3 Jun, 2023 @ 16:30
1 min read

Speaking English is still a pending subject for many of Spain’s politicians

PP leader Alberto Nuñez Feijóo
El Programa de Ana Rosa

PRIME MINISTERIAL hopeful Alberto Nuñez Feijoo of the conservative Popular Party (PP) made a candid confession on live television this week: with around 50 days to go until the snap general election called by his adversary, Pedro Sanchez, he does not speak English. 

Speaking on the Ana Rosa talk show, he added that his linguistic problems were shared with ‘the majority of Spaniards’. He does, however, speak Galician as well as Castilian Spanish and as such described himself as ‘bilingual’.

But Feijoo has also struggled with names in English, not just the language, recently mangling Bruce Springsteen’s name to call him ‘Bruce Sprinter’. 

Socialist Party Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will be a tough act to follow when it comes to the language of Shakespeare. Sanchez speaks very good English, and during his five years in office has used it to great effect – whether in live interviews on US cable channels, or at international summits. 

English is not just an issue for Feijoo, however. In fact, Sanchez is the only prime minister since Spain returned to democracy who has been able to fluently speak it while in office. 

As for the other prime ministers and politicians, there have been a series of gaffes that have left looking rather silly. 

Former PP Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy famously sat down for a meeting with his British counterpart David Cameron and uttered the classic line: “It’s very difficult todo esto…

PP Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar did his best to speak English while in office, but it wasn’t until he left politics that he really got the hang of it. (As a side note, he spoke Spanish in a Texan accent while in the United States in 2003, for reasons that were never fully clear). 

But perhaps the most famous incident involving a Spanish politician and English was when Ana Botella, Aznar’s wife and the then-mayor of Madrid, gave her famous speech to the Olympic Committee when the city was bidding to be host. 

Her phrase: “There is nothing like a relaxing cup of cafe con leche in the Plaza Mayor” became an immediate hit, and remains something of a meme all these years later. 

For much of the Spanish political class, in particular the PP, it would appear that some serious study is still needed.

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Simon Hunter

Simon Hunter has been living in Madrid since the year 2000 and has worked as a journalist and translator practically since he arrived. For 16 years he was at the English Edition of Spanish daily EL PAÍS, editing the site from 2014 to 2022, and is currently one of the Spain reporters at The Times. He is also a voice actor, and can be heard telling passengers to "mind the gap" on Spain's AVLO high-speed trains.

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