“No hablo Español,” is a common phrase Spaniards are having to endure hearing on a daily basis. One might consider this an acceptable phrase for tourists, but every year more people who do not speak Spanish are not simply visiting Spain and deciding to make Spain their home. Therefore, as the immigrant population to Spain has continued to rise throughout the last century Spain’s citizens are hearing this infamous phrase much too often. People who live in Spain should not be forced to attempt to understand an individual who has migrated here and is making no effort to learn the most commonly spoken language of the country. Immigrants who plan on making Spain their permanent place of residence for a period of longer than six months should be required by the Spanish government to speak at the very minimum an elementary level of Spanish.
Immigration to Spain is a fairly recent political issue that the Spanish government is now facing. Prior to the late twentieth century, most people migrated from Spain. Since the Spanish government has adopted policies encouraging immigration the immigrant population, both legal and illegal, has drastically risen. Spain is such a popular destination for foreigners that people are spending their life savings, risking their lives, and illegally immigrating to Spain by boat and any means possible.
As of 2007, there were four and a half million non-citizens currently residing in Spain (Castro). This accounts for roughly eight percent of the total population of Spain. (Hooper, 285). Prime Minister Jose Maria Anzar says immigration has been encouraged to Spain because immigrants are needed to do the work that Spaniards will no longer perform (Spain tightens immigration law). Ever since higher education has become a universal desire in Spain there are few Spanish citizens who are willing to do the menial jobs that keep society running. Regardless of this need for immigrants, the continuing rise of the immigrant population has become a source of social tension for the public, making it a hot topic in political debates. The current Spanish government has adopted an extraordinarily lenient policy in regards to the issue of immigration. According to Spanish law, illegal immigrants in Spain are not tolerated. However, the legislation concerning illegal immigration passed in December of 1999 by the Popular Party has only been effective in encouraging illegal immigrants to make Spain their choice destination. This legislation offered legal and illegal immigrants alike the right to free K-12 education for their children, medical care on the same basis as Spaniards, and allowed them the political right to hold demonstrations and join unions. This law was recently revised in 2007. The revision, however, only took away the right to strike and join unions from illegal immigrants (Pérez). It is absurd to think that illegal and legal immigrants alike can reap the same benefits Spaniards enjoy without anything being required of them. At the very minimum immigrants should be required to have a basic knowledge of Spanish in order to receive the same benefits of Spanish citizens.
Currently there are no laws in Spain that require an immigrant seeking any type of Visa that will enable the duration of their time in Spain to extend longer than six months to have any knowledge of the Spanish language. By the government not requiring immigrants to speak Spanish they are creating language barriers amongst Spain’s residents that can prove impossible to overcome. Without having some knowledge of Spanish immigrants are unable to communicate in essential places like grocery stories, doctor’s offices, and in public transportation. However, not only is their lack of communication skills affecting themselves, it is affecting Spain’s citizens as well. I spoke with Catalina, a pharmacist. She said her job is affected almost daily by people seeking prescriptions who have no knowledge of Spanish. Catalina says it makes her job very difficult when customers come in and she cannot communicate with them. She told me, “Las personas me gritan porque no pueden comprender lo que estoy diciendo. Que sería más fácil si todos en España hablaba español.” She agrees that immigrants in Spain should be required to learn enough Spanish to communicate in order to receive benefits from the government. Without having a basic knowledge of the Spanish language immigrants cannot tell a doctor what they are suffering from, ask someone for directions, and it is even difficult to make a simple purchase. Lack of knowledge of the commonly spoken language harms the immigrants and citizens of Spain alike.
The Spanish government should make it mandatory that any immigrant seeking medical and educational benefits in Spain pass an equivalency test in Spanish within their first six months of residency. An immigrant from China, whom I discussed my proposal with, questioned me on how immigrants would be expected to pay to learn Spanish when most people who migrate to Spain come with little money and generally take low wage jobs when they arrive. I believe if the government is going to expect the immigrants they encouraged to come here to speak the Spanish language they should provide free to low cost classes that will enable the immigrants to learn the Spanish that is necessary to pass the equivalency test. In these classes, there should be a paid instructor who will teach the immigrant students a basic knowledge of the Spanish language. In this class, the teachers should focus on the language that these immigrants are going to use on a daily basis. They should teach them language associated with going to the grocery store, using public transportation, having to visit a doctor or pharmacy, and basic vocabulary associated with food and simple social interactions. The course should be six months in duration and should begin when the person first enters the country. Following the end of the course, each person should be required to take a standardized Spanish equivalency test tailored to what they were supposed to learn in the class. If the person passes the equivalency test, then he or she should be eligible to receive benefits from the Spanish government. Prior to the passing of this test, immigrants should not be allowed to receive the same benefits as Spanish citizens. If the immigrant does not pass this test he or she will not be deported but will not be allowed to receive benefits from the government until he or she passes the test.
The common argument against my plan seems to center around where the government will get the money to pay for these classes. My host mom told me she thought my idea was an excellent one but reminded me of the financial turmoil Spain is currently suffering. She believes it would be impossible to implement this program because of lack of funding. However, when considering this argument against my idea one must also take into consideration the amount of money the government is currently spending on paying for immigrants to receive free health care and education. If the Spanish government refused to pay for the health care and education of not only illegal immigrants but legal immigrants until they passed the Spanish language test they would save money. This money they are saving could still be put towards the use of immigrants by providing them with a program to learn Spanish. This program would be benefit not only the immigrants but other Spanish population as well.
Others have argued against my proposal saying that the purpose of allowing immigrants to have benefits like free health care and access to free education for their children is to encourage migration to Spain. My host father pointed out that the Prime Minister is correct. There are few citizens of Spain who are actually willing to take low paying jobs that require manual labor. Immigrants are used by Spanish people to do jobs like watch the elderly, care for children, and to do labor that is strenuous. My host father fears that by making the requirements to obtain benefits from the Spanish government more difficult it will deter immigrants from coming to Spain. However, immigrants to Spain should not see the requirement of learning the Spanish language as a deterrent but as another way the Spanish government is helping to improve their quality of life within Spain. Immigrants who have a general knowledge of the Spanish language are able to live an easier life because it is easier for them to communicate with the people surrounding them.
Spain is a diverse country full of different people from around the world, who speak multiple different languages.
Immigrant Populations from Around the World in Spain
The nationally recognized language of Spain is Spanish. Everyone living within Spain should have a general knowledge of Spanish to prevent the common misunderstandings caused by language barriers. Students within the schools of Spain are required to learn Spanish; however, immigrants to Spain are not required to have any knowledge whatsoever of the language. Spain is a country with a high immigrant population, who offers great benefits to people who choose to immigrate here. Immigrants should have to pay a price for these benefits, which should simply be there time and effort being placed into learning the Spanish language.
Begoñia. Personal Interview. 04 June 2012.
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Catalina. Personal Interview. 05 June 2012.
Chinese Immigrant. Personal Interview. 06 June 2012.
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Tin Tin. Personal Interview. 08 June 2012.