English and Spanish

Rafael Puyol. Professor. IE Business School

9 January 2009

Pride in a language is not compromised by using English or Spanish, the world’s two most important languages. Holland shows Galicia, Catalonia and the Basque Country how it’s done.

Last week, an academic commitment took me to Amsterdam, an attractive city with a human face and an excellent selection of cultural options. I had not been there for several years and as soon as I landed in Schipol, I was pleasantly surprised by two things.

The first was that, besides their own language, all the Dutch speak excellent English. It doesn´t matter whom you speak to, where you speak to them or why you speak to them. Most educated people speak English, but in a taxi, a restaurant, a museum or in the street, it is spoken by drivers, waiters, porters or the police, and that defines Holland as a modern, international country.

The second pleasant surprise was the large number of people who can or try to speak Spanish. They do not feel uncomfortable when they speak it. They like to speak to Spanish-speakers in Spanish, whether to talk about the place they know or the fact that Real Madrid has five Dutch players or to comment on the way the Spanish national side play and even how they are capable of beating the Dutch.

Holland has its own commendable but extremely difficult language, but it knows that to occupy a leading position in a globalised world, it needs to encourage the two international languages par excellence: English and Spanish.

Meanwhile, certain Spanish regions encourage their own language by completely ostracising and even excluding the Spanish language. A big mistake!
Nowadays, if you speak English and Spanish, you can travel anywhere in the world and if you speak Basque, Catalan or Galician, you can´t travel anywhere in the regions themselves. Galicia, Catalonia and the Basque Country should learn from the Dutch, who speak their own language, but also know, encourage and speak English and, increasingly, Spanish. They should do so because if they do not they will be embarking on a process of exclusion through linguistic isolation.

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