, Antenna Neon, Nova and the other new channels.

The lack of original English-language TV series and films was cited as a reason for the poor level of English in Spain, in article I read in the newspaper recently. Well, that makes sense, since the Portuguese on the whole speak far, far better English than the Spanish, and without the strangulated “Eeeeeengleeeesh” vowels. This is also true for northern Europe – Scandinavia, Germany, the Netherlands, where the level of English spoken is uniformly high. Kids watch TV in English from an early age. The second reason also tallies with this theory: education. There wasn’t much English taught in schools until the 1970s, and they didn’t start classes till age 10; neither were there many private language institutes. Now you can’t wave a stick around without hitting at least five academias de ingles. By contrast, it has been taught in northern European schools as standard for decades. I am always embarrassed by how perfectly the Dutch and Scandinavians speak my own language; barely an accent. It is second nature to them.

The article’s author, an esteemed professor of English and rector of a university, no less, also states that it’s much easier for the Spanish to learn another romance language (Italian, French), than a Germanic one (German, English). The vocabulary and grammar are very similar. Then he introduces another pertinent point: what he calls “indole linguistica” (linguistic nature or character) – so many more vowel sounds in English (Eeengleesh).

I was shocked when I first arrived in Seville at the poor level of English spoken by most people, from hotel staff, to restaurant and bar waiters, to my students, some of whom ran businesses which depended on foreign tourism. New colleagues assured me that this was the norm here. I’d just arrived from a year living in Quito, in Ecuador, a third-world country, where my students spoke excellent English and were keen to learn. I guess, for them, it’s a ticket out of their current existence to a new life in the nearby US. Whatever, these guys and girls took it seriously, they did their homework, they listened to me (well, most of them). So I was astonished to arrive in a first-world country where people couldn’t even manage the verb “be” or get the most basic pronunciation right. In Ecuador, US TV series abound in, you guessed it, version original. But not all of my students there were privileged, private school, holidays in Europe types – far from it. They had learned because they wanted to. So theory one, maybe, but theory two; not so sure.

The article carried some interesting facts (my weakness, I love statistics): in the mid 20th-century (when Francoism held Spain in its iron grip), 9% of the planet spoke English as their mother tongue; by 2050, this will have reduced to 5%, nearly half. However, in the 1950s for 250 million English was their second language; a century later, this figure will have multiplied five times over, to a staggering 1,250 million. That’s nearly 20% of the world’s population.

So the Spanish had better start getting their bocas round our vocales. I know plenty of teachers who can help them. Or just tune into TVE 1 or TVE 2 and listen carefully. But most of all, put in some effort. I know you’d rather be tomando un cafe, talking about football or Iker and Sara, or whoever the latest hot couple is. Well, sorry but no. Pull your finger out and study. It will all be worth it in the end. I promise.

  1. One Response to “¿Hablas ingles?”

  2. I have lived in Quito for over 16 years, I am happy to help with any questions you might have about the country. Patrick

    By Patrick on Jul 26, 2010

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