It has always shocked me how little English people speak in Spain. Travel to big cities and generally you can communicate with the locals in English, but in Madrid (for example) you will be lucky to encounter a Madrileño to speak to in English. It’s embarrassing how here you can’t even order a coffee in English at Starbucks!
I think one of the main reasons for its lack of English-speaking capabilities is the fact that Spain is the only country in the world (according to a recent article in the English version of El Pais published by the IHT) that dubs everything. Everything!
The article (which unfortunately isn’t online) also says that Spain has 4,300 cinema screens, making it the country with the highest number of movie theaters per person in Europe. Although now there are a number of Version Original (VO) theaters in the country, they are visited mostly by tourists; Spaniards generally don’t want to read subtitles. When asked, although Spaniards said they prefer to watch films in VO, only 4% of them actually go to cinemas to watch them in VO.
To make a comparison of sorts: I have a lot of Swedish friends, both here and in Sweden. What always surprised me was how well they speak English and how perfectly American their accents are. When I asked them, they all unanimously said it’s because they have grown up watching English-language programs on television as nothing is dubbed. Sweden generally being a rich and cold country, most people have cable and I guess they stay in a lot!
Although English is taught in Spanish schools, it is not uncommon to find it being taught by teachers who can’t really speak English, but they know the grammar. On that note, it’s interesting to think that should Spain not have dubbed programs (initially done under the Franco regime), Spaniards would at least have had basic English communication skills.
The influence of media on the language capabilities of a country is quite fascinating, don’t you think!?