Maite Maneu

Language matters

‘People are now much better prepared in English than they used to be’
‘We have people starting from 14, but you can also find people who are 50’
What are the most popular language courses for next year?
English is still the most requested language people want to study. However, there has been an increasing demand for French – which we could position as the second most requested language, and then German. Other languages are more or less the same as last year.
How would you qualify the level of English in Catalonia?
It has improved lately and that’s why the role of language schools has changed a little bit, because we’re getting more demand for intermediate and advanced levels than before. This means that children who come from primary and secondary schools, and also people who come from adult schools, are better prepared in English than they used to be. Students need a B2 level to enter universities around Europe, but a lot of students are also above that level, that’s why the C1 and C2 level demands have increased.
What do you think is the best age to start learning English?
That’s actually very controversial, it depends on loads of things; some people think that it’s better to start when you are a little kid with an immersion programme, whereas other people think it’s better to wait until you’re 10 or 11 years old if you’re going to learn English in school, which means you’re not in contact with the language all day. long. I’d say that if you start learning a language that is closer to you it will be easier. Here, if you start with French it’s much easier to learn than if you start learning English. The key is always the motivation and also the more languages you speak, the easier is going to be for you when you learn a new one.
What is the age range of the majority of students in your school?
We have people starting from 14, but you can also find people who are 50. It varies in summer and in winter. On our summer courses we have more young people, but during the school year we get a lot of university students or post-graduate students in their 20s.
Has there been an increase in people who want to study a second or third language with the crisis?
Due to the crisis some people decided if they couldn’t work, they would spend their time improving their CV and their skills and abilities, especially in languages, which was the case with German, which had a notable increase for over a year. Now, this situation is going on and off, as long as once people find a job, a lot of them can’t continue with their language studies.
Why do people come to study here?
Some of them want to certify their level of English, others want to go abroad to do an Erasmus, which has gained popularity in the past few years. We also have students that get the opportunity to go abroad once they get a certificate. For example, we have a student who is going to Germany as a volunteer, a firefighter who went to Switzerland to work because he had the language, and a lot of nurses that went to England because there was a high demand in medical areas. Others want to work here for an international company or others who just want to learn the language for cultural purposes; in tourism, people who speak various languages are increasingly needed. We live in a plurilingual society, so languages are increasingly important for job opportunities. Also, there are people who come here to learn our language, don’t forget about that.
What about languages that are less common, like Arabic or Chinese, has there been an increase in demand?
It varies from time to time, depending always on tourism. There was a huge demand for Russian one year because a lot of people from Russia came here in summer. With Arabic the same happens.
Which of the more exotic languages is the most popular at the moment?
I’d say Russian is a little bit more popular than Arabic right now, but Arabic was very popular a few years back.
Which language comes after English, considered th third language here?
The important thing for young people to understand is that speaking English is a must and that you should speak another foreign language, apart from English. After English the most popular language I’d say is French, because of the baccalaureate high school diploma and due to the closeness of both languages, you just have to cross the border or even go to the coast if you want to practice French.
How has new technology improved teaching in your experience?
For us teachers, the way we teach has changed completely. It’s not only the teaching that has improved, but also the contact that students have with the language out of class; being able to watch a movie entirely in English without subtitles, using social media in English or any other language... it has definitely changed for the better because learning a language doesn’t mean just going to classes, it implies living in that language, that’s the way you learn. We sometimes see how young people are helping out the older ones who sometimes struggle with the new, and that’s also a good thing, to bring together different generations. Also, in our school, we have incorporated blended courses designed for people who can’t come here twice a week; they just have to come one day and their tasks are sent to them by the teacher online. There are also online courses, such as the IOC, which stands for Catalonia’s Open School, where you can do any course entirely online. Perhaps in the past, our system was a little rigid, but now with new technology it has an extensive line-up where you can choose the best course that suits you.
What else do you offer apart from courses?
We also have reading and speaking groups, talks and trips. In our self-learning centre, students can find all kinds of resources, and we also have tandems where students can make contact with a partner from another country. There are also specific courses for particular demands, for example, we’ve held classes in Russian aimed at the world of commerce and hostelry; or a crash course in Arabic for cops. These classes cover only the basic grammar and vocabulary related to the jobs; the goal is to ensure that all participants end up being able to understand and speak the basic language, enough for them to apply it to their work. Another example are the Arabic classes for second-generation Arab children – kids who speak the language, but because they’ve grown up here they’ve never learned to write it. We also often work with other institutions, such as the Hostelry School. Occasionally we’ve organised cookery classes in other languages; have the Italian students learn how to prepare fresh pasta, baking crêpes with the French pupils or even painting Easter eggs with the German class. It’s a really good way for the students to pick up new words and become more familiar with speaking – and also a very good opportunity to exchange recipes and baking secrets! And the opportunities don’t merely apply to the kitchens. In the past we’ve also worked with dance schools, and so we’ve seen first-hand how learning traditional dances is not only fun and improves your language, but also offers the opportunity to expand one’s knowledge of a foreign culture. The options vary a lot – from Arabic dances to Irish ones.
What about access to EOI?
For years there’s been this myth that entering the EOI is practically impossible, that there are long queues to even put in an application and one must wait a lot. However, this couldn’t be more untrue. Everything is done online; the process, the payment, and it can be done from anywhere in the world. The general public should be aware that if someone’s really interested they simply have to follow the steps and it’s almost guaranteed that they’ll get what they want, as nowadays the balance of supply and demand is quite stable. Also worth mentioning is the matter of the official certificates. In the past few years there’s been a huge interest in the Cambridge exams (the First Certificate, the Advanced, etc) but one mustn’t set aside the official qualifications offered at the EOI; that is, the rankings of A1, A2, B1, and all the way up to C2. No matter the country or government, every business and individual all over Europe will understand the value of this certificate, as well as its meaning. As far as reach goes, the qualifications offered at our schools are quite possibly the most international nowadays.
And teacher training?
Our staff is constantly concerned with training and improvement and with creating innovative and interesting classes for students. As much as we prepare projects for our students, we also hold several different courses for our teaching staff. This year we’ve been collaborating with schools from Iceland, Belgium, Sweden and Spain, and we’ll develop other endeavours for future chances.
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