Spanish – it’s big for business (and good for holidays)

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If you sell to, or have any business dealings with, Spain or any of the c. two dozen countries where Spanish is the official language, then it doesn’t half help if you can speak their language.

Yes, we know that English is the language of international business, but Spanish is actually the second most spoken language in the world (after Mandarin).  Even in The United States, where you might think that we have a natural advantage in speaking (more or less!) the same language, it’s worth noting that by mid-century it’s quite probable that the USA will be the largest Spanish speaking country on the planet!  For those English-speaking businesses in the UK and the US that do not have employees able to communicate in foreign languages, there’s literally a world of missed opportunity: in the case of Spanish, 420 million missed opportunities (that’s roughly the number of native Spanish speakers in the world).

When it comes to business in Scotland there are a lot of people who do import, export or generally transact or otherwise work with Spanish speaking countries and companies.  It is immensely helpful to be able to speak the same language as your customers or colleagues abroad. Given the popularity of Spain as a holiday destination, it’s also quite handy on the Costa del Sol (other Costas are available).

You might think the answer is to employ more language graduates.  Unfortunately, in recent years, the numbers studying languages at schools and universities have declined so that’s not as easy as it was previously.

The answer is for you – and the teams who work with you – to learn Spanish.  The good news is that it’s not a difficult language to learn, nor is it particularly expensive to do so.  However, it is expensive if you lose business to a competitor who “habla español mejor que tú” (speaks Spanish better than you).

If you’d like to find out more about our courses for business (or any other courses that we offer) please contact me at: or call 0141 332 7970

¡Muchas gracias y hasta pronto!

Ricky Kemp, Lorca Spanish.

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Can Spain surprise people at Euro 2016?

The Champions League Final for the 2015-16 season is not only between two Spanish sides, but two Spanish sides from the same city. Athletico Madrid and Real Madrid are contesting the final for the second time in three seasons. The current holders – at the time of writing – are Barcelona, who have won the competition four times in the last ten years.

Spanish clubs are good at this competition. No one would be surprised if one of these three went on to win the Champions League next year.

However, the Spanish national side have lost their dominant edge. After winning Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup, and then Euro 2012 Spain were expected to mount a strong defence of their title at the 2014 World Cup.

They then failed to qualify from the group stages.

This is not entirely un-related to their domestic sides’ success in Europe. Barcelona and Spain had pioneered the tiki-taka style, a passing game combined with high-energy pressing of the opposition, and this had produced four years of dominance. However, after four years of employing the tactic, opponents began to learn how to play against it. For example, Real Madrid successfully counter-attacked against Bayern Munich’s deployment of the system, and Athletico’s game is based on rigid defensive solidity and lightning quick counter-attacking down the flanks. It’s worth noting that Athletico beat Barcelona in this year’s competition (even if Barca’s version of tiki-taka has been modified over the years). Holland ripped Spain apart in 2014 due to a combination of luck and their manager observing that they left space on the wings and had difficulty coping with pace thrdough the middle.

There has been some surprise at Spain’s Euro 2016 squad leaving out high-profile players such as Diego Costa, Juan Mata, Fernando Torres and Javi Martinez. Their highest scorer in qualifying, Paco Alcacer, is also absent. While the midfield and attack have changed from that game in Brasil, the defence – arguably one of the main problems during the game against the Dutch – has remained almost identical.

Still, back in 2008, tiki-taka was employed as a pragmatic measure to provide cover and relief to a suspect defence. It’s a high-risk strategy, but one that Spain will hope pays off in France this summer.


Juan Piedra

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A Brief History of Comics in Spain

With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice still clogging up cinema screens across the country, and Captain America: Civil War arriving at midnight tonight, comic book movies are now an established part of the cinematic landscape. The UK has an illustrious history at creating and adapting famous comic book properties, but what of Spain? What sort of relationship does it have with comics? Do Marvel even have a Captain Spain?

