Spain’s bilingual programme could harm learning

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According to teachers in Madrid’s public schools, classes taught in English are less likely to be understood by students.

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In a recently published study carried out by Acción Educativa, an educational research organisation, 97.9 per cent of the teachers surveyed reported that teaching in English negatively affects students’ comprehension and retention. 

The study, which was originally conducted in 2021 but has only recently been released, surveyed 1,174 teachers and reflected a pervasive concern among Spain’s public school teachers: in an effort to democratise English learning in the capital, the program has in fact reduced the quality of public education for many students. 

More than half of Madrid’s public school students study under the program, which was first installed 20 years ago, and has since become the model for other regional governments looking to implement similar programs. Through the program, certain subjects are taught in English, usually by Spanish teachers. 

Some 69 per cent of the teachers surveyed agreed that the program helps improve the students’ level of English, though at the cost of their understanding of the content. The majority of teachers surveyed also expressed that students’ confidence and willingness to participate in class was negatively affected in learning environments where the language spoken is not their own. 

According to the teachers, the most troublesome skills were writing, debates, and oral presentations. Most teachers reported that they often switched to Spanish when clarifying complex topics or managing the classroom environment. 

“The kids learn more English, there is no discussion there,” said researcher Jesús Rogero to El Diario. “The problem is how they learn it.” 

Additionally, there’s the concern that English classroom instruction damages students’ vocabulary in Spanish. One in three teachers recommended that parents reinforce the subjects taught in English at home in Spanish.

Can Spanish teachers speak good English?

Related to this is the fact that many teachers lack English proficiency themselves, meaning that they often fail to convey the subtleties necessary for effective instruction. 

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Cole Sinanian


    • Concha

      04 December 2023 • 22:58

      Quote: “Can Spanish teachers speak good English?

      Related to this is the fact that many teachers lack English proficiency themselves, meaning that they often fail to convey the subtleties necessary for effective instruction. “.

      This is a HUGE problem, because no, the vast majority can’t but also insist that they can! I’ve even known British kids contradicted and told they are using the wrong vocabulary.

      Last year I had a class of B1 students who kept saying “I’m agree”, among (many) other mistakes. When I corrected them they told me that their high school teacher insists on it! I suggested they tell her that their Academy English teacher, who teaches all levels including C2, that to agree is a verb and so just as you can’t be run, sit, or read, you cannot be agree.

      I’ve also seen ‘to attend to the school…’ in course books, instead of attending a school. When I explain that the caretaker and cleaners attend TO the school; they are looking after it / maintaining it, whereas enrolled students attend their schools.

      One major issue is la escuela oficial de idiomas, is deeply flawed, yet its qualifications are given prescience over Cambridge English qualifications, which are the most highly regarded certificates the world over. Known for their rigorous standards, and continuous professional development, it isn’t easy to achieve the highest levels required to even contemplate becoming an English teacher, and so very many Spanish-English teachers (and officials) opt for the easy route…. They just NEED a certificate for their job!

      While Spain continues to operate in a prejudiced way, favouring its home-grown language school exams, and making it obligatory to sit and pass “oposiciones’ in SPANISH, no decent, fully qualified English teacher can get hired in a state school, unless they have been raised inside the Spanish education system. There is no equality, not a chance of a school appointing the ‘best teacher for the job’, it is completely out of their hands, some faceless bureaucrat holds the power for any position in a civil position.

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