"There are more Spanish speakers outside Spain than in it," explains Cecilia Garrido, head of the OU's Spanish programme which launched this year with its first course, En Rumbo. A native of Latin America herself, she's used to all those British cliches that associate Spanish chiefly with straw donkeys and cheap Mediterranean holidays.
"For the OU course, we have recorded material in Mexico, Cuba, Peru, Argentina and the US, as well as various locations in Spain. In the part of the US that used to belong to Mexico, for example, the main language spoken is still Spanish."
The Latin American countries, where most of the world's native Spanish speakers come from, are in a period of growth - and not just in terms of population. The OU currently has plans to offer a number of courses in a number of Latin American countries (see Open Eye July 1998) as economic growth fuels the need for a better-educated workforce.
"We will be doing a survey to find out why our students have chosen to study Spanish," says Cecilia. "But, at the moment, we think one reason is that there is more interest in Latin America than there was a few years ago - both in a business context and culturally."
The contemporary life and culture of the relevant countries is an important feature in all the courses run by the OU's Centre for Modern Languages, which already has established French and German programmes. There are 21 countries whose official language is Spanish, and their variety provides a particularly rich geographical and cultural mix.
British students of Spanish have traditionally studied one particular variety of the language - Castilian Spanish - which is spoken in a particular region of Spain.
In the USA, on the other hand, students learn Latin American Spanish - or Atlantic Spanish as it's more accurately known, as it is also the Spanish of the Canary Islands.
How does the OU programme cope with these regional variations?
"The uniformity of Spanish is much stronger than the variety," says Cecilia. "Spanish speakers from anywhere can communicate, they don't need a translator.
"In the OU courses, we are preparing the student to be able to communicate with any Spanish speaker. We make them aware of things that are a strong feature in one particular type of Spanish, but we don't expect them to learn a lot of very local words."
"Take spelling - spellcheckers in English come in different varieties - you have UK English, American English, and so on. In Spanish, for all the different varieties, you have only one.
Like the OU's existing French and German programmes, the Spanish programme consists of three courses - the launch of En Rumbo will be followed by Viento en popa, and finally A buen puerto.
Students who take the second and third course can gain a recognised qualification: a Diploma.
Video, audio, TV broadcasts and optional CD-ROMs complement the course text.
The programme is not for complete beginners - a basic knowledge of Spanish, roughly equivalent to GCSE/ O-level, is required (although a formal qualification is not necessary). A self-assessment test for prospective students is available from the OU.
There's also an independent study pack A Bordo, for those who want to brush up their Spanish before they start the course.
More details of the Spanish programme - and other courses from the Centre for Modern Languages - from your OU regional centre, or ring 01908 858585. Or e-mail a request for a prospectus to firstname.lastname@example.orgReuse content