Faced with the creation of the Spanish Office of the Community of Madrid, created ad hoc for the former member of Ciudadanos Toni Cantó by the Government of Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the city of Salamanca claims its place as the capital of the Spanish language. Salamanca is one of the Spanish cities that gives more weight to language teaching, which can now be compromised if Madrid tries to join the bandwagon of language tourism. However, from the City Council, the language academies and from the University of Salamanca itself, they claim their position in this business and warn that they will not give in: “Our hegemony is indisputable. We protect it, we fight it and we are not going to renounce it” , assured the mayor this Thursday.
According to data from the Junta de Castilla y León, of the 50,000 students who each year come to the community to learn, improve or practice the language, around 35,000 choose the city of Salamanca. These data make the city, according to the mayor himself, something like “the capital of Spanish” and one of the benchmarks for language tourism in the country. There are hundreds of families that live directly or indirectly from these students and the city is not daunted by the creation of the office that Cantó will lead: “We will put our elbows to maintain our hegemony,” said the councilor, the ‘popular’ Carlos García Carbayo, in a meeting with 250 Spanish teachers from the United States.
Although sources in the language tourism sector assure that there is enough cake and that Spain still has a lot of room for growth in this booming sector, the city of Salamanca refuses to lose market share compared to the capital. “Today, cities like Madrid or Barcelona have more Spanish students than Salamanca, but the impact it has on this city is not comparable,” says Miguel Ángel Benito Sánchez, president of AEECYL (Association of Spanish Schools of Castilla y León). Of the 16 Spanish schools for foreigners in Castilla y León, 14 are in Salamanca. The city of 140,000 inhabitants receives the equivalent of a quarter of its population in language students each year. It would be as if the city of Madrid, of 3.2 million, received 800,000 students annually.
Salamanca has had its own Spanish Office for almost two decades now presented by Madrid: “Salamanca, Ciudad del Español”, in which the City Council, the Chamber of Commerce, the 14 Spanish schools in the city, the University of Salamanca and the Pontifical University. “It is the city’s language tourism brand and the one that is responsible for promoting the city in other countries to attract students,” they explain from the council. The economic weight that it supposes for the city is difficult to estimate, although from the council they point out its importance. “In direct employment there are about 250 jobs between teachers and administrative staff, and this only in private schools,” says the president of AEECYL. “Then you have to add families that host students, about 4,000, who receive between 1,000 and 1,200 euros per month and other indirect sectors, such as hotels, tourist guides, etc”, he emphasizes.
In addition to these families, student residences also take advantage of the arrival of foreign students, especially in summer, when undergraduate and master’s students are on vacation. Miriam Andrés is the manager of the La Clerecía residence, two minutes from the Plaza Mayor. Every July about 40 American students, “almost always descendants of Cubans who take a course at the Pontifical University” fill their rooms. “If it weren’t for the Spanish students, I wouldn’t have clients in the summer,” says the businesswoman from Salamanca. “In Salamanca we live off students and foreign students, we have neither beach nor tourism, this type of visitor is essential,” he insists.
According to data from the University of Salamanca, the total average expenditure of Spanish students in the city is 1,670 euros. 37% corresponds to accommodation, 17% to commerce and 8% to hospitality. “They are mostly of a high purchasing power and come from China or the US”, says José Miguel Sánchez Llorente, CEO of international courses at the University of Salamanca (USAL). From the University they consider that the Madrid initiative “will not have a long journey due to its important political background”, although they indicate that they will defend the interests of the Institution within and outside the community.
For the advisor of the international courses of the USAL, although Madrid has its strengths, Salamanca also. “We have been working at a public and private level for years, and the involvement of citizens in the immersion of these students is total”. The first Spanish courses for foreigners at the USAL began to be taught in 1929. Now, the USAL receives about 7,000 students per year, including master students and language courses for students and teachers of Spanish. “I think there is room for everyone. What happens is that we play with captors in our favor, as is the tradition of the university, but also with the city itself”, summarizes Sánchez Llorente. “The neighbors welcome the students like nowhere else, because they are aware of the weight they have for the life of the city,” he says.
The involvement of the local and regional administration is clear. Over the last four years, the City Council has organized some 90 international promotion actions in more than 15 countries, which include “educational workshops, participation in high-interest fairs in the sector, destination presentations at leading universities, participation in international congresses of teachers of Spanish, among others, “says the council. Taiwan, United States, Sweden, Norway, United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Germany, among other destinations. The Junta de Castilla y León has its own Strategic Plan to prioritize the positioning of the Spanish language in the coming years.
In addition to the weight of the students who come to the city, the University of Salamanca has two elements that Madrid lacks at this time, despite being the headquarters of other capital institutions in the teaching of Spanish such as the Cervantes Institute. An important part of the DELE, the main Spanish exam for foreigners, takes place in Salamanca. “Not only was it born here, we also compose the listening and reading comprehension tests and correct the written expression and interaction tests,” explains Sánchez Llorente. The University also has a network of franchised schools in several countries such as Brazil, China, France or the United States, and also in strategic points of the Spanish geography such as Barcelona, Palma, Alicante or Gran Canaria. “These schools not only generate income for us by enrollment, they are also our embassies because thanks to them we attract students who end up studying or doing degrees in our facilities,” says Llorente. “The USAL and Salamanca are indisputable leaders in the teaching of Spanish and the government team’s commitment is to reinforce that leadership,” they point out from the University.