Are Spanish speaking celebrities such as Shakira the real reason why learning to speak Spanish is becoming more popular or is it just a case of students having a much greater choice over which languages to learn? Here we explore the suggestion that popular culture affects a student’s educational decisions and we also offer alternative reasons as to why this shift to learning Spanish is happening.
The United Kingdom has recently seen an increase in the number of students moving away from the more traditionally taught languages of French and German and instead they are opting to learn Spanish. One of the reasons for this shift is the popularity of the ‘Colombian Songbird’ Shakira, as she is often regarded to on the internet. Well, that is what we are expected to believe if we were to take everything that is written in the newspapers as the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God!
Personally, I find it difficult to believe that a pop star can have so much influence over an entire country’s student body, especially when it is supposed to be influencing the choice of language to learn. If that were to be the case we would have seen an increase in Spanish students a long time ago in tune with the massive popularity that other Spanish speaking singers and celebrities enjoyed at one time or another; Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruz, Julio Iglesias (yes, remember him) Ricky Martin and more recently the extremely popular Enrique Iglesias, son of the aforementioned Spanish swooner, and I’m sure there are many, many more.
The fact is, although Shakira is extremely good at what she does and is very popular with a wide cross-section of the population, I think labeling her as the catalyst for the recent changes to language education in the UK is a little bit extreme to put it bluntly. However, that isn’t to say that popular culture cannot change and shape a society, and influence choice…remember the Beatles?
Learning the Spanish language has been on the increase for many years now, irrespective of popular culture, and for a lot of people it is unquestionably the first language of choice to learn, but why?
In the US it is easy to assume why this would be the case as not only does the US share a border with Mexico, which just happens to have the largest population of Spanish speakers in the world, but according to the 2000 census, Spanish is already spoken by 12% of the US population, which means the US has the fifth largest population of Spanish speakers in the world within it’s borders. This is in complete contrast to the UK which is quite insular where learning languages is concerned and this is highlighted in recent figures that reveal drastic reductions in the number of students taking languages at secondary schools, higher education, and university.
However, although the overall picture is bleak for language study within the education system in the UK there is indeed room for some optimism when considering the increased number of students opting for Spanish. Rather than popular culture, there are a number of more likely reasons why this switch to Spanish is probably happening and they are:
- A greater number of UK based teachers available that can now teach Spanish
- Greater freedom of choice for the student doubled with government policy change in 2004 that made languages non compulsory to 14 year old’s and over.
- Stronger bonds with Spain due mainly to the fact that a large percentage of British people holiday each year in Spain, which is also home to over 1 million British expats
- Spanish culture is seen as being much more appealing and far more accessible than other European cultures.
Unlike the UK’s youth, adult language education is one area that is definitely increasing year on year, and it is Spanish, once again, that is increasingly the preferred language of learning. The 40 to 60 year old age group in particular is seeing large increases and one can only surmise that these are individuals preparing for retirement in Spain.
Online Spanish courses are the preferred method of learning Spanish for the vast majority of these mature students as they are a much more cost effective and convenient means of learning Spanish, Much quicker too when compared to the more traditional evening class.