Spaniards prepare for exit, learn German

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More and more Spaniards are enrolling in German language courses, seen as a way for them – and their money – to get out of their country's failing economy. 

Uwe Mohr, director of languages at the Goethe Institute in Brussels, told EurActiv that his German language school had seen a huge increase in applications from Spanish and Portuguese students over the past two years, especially at branches in those countries.

Mohr, also coordinator for language programmes in southwest Europe, said the Goethe Institute in Madrid had seen enrollments rise from 4,000 in 2010 to an expected 7,000 in 2012. 

The Barcelona branch also saw a large spike in enrollments, up from 1,975 in 2010 to 2,628 in 2011.

Mohr said a number of Spanish unemployment agencies had been working with German businesses to supply them with German-speaking graduates in a number of areas where there is a knowledge shortage, such as engineering and nursing.

With youth unemployment at just over 50% in Spain, by enrolling in German courses other young Spaniards were, Mohr said, taking a risk, betting on finding a job abroad.

This week people could be seen queuing up round the block in the centre of Spain’s third city, Valencia, waiting their turn to enroll in language courses, wrote daily El Pais.

More than a thirst for education, the desire of young Spaniards to learn a second, or a third, language signals their mistrust in their country’s future.

“I’m thinking of leaving,” said Diana Garcia, a 27-year-old art historian and interpreter of sign language, who has been unemployed since March.

“This is the first steps towards getting out,” chimed in engineer Juan Luis.

“To work now, knowing English is not enough,” he said. “They ask for a high level of German and 10 years experience.”

The demand has been so great that places at the city’s Official School of Languages are filling up fast, with applicants worried they will not get in.

At the school, German has overtaken English as the most popular foreign language, with registrations highest for intensive courses.

“They don’t let you pre-register on the webpage and we don’t know if we will arrive before all the places are taken,” said Carmen Barbera, a 22-year-old translator.

Germán, the school’s caretaker, commented: “We are overwhelmed. Last year there was not even half this.”

Capital flight

As well as learning foreign languages, Spaniards are now moving in droves to transfer their money to foreign banks.

Spain’s so-called capital flight is now worse than Indonesia’s was during the Asian financial crisis at the end of the 1990s, said analysis by financial services group Nomura.

On a three-month rolling basis, portfolio and investment outflows from Spain totalled 52.3% of the country’s GDP, more than double the outflows from Indonesia, which reached 23% of GDP at the height of the Asian crisis.

The departure of capital is driven largely by foreigners unloading stocks and bonds but also by Spaniards transferring their money to foreign banks.

Perhaps as worrying as the flight of money from Spain is the exodus of people, particularly the trend for members of the educated and entrepreneurial elite, fed up with poor work prospects, to up sticks.

“No doubt there is a little bit of panic,” José García Montalvo, an economist at Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University, told the New York Times. “The wealthy people have already taken their money out. Now it’s the professionals and midrange people who are moving their money to Germany and London. The mood is very, very bad.”

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