Spain's oldest university is striving to consolidate its position as the Oxford of Spanish-language teaching. Juan Felipe García, director of international courses at the University of Salamanca, believes Spanish is set to displace French as the world's second most studied language in the next few years.
Eleven universities in the United States are to set up a joint masters in Spanish language and culture with Salamanca. A similar agreement with 12 universities in Brazil is in the pipeline. The university is about to launch an online Spanish-language course and has just finished producing a series of language textbooks for Brazil's secondary schools.
The first 50 students from the universities of Indiana, Northern Colorado and Suffolk will arrive in Salamanca for six weeks' training in July. Next summer, the numbers will reach 250 as more of the US universities join in. The new masters, aimed initially at secondary-school Spanish-language teachers, will be a joint qualification awarded by Salamanca and the 11 US universities.
The programme is an indication of the growing importance of Spanish in the US, where Hispanics recently overtook blacks as the largest minority group. Kennesaw State University has established a centre for hispanic studies to carry out outreach work with Georgia's growing Hispanic community and to promote bilingualism in general.
"The effort to improve the teaching and learning of Spanish is an integral part of this general programme," said Elaine McAllister, head of foreign languages at Kennesaw.
Salamanca's language course for beginners will be available as a CD-Rom or online, and negotiations are also under way with US educational software distributors.
Juan Manuel Bustos, head of publications at Salamanca, believes the course will fill a gap in the market as only a few Spanish courses of this type exist worldwide. "We have already had inquiries from British secondary schools who need more resources," he said.
Salamanca is Spain's most popular destination for Spanish-language learners - 6,500 people attend courses at the university every year.