From Tuesday 15th until Thursday 17th I was in Malaga to attend the Transfiere trade-show with my colleague Bender.

Transfiere, European Meeting on Science, Technology and Innovation, is the biggest professional and multi-sectoral Forum for knowledge and technology transfer that takes place in Spain. More than 3,000 professionals attended this year, with more than 5,000 business meetings, and 370 experts and speakers.

View of Transfiere ©Transfiere

Neither of us had been to that event before, and since Bender is Dutch and does not speak Spanish I told him before hand that he would only be able to attend half of the meetings we had scheduled, because that was my guess of how many Spanish people attending would speak good enough English to have a meaningful conversation. In the end we scheduled 31 meetings, of which there were:

  • 3 no-shows (10%)
  • 11 spoke good English (35%)
  • 17 did not speak good enough English or none at all (55%)

It is a real shame, and Bender and I discussed some of the reasons of why such a tourism-oriented country as Spain has such low levels of English speakers, as compared with the Netherlands. Some of the reasons we came up with are:

  • College in the Netherlands is always in English
  • There are many more Spanish speakers (543 million, of which 471 million are native speakers) than Dutch (30 million, of which 25 million are native speakers), making Spanish the 4th most spoken language in the world, therefore some Spaniards do not feel the need to learn another language (that’s a common error British and American people fall for often… but that Chinese or Hindus do not)
  • Even though Spain relies on tourism, “customers” (tourists) can get the “goods” (sun, food, monuments, etc) whether they understand the language or not. The Dutch economy relies mostly on international trade, which necessarily implies having to communicate in a common language
  • Movies in the Netherlands are not dubbed, unlike in Spain
  • Spain endured 40 years of a cruel autarky dictatorship that closed the country to the outside world, including learning foreign languages

In any case, beyond work, we did enjoy several walks around the Malagueta beach, downtown, the CAC Museum, nice restaurants (hard to find a cafeteria open before 8am downtown), and even visiting some friends and former customers.

Malaga, as always, doesn’t disappoint… except if you try to speak English :-)

Some photos here