As yet, none of Spain’s presidents has been able to speak another language to a decent working level – not even French, which was taught in schools instead of English until relatively recently – despite spending thousands of euros on lessons.
But Sánchez, 46 – who would also have studied French at school rather than English – responded easily and confidently to a question asked in the language of Shakespeare during the European Summit on refugees.
Unhesitatingly – accented, but error-free – Sánchez spoke continuously for well over a minute, saying: “Our feeling is that Spain, as a society and as a government, is fulfilling our commitments…especially with regard to human rights,” and, “we are willing to respond to this global challenge of migration.”
Sánchez’s predecessor, president Mariano Rajoy (PP) made a sterling effort with his language-learning – last year alone, the government spent €13,400, or around €1,133 a month on English classes for Rajoy himself and his key cabinet colleagues, plus another €1,802, or €150 a month on French lessons.
Rajoy has never been confident about speaking foreign languages in public, though – he swiftly dismissed a question in English asked by a BBC reporter last year, awkwardly and in Spanish.
His most famous foreign language moment was in 2012 during a meeting with the then Conservative prime minister of the UK, David Cameron, where he was caught on camera attempting to use his English and only managed to say: “It’s very difficult, todo esto.”
Prior to Rajoy, socialist president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, and before then, PP president José María Aznar, underwent intensive lessons in English, in the former case, and French in the latter, but were never able to achieve a working knowledge of either.
Spain’s longest-running post-democratic president, socialist Felipe González, spoke no English and very little French.
Other ministers have been bilingual or multilingual, however – the recently-replaced foreign affairs leader Alfonso Dastis (PP) spoke fluently when interviewed on the Andrew Marr Show on UK TV.
King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia are both proficient in English, French and catalán, and the King spent several years studying in the USA and Canada.