Why Spaniards Struggle to Learn English-MainPhoto

Why Spaniards Struggle to Learn English-MainPhoto

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Two words come to my mind every time I consider the plight of Spaniards today: hubris and procrastination. Both terms define the personality of the Spanish people, their foibles, drawbacks, their work ethics, attitudes and way of life, in a nutshell.

  • Hubris means “excessive pride or self-confidence, arrogance,” which dictionaries, with some help from me, translate into the Spanish tongue as “orgullo desmedido, arrogancia, petulancia, soberbia…” Chutzpah, in short.

  • Procrastination is the other word that rounds out the mindset of Spaniards: “the act of putting off habitually and intentionally,” and the verb is to procrastinate, which has a translation into Spanish as “procrastinar,” “difererir, aplazar”, a verb that 99 percent of Spaniards do not know. Furthermore, it is not listed in most dictionaries. The noun is “procrastinación.”

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Porky Pig asks Daffy Duck: “Are you ready?” and Daffy retorts: “I was born ready.” If Daffy Duck had been born Spanish he would have answered: “Almost. But wait, I have to get my hat, or make a call, or get some papers, or grab a bite to eat…” in order to delay going, working, finishing something off or whatever. Spaniards were not born ready; they are never ready, especially in language learning.

It is true that Spanish has a proverb, a refrán, that says: “No dejes para mañana lo que puedas hacer hoy,” or, “do not put off till tomorrow what you can do today.” But alas, this is a carry-over from the Romans, who said it in Latin as ne in crastium, quod possis hodie, long before the Spanish language came into being. It did not affect the mind of the inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula, who developed contrary attitudes.

“Ya lo sé” is a ready-made expression or phrase that you will hear from the mouths of Spaniards constantly. Their self confidence knows no limits and leads them to intellectual and economic disaster.

Spaniards have been grappling and wrestling with the English language for at least three generations. In northern Europe, English is spoken with certain fluency and is the de facto second language of people in general. Yet not so in Spain. Why?

If asked, Spaniards will tell you—in broken English, and without blushing—that they have been studying the language for 15, 20 or 25 years. They believe, as a justification, that northern Europeans have been given a special linguistic gift and ability from the gods. The Spanish perhaps think that the Swedish have better brains, bigger even. It is felt that the climate has something to do with it: being so cold in the north, they have nothing better to do than study indoors. Besides, you will be told that English is very difficult and has an impossible grammar and obscure sounds.

The reality is that hubris and procrastination have been hurdles Iberians have not been able, so far, to overcome and so they are condemned to mediocrity thanks to their inability to understand that international communication in our day means language, especially English. The better you command English, the better you will be able to succeed in science, business, trade, networking and banking. Yes, but this requires effort now, not next month, not tomorrow, not later in the day… now.

The Anglo-Saxons might be right in thinking of Spaniards as “mañana, mañana, fiesta, siesta.”

May I remind readers that I am a long-distance bicultural person and a Spaniard of sorts also?

Delfin Carbonell Basset is a graduate of Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh. He holds a Ph.D. in Philology and has authored 35 books in both English and Spanish, published by McGraw-Hill, Barron’s, Larousse, Anaya and Serbal. He has taught at Pitt, F&M, Scranton and Murray St. University.