The City Hall (Ayuntamiento) in Madrid has a banner stretched across its imposing facade.
There was a lot of criticism of the Mayor when this banner went up because of how much it had cost (around 450€), and perhaps because of who the Mayor is. But the money hasn’t been wasted as the banner has been there for far longer than originally planned, and the message continues to be true and to be necessary.
Why, however, is the message in English, I asked a group of secondary school English teachers in a course I was running last week in Madrid? What’s wrong with ‘Bienvenidos refugiados’ or something similar in Spanish?
It didn’t take them long to come up with the obvious answers about refugees not speaking Spanish on arrival, and about how English is the language you’re most likely to speak regardless of which of the world’s hotspots you’re arriving from, etc, etc..
What came next was what most drew my attention, though. Almost everyone admitted to not having noticed that the banner was in English, not Spanish, despite the fact that it had made national news and has been up there for almost two years.
This ‘not noticing’. Is it a good thing? Does it mean that English has become part of the everyday landscape in Spain, and is now simply part of the linguistic resources of the Spanish? Or does it mean that here in Spain we still haven’t spotted that English is out there, so see English but ‘read’ Spanish? Hope it’s the former.