Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Emigration: They Just Won't Mix

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Emigration: They Just Won't Mix

Article excerpt

The class began badly. "Como se llama?" the teacher asked hopefully. I was stumped. I might have been living in L'Alcudia, 20 miles south of Valencia, for ten months, but I'd managed to bumble through trips to the supermarket or post office with a shrug and a "Si, gracias". This time, I had come unstuck.

Mohammad, a Moroccan electrician, intervened. "She wants your name," he whispered helpfully. It was my first Spanish lesson for immigrants, under a government-subsidised scheme that gives migrant workers basic language skills. Moroccan butchers, Georgian gardeners and Romanian housewives fill the seats in the strip-lit room, eager to learn. For [euro]3 ([pounds sterling]2.10) a year, you get four hours of evening classes a week in intermediate Spanish to help fill out forms, buy a stamp or pick up some milk. It's a forward-thinking scheme that seems to benefit everyone. Except for one group: the British.

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Despite there being between one and one and a half million of us living in Spain, I was the only Brit in the class. For the teachers, that was no surprise. "The English live apart, with their own jobs and own bars. They close themselves off," explained Juan, who has been teaching immigrants Spanish for 25 years at L'Alcudia's Enric Valor college. "They just don't try to integrate with the Spanish." This year's course has been the most popular yet, he said, with 60 immigrants filling three classes. Another 25 are on the waiting list. "We have a few Scots in the advanced class, but that's the most British we have ever had."

According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, 58,000 people left for Spain in 2004-2005 and the number is rising. More people emigrated from the UK in 2006 than has ever been recorded by the ONS. Yet, for the Spanish, this group of immigrants is proving problematic. …

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