It sometimes feels as though Britain's only export to Spain is the English language. Visit a bar in central Madrid and you're as likely to hear an English voice as you are to be given tapas. Pick up a menu and you’ll probably be able to order Spanish omelette as well as tortilla española. Walk past certain public schools in the capital and you'll notice a feature of its signage is the Union Flag.
One of Madrid's bilingual secondary schools, Instituto Pablo Picasso. Picture: Carlos Rosillo
This is because the Comunidad de Madrid is home to a pioneering bilingual school system. It's a huge employer of native English speakers in teaching assistant, or auxiliar roles, and a demonstration of confidence by policymakers in a future where freedom of movement between Spain and Britain was probably foreseen.
But this bilingual programme – which uses English to teach Spanish schoolchildren subjects as diverse as Biology and Music – is among the many things Brexit has cast into doubt. Its overall existence is almost certainly safe. Britons, after all, aren’t the world’s only native English speakers. But Britain’s impending divorce from Europe may threaten the involvement of Spain’s nearest Anglophone neighbour in the scheme.
British Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 yesterday. With it she began a two-year process of negotiation during which nearly everything is on the table – including free movement of labour. If that goes, so does a massive advantage of the programme for Britons: the ease of applying.
Language assistant Rajini Vimalanathan Oliver, 40, works in a bilingual primary school in the north of Madrid. The married mother-of-two, originally from London, said she would “definitely” have thought twice about applying had the process been more difficult.
“I've been here nine years and nothing is easy, there's a lot of bureaucracy,” she said.
“It's difficult to do the simplest things. I got this job literally by applying to an advert on [mobile app] lingo bingo. I wouldn't have applied if I had to do far more paperwork.”
Briton Katie Spoor, 24, works at a nearby bilingual secondary as an auxiliar and says she was nearly turned down for another job in an academy “because the owner thought I wasn’t an EU citizen anymore”.
She agrees more paperwork could put Britons off.
“I'm not sure if it would have stopped me but I would have thought twice for sure,” she said.
“[In Britain] we're so used to the EU and not having to get visas to come work in the EU, perhaps if it becomes more difficult it would put people off.”
Carmen Morán is the co-ordinator of the bilingual programme at IES San Juan Bautista, one of Madrid’s first ever bilingual schools.
She urges the British government and negotiators not to thrash out a deal that erects barriers for Brits wanting to take part in the scheme.
“We should push and pressure so that things don’t change,” she said.
“Normally, when they hire English people they tend to say it’s much easier than with American people. I think it’s much easier with passports and permission et cetera when they are living in Europe. So it might be more difficult in comparison with Irish people, for example."
She added: “We’re not so happy with having so many Americans. Students are more exposed to that accent through culture and media et cetera.
“They need also to be exposed to the British accent. It would be a shame if they were to lose that.”