Spain: Multiple solutions for multicultural classrooms

Spain: Multiple solutions for multicultural classrooms

The role of language in international education: a fascinating and hotly debated topic. Should English be the global lingua franca? Are native languages at risk from dying out? The recent issue of EAIE Forum magazine brought the language debate to EAIE members’ coffee tables, and now we’re bringing the discussion to the web! This week we will feature perspectives from six different countries or world regions, with each post highlighting a different take on the topic. First, up: España.

Some years ago, when the financial crisis hit the headlines of newspapers around the world, analysts concluded that deep structural changes in many fields would follow. They were right to a certain extent, as the construction, culture, banking and education sectors have endured harsh and painful consequences.

Spain and other Southern European countries have suffered more than other regions in the developed world. However, some higher education institutions quickly reacted to such a scenario by turning difficulties into opportunities and making the most of the new challenges ahead to further improve academic quality – much more so than before the crisis!

Adapting the curriculum

Spanish graduates face a dire scene regarding the domestic labour market. The Spanish youth unemployment rate amounts to 26%, which is the highest in the European Union. Most students are now forced to think globally when looking for a job. Universities have had to include new skills and competences in their curricula to provide them with new tools to adequately access a new international job market.

English language in the classroom is part of the solution proposed by Spanish universities. Some, like Universidad Europea, which is a member of the Laureate International Network, have adapted their curriculum and their degrees are now more internationally oriented. English is present in every single programme. Furthermore, teachers are encouraged to organise activities in English frequently in their classrooms, regardless of Spanish being the language in which they typically teach. Naturally, students are somewhat reluctant. However, they soon realise that English, rather than being an obstacle in their academic endeavours, actually represents an added value that allows them to apply for jobs across the globe.

The surge of English in the classroom is even more accentuated with the new full English degrees offered by some universities. Dentistry, Marketing, Business Administration, Physical Therapy or Architecture degrees can be now read either in Spanish or English. Should students chose to pursue their studies in English, teachers will organise classroom activities in Spanish too.

New profile of students

In addition to addressing the internationalisation of the curriculum to enable graduate and postgraduate students to reach out to a global playing field, universities have also reacted swiftly to cope with the arrival of numerous international students. Many are attracted by the possibility of studying both in English and in Spanish, in a country reputed for excellence in education. Spain is currently teaching a brand new generation of students with a different cultural profile and equally different needs.

Universities are becoming multilingual and increasingly multicultural; Spanish students now study in English with foreign classmates, and international students chose to pursue their courses in Spanish with national classmates. Scandinavian countries, as well as Russia, Hungary, Italy, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Morocco, the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the US and most Latin American countries are sending students to Spanish universities. A myriad of religions, traditions, culinary tastes and educational backgrounds enrich Spain’s campuses.

We want to make sure all students feel at home. To this aim, English in the classroom has been accompanied by Intercultural Plans. They have been carefully designed to enhance a seamless, natural integration between international and national students. It is not only a question of understanding and recognising student diversity. We are committed to providing an appropriate environment that promotes the building of cultural relationships and avoids conflicts.

Intercultural training

In order for teachers to understand the needs of international students and identify the causes of potential conflicts in the classroom, they are invited to attend a 20-hour workshop at the beginning of the academic year. The workshop encourages teachers to put themselves in their students’ shoes. This new perspective enables them to discover new ways to interact with students. They become more flexible regarding cultural differences and are better prepared to play the role of mediators. Similarly, students are asked to take part in such a workshop. Universities should also consider implementing activities and conversation clubs in different languages as a meeting point for students from different countries.

Multicultural events

Organising special days or weeks devoted to discovering the country in which the university is located would undoubtedly contribute to fostering integration and the internationalisation of the classrooms. Activities could include presentations on cultural features, typical cuisine, general facts and figures, as well as guided tours and promoting the participation of foreign students in local festivities and celebrations.


Welcoming foreign students, full English degrees and undertaking English activities in Spanish classrooms should be reinforced by a comprehensive mobility programme. Students should travel to and from different universities around the world. Moreover, teachers and administrative staff should also seize the opportunity to experience new realities in different contexts that they can then bring back to their home institutions.

Universities in non-English speaking countries that choose to teach their courses in English should neither underestimate the challenges involved nor focus only on linguistic aspects when designing their study plans. English as lingua franca must be complemented with other procedures, activities and training contents to enhance the academic benefits for all students and the university as a whole.

What’s your institution doing to help integrate non-native speaking students? Are you embracing English as a non-native English speaking institution? Or are you taking measures to ensure international students can speak your national language? Share your comments with us below, and stay tuned this week for country perspectives from Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands, the Arab world, Denmark and Russia!

By Emmanuel Haze, Universidad Europea Valencia, Spain