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EL ESP: Civil Guard goes multilingual


Andrea Pérez talks to Lieutenant Colonel J. Sergio Caracuel, head of the Spanish Guardia Civil Language Department, about the English language policy in this institution

The Spanish Guardia Civil (Civil Guard) is the oldest law enforcement body in Spain. It was founded on 28 March 1844 and was born as a response to the insecure environment that followed Spain’s First Carlist War and the weakness of the state in that period. Composed of more than 82,000 women and men, the Civil Guard is now the most respected institution in the country, La Razon newspaper reported. The Civil Guard’s responsibilities include ports and airports, environmental protection, highway patrols and more.

English language proficiency is increasingly important for this body. ‘The level of awareness about the importance of the English language as a professional tool is huge in the Civil Guard,’ Lieutenant Colonel J. Sergio Caracuel, head of its Language Department said. Knowledge of English is important from the moment people join the service. Candidates who want to join have to pass civil service exams, and have to choose between an English or French language test. If they do not pass this language exam, they cannot join the force. According to J. Sergio Caracuel, ‘Nowadays, the language test chosen by the majority of the candidates is the English language test, because the English language is the main language of study by our young people’.

During basic training period Civil Guard cadets have English as a mandatory subject. This language is essential for attending international forums where the Civil Guard takes part – Europol, Frontex (EU border force), the European Gendarmerie Force for international missions under the European Union, Nato and the UN, where English is the lingua franca.

‘The English language is also needed in operations within Spain, for example in tourist areas. With commercial and professional activity also in the European environment, where the free movement of people and goods is a reality, it multiplies this necessity,’ he stated.

‘After the training, during their professional life, a lot of them do – voluntarily – linguistic competence tests (SLP tests).’ The Language Department organises these tests annually following the standardisation agreement that Nato applies for military English exams and tests.

This agreement describes language proficiency levels related to listening, speaking, reading and writing. Six levels define each skill area: 0 (no proficiency), 1 (survival), 2 (functional), 3 (professional), 4 (expert) and 5 (highly articulate native). According to Caracuel, ‘In 2016 we have received 5,000 applications to take the exam – 81 per cent is for English and the rest is divided into French, Portuguese, Italian, Arabic and Russian.’

This enforcement body, military in nature, comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defence, and is also known as the ‘la Benemerita’ (roughly equivalent to the ‘bobbies’ in the UK). Caracuel states, ‘We have noticed an increase of our people who study languages, and they are aware that language proficiency opens doors to professional levels in both a national and international field.’ A lot of roles that they apply for require English language proficiency. In just ten years the number of standardisation tests in the English language has increased by 290 per cent.

‘The direct consequences of this increase have been the development of language courses in different fields and the acquisition of proper facilities at our Guardia Civil Language Centre in Valdemoro, Madrid,’ Caracuel said.

In this institution there are three types of training, depending on rank and roles: basic training, professional development and professional training for senior officers. In the first type of training, English is always a mandatory subject, while in the second English language training is run in response to the unit’s needs and budgetary necessities – units pitch for approval for language courses to fulfil a particular need. ‘There are different courses and the most important thing is the students who attend these courses. In the general English language courses, we work with language proficiency and verbal fluency,’ Caracuel said. The institution is also trying to update English language training with applied technology, and they are organising online courses.

This year the Civil Guard is investing over half a million euros in English language courses for more than 3,000 officers, the digital newspaper Vozpopuli has reported (See EL Gazette May 2016). 

HEADQUARTERS: The increase in English language tests has led to ‘the acquisition of proper facilities at our Guardia Civil Language Centre in Valdemoro, Madrid,’ according to Caracuel

Pic Courtesy: Sergio J. Caracuel