Free English class initiative seeks to boost taxi small talk

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Chamber of Commerce offers free English classes to small business owners and employees.

11 February 2008

MADRID - As any visitor to Madrid will attest, the city's taxi drivers, bar staff and waiters are generally not well versed in the English language, making communicating here more difficult than in most other European capitals.

That, however, could start to change thanks to a new programme being run by the Chamber of Commerce, which has started to offer English classes for free to any small business owner or employee who wants to learn.

After 12 years behind the wheel of a taxi, 50-year-old Antonio Figueroa has picked up a few words of English. "Girls, girls, girls" is one of them, he says. "They ask that a lot and, well, I take them to the places where the girls are."

"The Palace of the King," is another favourite request, according to Figueroa, but beyond understanding where they want to go and what they want to do, the veteran taxi driver admits to having a hard time conversing with clients. "I've wanted to learn languages for some time," he says.

According to the Chamber of Commerce, 65 percent of the students who have signed up for the 150-hour English course are taxi drivers, while most of the rest work in the hospitality sector.

However, even after the course ends, finding a taxi driver or waiter in Madrid who speaks good English may still be a problem - just 18 students attended the first class.

[Copyright EL PAÍS / ÍÑIGO GARCÍA 2008]

Subject: Spanish news

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