In the Spain of the 1970s, opening up to foreign trade and tourism, it was very unusual to learn another language. However, the city of Malaga's Escuela Oficial de Idiomas (Official Language School) is now celebrating its 50th anniversary; during this half-century nearly two million students have passed through its doors. This year around 7,000 have enrolled for one of 11 languages, including Spanish as a foreign language, which are taught by 88 teachers.
When it was founded (in the 1970/71 academic year), the school began with three languages - English, French and German - and others were gradually incorporated: Arabic in 1983, Spanish in 1984, Italian in 1985, Russian in 1987, Japanese and Greek in 1991, Portuguese in 1997 and Chinese in 2006.
To mark its 50th anniversary (the celebration was delayed by the pandemic), the school prepared a programme of events. Last week there was a lecture in German, a talk about learning languages, a workshop for children on Matryoshka dolls and another on Chinese handicrafts, among other events.
This was the first Official Language School to open in Andalucía, and for nearly 20 years it was the only one in the region until in 1990. Now, there are 52 in Andalucía.
The school has evolved over the years, has adapted to new technology and has also expanded its academic programme.
"We can say there was an unequal initial approach in the 1970s and 1980s, due to precarious regulations regarding our teaching methods," explains the director, Juan Vicente Vega Expósito.
At that time, methodologies that were very focused on grammar coexisted alongside other, more communicative types. Between the 1990s and the early years of the present century, the communicative method was used more. Then, since the mid-2000s, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages has governed language teaching in Europe.
It provides a method of learning, teaching and assessing that applies to all languages in Europe, using an action-oriented approach and focusing on students' ability to communicate. It gives guidelines on what users of foreign languages need to know and what they should be able to do.
Learning other languages is always useful, but in tourist areas such as Malaga and the Costa del Sol it has become much more of a necessity.
"In a province like ours, which is so popular as a tourist destination, learning languages is essential for practically any professional and services sector," said Juan Vicente.
He explained: "It was no accident that the first Language School in Andalucía (and third in Spain) was founded in Malaga, because a lot of tourists were already coming here by the 1970s and their numbers were increasing."
He also considers Malaga a place that is "very welcoming to immigrants who are seeking a decent life, as well as to people from central and northern Europe who have come to live in different places on the Malaga coast".
And they are all potential students of Spanish or other languages at the Official Language School
With regard to individual choice on whether to register with the Official School or one of the many other language academies, Juan Vicente Vega said, "If you are interested in learning a language, your experience at the Official School will most likely be a success. If you need a certificate as well, especially if you need it for a public administration, we are also certified to issue them."