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Why don’t people speak English in Buenos Aires? No, this isn’t the lament of a closed-minded tourist who believes Argentines should discard their beautiful native tongue in order to make his life easier. It´s the cry of the English teachers, the owners of English institutes and the headmistresses at bilingual schools. And they’re wondering why, when a lot of educated people have a high level of English understanding, they don’t want to speak it.

The owner of an English institute told me how hard it was to find teachers who were enthusiastic and skilled at speaking English. While many teachers have flawless reading and writing skills they can’t explain things fluently and they don’t want to chat with the students in English. Often the full package is only found in teachers who have spent time in English-speaking countries.

I’m talking about west Buenos Aires and the neighbourhoods outside of the capital city. I believe it is easier to find enthusiasm for spoken English in the city, but why? People there are more likely to need English to work in bars, restaurants or international companies? They are more likely to have non-native friends because most overseas people live in the capital? They feel more confident?

Confidence is most definitely an issue I can relate to. For me, it is one hundred times more difficult to speak a new language than it is to read or listen. And it’s a lot scarier. You’re on the spot, in the spotlight. The words fail to come, or they tumble out in the wrong order and it’s not possible to do a little pre-editing beforehand. I’m well aware it is essential to practice but the good intentions often evaporate at the moment of opening my mouth.

Don’t be surprised that a lot of people here in Buenos Aires understand everything you say in English. Many are just not likely to answer back.

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