Comics are known as tebeos in Spain, after a long-running and popular comic magazine called TBO. There are fewer superhero comics in Spain as superheroes were banned under Franco’s regime, so Spain’s golden age comics consist of comedy and historical characters. The Forties and Fifties focussed on the slapstick mishaps of incurable losers, and historical adventures. Censorship became more extreme in the Sixties, but one of Spain’s most popular comics became established in this period.

Mort & Phil (or Mortadelo y Filemón as it was known in Spain) were hapless private eyes who suffered slapstick indignities not dissimilar to those suffered by antagonists in Looney Tunes cartoons. After becoming serialised, it is still running today, and has been adapted for film and television.

Mort & Phil

As well as increasingly absurd comedy adventures, horror comics enjoyed some popularity with adult readers, and after Franco’s regime ended comics were able to be more expressive. El Vibora was published from 1979 to 2005, but was an alternative comic that published work from international artists (including American alternative comic writers like Charles Burns and Robert Crumb). El Jueves, a satire magazine, was founded in 1977 and is still running today. It is one of few survivors however, with many Spanish comics running into financial problems in the Eighties due to the rise of computer games and an increase in the cost of paper.

And yes, there was a Captain Spain, but only in a universe which has since been destroyed in a collision with our own. I think. It gets a bit complicated if you aren’t paying attention.


Juan Piedra


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Oranges, barbers and Spring fairs

Feria de Abril or Seville April Fair generally takes place a fortnight after Holy Week (Semana Santa). It’s a week long festival that ends – as so many Spanish festivals do – with a colossal firework display, in this case over the Guadadalquivir River. Having started as a cattle fair back in 1847, the number of casetas – tents set up to contain guests – increased until Feria de Abril had become Seville’s largest party by the 1920s.

By EdTarwinski –, CC BY 2.0,

The fair kicks off on the Monday with la noche del pescaito – which some of you may already have worked out means ‘Fish night’. Disappointingly, or reassuringly depending on your point of view, this involves having a fish-based meal for dinner before heading out for the Alumbrado, or switching on of the lights. This is usually done by the Mayor, but this year a local schoolgirl has the honour. After this the sherry casks are cracked open, and the festivities can properly begin.

It is said the birthplace of Flamenco lies over the river from Seville, and so it’s no surprise that the streets are filled with Sevillianas, dressed in Flamenco dresses and el traje corto suits. The rest of the week sees festivities start with midday parades called Paseo de Caballos, where people dressed up in their finery are taken by horse to the Real Maestranza bullring for an evening’s entertainment.

Should you be interested in visiting it’s worth noting that this fair – and the tents that spring up with traditional Spanish food and dancing – are considered to be for locals. Entering the casetas is by invite only, though there are some public tents and you can still visit the streets where the processions, fireworks and light shows take place.


Juan Piedra


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Johan Cruyff 1947 – 2016

Johan Cruyff was a semi-legendary figure, even in his lifetime. If Barcelona’s stadium is named after him, he will soon become a genuine footballing legend. Future generations will be able to look up grainy footage of his playing days on the internet, putting a face to the name.

While Holland are regarded now as a fading great, they weren’t always in football’s upper ranks. In the Seventies they surged ahead of their opponents with a revelatory style of play known as ‘Total football’, a philosophy developed by Rinus Michels that Cruyff bought into and became greatly associated with. This system – also adopted early on by Real Madrid! – required each player to be able to cover any other position within the tactical system, to prevent gaps from forming and keeping the team’s shape. Cruyff may have played upfront, but he wandered about the pitch to where he could do the most damage, leaving other team’s confused as to who was picking him up when he dropped deep or out to the flanks. This either gave Cruyff space, or created space when the opposition were dragged out to mark him, allowing one of Cruyff’s team-mates to fill the gap.

By Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Rijksfotoarchief: Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Fotopersbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989 – negatiefstroken zwart/wit, nummer toegang, bestanddeelnummer 928-0928 – Nationaal Archief Fotocollectie Anefo, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl,

Michels and Cruyff moved from Ajax to Barcelona in the early-Seventies (the latter for a then world record transfer fee). In his first season they won the league title for the first time in fourteen years. As a coach, he made a similar journey. He moved from Ajax to Barca in 1988, having revolutionised the club’s youth system. He performed a similar feat at Barcelona, and turned the club into a potent force on the world stage. His legacy lasts to the present, with former manager Pep Guardiola part of Cruyff’s European Cup winning squad of 1992. Guardiola in turn revolutionised football, evolving total football into tiki-taka which conquered Europe with Barcelona and the word with Spain.

In 2010 Cruyff was named honorary president of the club. He died in Barcelona. Even if all he had contributed to the city was the 1974 title, his legend will live on there.


Juan Piedra

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Why Carpenters fans should head to Valencia

Las Fallas is currently happening in Valencia. Deemed by some a ‘super festival’ the event lasts for five days (the 15th through to the 19th of March each year) and attracts visitors from all over the world.

The main focus of the festival is Saint Joseph or San José, the patron saint of carpenters. Unsurprisingly, the origins of the festival are humble indeed: carpenters used to place candles on hung wooden boards during the dark winter months, and then ceremonially burn them upon the arrival of spring. Like many festivals it is therefore tied to the seasons.

Over the years these wooden boards would evolve into decorated shelves, elaborate satires of contemporary celebrities, and then finally become today’s elaborate caricatures, floats and statues. See if you can guess their eventual fate:

Burning fallas

This happens on St Josephs Day because authorities found it easier to control the numerous fires if they all happened at the same time in the same place. Nowadays neighbourhoods all make their own individual ninots, raising the money and building the models themselves. Taste and decency for the lampooned celebrities is not a consideration.

Starting at 8am, brass bands and firecrackers will wake up the majority of festival goers, and any stragglers will probably be awoken by the resulting car alarms. Each day will see processions in the streets and each night will see fireworks displays above the main city square. On the final day, things get burned. One ninot is spared burning by public vote, but otherwise these elaborate and sometimes ungainly structures will be razed to the ground by being stuffed full of fireworks and then set alight.

So, all in all, not a festival to bring your dog to then.


Juan Piedra

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Top Tapas

Tapas, more than any other Spanish foodstuff, has managed to permeate UK dining culture. While individual meals may be famed – paella, tortilla, and jamon for example – tapas is where a lot of people first discover these dishes. Maybe your high street chain Tapas bar isn’t totally authentic, but we’ve all got to start somewhere. Some people don’t read Dracula without going through Twilight first.

The idea behind tapas is to avoid having one whole meal set before you, which occupies your focus. Thus, with passing around small portions between you, you make conversation while sampling different foods that make up a whole meal. The meals originated in roadside Spanish inns, where most of the clients were illiterate or unable to understand the language. Thus, small samples were given out to taste. The word tapas means ‘Top’, as in ‘to top something’ in terms of placing a lid on it. Another origin suggests that tapas comes from the use of bread and meat to cover sherry glasses so fruit flies wouldn’t get in. Ham and chorizo, being salty meats, would make the customers want to drink more, and thus barmen set about expanding their menus.

As Spain changed, was invaded, discovered new lands, and brought back new foodstuffs, so tapas changed. Nowadays tapas bars find customers who want to eat after work, due to the lateness of dinner time requiring additional sustenance in the interim. In many parts of Spain these bars are found in winding backstreets. Seville is no exception. As Andalucia regards itself as the true home of tapas Seville is where a major tapas festival is held every year.

The endless variety of tapas, something that will continue to expand, means that it is a truly vast and potentially tastebud-shattering event. With a festival demonstrating the best of tapas staples and novel cuisine by the local Heston Blumenthals, this is a food festival where there’s definitely something for everyone.


