Spanish students in Egypt: when the most difficult thing is not to learn the language

After the introduction of the study of the Spanish language in Egypt, more than a century ago, interest in the Hispanic world has not stopped growing. It is currently possible to appreciate it in the regulated educational system, in the university sphere, in private centers, in the Cervantes Institute and in other entities such as the Association of Hispanists of Egypt and the Center for Ibero-American Studies.

What are the characteristics of students of Spanish as a second or third language in Egypt? Our questionnaire, among 70 participants from the Cervantes Institute in Cairo, sought to improve the teaching and learning process and focus not only on academic issues but also on the motivations and concerns of the students.

In the university environment and at the Cervantes Institute, the student profile usually follows a homogeneous standard:

  • Majority of women.

  • Majority of students between 18 and 25 years of age.

  • They are usually students of higher levels, professionals dedicated to the tourism sector and customer service personnel. We can also meet other professional fields: pharmacists, engineers, doctors, teachers…

  • Almost all of the students have some proficiency in English as a second language. It is also common to find the domain of another second language, such as French, German or Italian, for example.

The reasons

We consider it relevant to include motivation in our questionnaire. Therefore, we include the question: why do you study Spanish?

It was intended to extract all kinds of motivations and interests from our students with the real purpose of effectively channeling the learning objectives. It is not the same to study a language to get a good job than to emigrate abroad, right?

Responses of the respondents to the question: why do you want to learn Spanish?
Author provided

Traveling abroad and getting to know other cultures are at the top of the chosen preferences. Work reasons occupy the majority reason. The answers allow us to continue reflecting on the intentions of the students.

During the classes, we have evidenced the constant desire to see what the Hispanic language and culture is like in all its splendor. That is, to know the language in its context, traveling to a Spanish-speaking country.

Travel, an impossible dream

In the search for motivations we tried to delve deeper and asked the participants: have you ever traveled to a Spanish-speaking country? Would you like to travel to a Spanish-speaking country?

Only four students had traveled (5.7%) and only two students were not sure if they would be able to do so (2.86%): one student answered “no” and one student “I don’t know right now”. The rest of the participants (97.14%) expressed the desire to visit a Spanish-speaking country. The answers were resounding “yes” and in some cases they added desired destinations such as Spain, Mexico and Cuba.

For comparison, in Spain, between 2014 and 2020, nearly 400,000 students have enjoyed an Erasmus+ scholarship.

Our survey data shows that, in your context, the possibility of traveling to a Spanish-speaking place is especially important and this is not always possible. In fact, very few do.

The possibilities of having direct contact with the Hispanic language and culture are reduced while the desire to continue learning increases. The former Director of the Cervantes Institute already stated: the interest of students in Spanish and Latin American culture is immeasurable despite the bureaucratic difficulties encountered when they wish to travel to a Spanish-speaking country.

What remains to be done?

We talk to colleagues. We ask if they have become aware of this reality. We encourage reflection on the educational system and existing mobility policies. But, above all, we wanted to look inward.

Do we bring the language closer to the student or do we try to give the student the possibility of being immersed in it? Unfortunately this question is not an easy task. The majority do not manage to go abroad for reasons beyond their control: economic, bureaucratic or social.

As teachers, we must comply with study programs and implement effective methodologies. We need to prepare materials, resources and activities that encourage the development of language skills. But what we can never put aside are the interests of those who are in front of us, of those who learn.

“Students who are motivated fall in love with the language and achieve better results,” said the head of the Department of Hispanic Language and Literature at Cairo University at the beginning of the 2021/22 academic year.

exchange and immersion

The different institutions should further implement the creation of exchange programs. Less bureaucratic and more effective projects.

In addition, the incorporation of linguistic and cultural immersion activities is essential. A video about the Alhambra in Granada creates more expectation than the identification of past times. The creation of materials and manuals must focus on the teaching context and the real needs of the students.

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