Spaniards like to comment that they are the people who study the most English on the entire planet … without success. It is curious for Latinos who like to talk and express themselves so much. It is easy to blame a school method little focused on the ‘live’ aspect of the language. We can also say that many students used to finish their studies as quickly as possible to start working in construction or follow a course where English is normally residual, even in Superior education. We should also mention the little extended habit of traveling abroad until very recently, a situation which has changed drastically with the massive exode of youth during the recent economic crisis. It is worthy to note that French was the most studied foreign language until the 70s.
Spain belongs to a peninsula, a territory isolated by definition, far from the commercial nations of the North Sea. Of course, the political situation has not helped for decades. While the dictatorship page has long since passed, changing habits is a long process and we can remember that “low cost” globalization is still a fairly recent concept. Simply put, the Spaniards were not forced to express themselves in fluent English.
However, the tourism industry is a very powerful sector of the Andalusian economy … and the ears often hurt when listening to the waiters express themselves in English in the tourist areas … We cannot blame them because their working conditions are often disastrous.
All this is utterly changing … and parents are even often obsessed with their children mastering English from an early age.
If you don’t know Spanish (“Spanish”), it would be very useful to learn some words and expressions. You may not always have tourists on hand to ask for help (!).