Juan Piedra

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The Jerez Flamenco Festival

Derek Zoolander, the idiot supermodel, returns to the cinemas this week, which co-incidentally also sees the bi-annual Madrid Fashion Week taking place. In Madrid. Obviously. It’s the main event in the Spanish fashion calendar, and attracts the great and the good from that echelon of society. However, if you want your chance to strut around and pout – rather than watching other people do it – you should consider the Jerez Flamenco Festival. You’ll learn there’s considerably more to it than that.

Jerez is an Andalucian city near Seville, famed for its wine/sherry, flamenco and horses. Even the horses dance in Jerez, so it’s no surprise to learn it’s the home of an international Flamenco festival.


Flamenco is an artform native to Andalucia, and is comprised of dance, guitar, vocals and percussion (the latter two generated by the human body). While associated with the Romani people of Spain, it is clearly influenced by the blend of cultures, and is essentially a theatrical performance of Andalusian musical tradition.

Jerez is, like Flamenco, a mix of cultures. It’s an Andalucian city with Moorish architecture and a Romani quarter, and contains a centre establshed to protect the art of Flamenco. It’s an obvious choice for the international festival, and throughout the year offers tourists clubs and pubs to practice in.

In February, however, the world comes to Jerez (there are more Flamenco clubs in parts of the USA and Japan than in areas of Spain). This is not merely for hardcore devotees, though those are catered for, as the festival has courses for all levels of expertise. These tend to fill up quickly though, as students from more than thirty countries descend on Jerez, literally for wine, women and song.


Juan Piedra

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Rio on your doorstep

The Carnaval de Santa Cruz de Tenerife runs from the 3rd to the 14th of February this year, taking place in the capital of the Canary Islands’ largest island. Second only to the Rio Carnival in terms of fame and fun, Santa Cruz de Tenerife is twinned with Rio as a result of this (and other reasons).

It’s a huge event. In 1987 the singer Celia Cruz played a concert to around two hundred and fifty thousand people, listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest gathering of people at an outdoor plaza. That should give you an idea of the scale of the festival.

Starting on the Friday before the carnival with a parade – overnight, reaching its peak in the dark and continuing til the next day – the festitivites continue until Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent, February the 10th this year). The carnival finishes with the entierro de la sardina or ‘burial of the sardine’, but this is not the end of the partying. It continues the following week.

The official carnival is only part of the celebration. The street parties that happen around the main event expand it to an even larger show. The first thing you will notice from photos of the carnival is the colour and clothes: everyone is dressing up.

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The festival may go back as far as the Seventeenth Century, with journals detailing similar sounding events in the area as early as 1605. While the basics of a Carnival Queen, musical theatre, dancing, and folk music are consistent throughout, each year the carnival is themed. Last year’s theme was ‘The Future’, whereas this year’s is ‘The Roaring Eighties’. Quite the contrast.


Juan Piedra


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Nowt so queer as folk

Nearly everywhere you go, there is folk music.

On the last Sunday in January, every year, the Murcian village of Barranda (locaed in the principality of Caravaca de la Cruz) holds the largest gathering of folk musicians in Spain. This year’s Fiesta de Las Cuadrillas runs from the 28th to the 31st of January, and will see thousands of visitors flock to Barranda.

Starting in 1969 and holding its 38th event this year, the festival sees around fifteen groups from all over Spain head to Murcia. It originated during celebrations on the fiesta de la Candelaria – the patron saint of the village – whose saint day it is on the day of the festival.

In the morning they play (after Mass, of course) in the street surrounded by the crowds before entering into a battle of the bands where singers attempt to outwit each other. Around thirty thousand people attend the festival, so the audiences can spill out into the surrounding countryside! The atmosphere is one of fun, dancing and barbecues.

As well as the music, there’s an accompanying market stall selling local produce. Workshops and talks are given to visitors to demonstrate the area’s history and practices. While the main festival takes place over one day, there’s also a museum containing the largest collection of ethnic musical instruments in Europe. This allows the event to be spread over three days, so you can learn about the history before losing yourself in the music.



Juan Piedra

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