Our Readers' Opinions
October 8, 2004
Spanish is important

Editor: Students given the opportunity to study in Spanish-speaking countries such as Cuba and Mexico must see themselves as fortunate. Apart from the specific area of training they will embark on, they also learn a second language – Spanish, which enhances their knowledge and understanding of other cultures and provides them with a more rounded view of the world. {{more}} It also provides greater possibilities for acquiring knowledge, as they will be able to communicate with Spanish-speaking intellectuals and read relevant materials published in Spanish.

The importance of being able to interact with intellectuals from some of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the region must never be underestimated. This is in light of the fact that the four oldest universities in the Americas are Santo Domingo (1538); San Marcos de Lima (1551); Santa Fe de Bogotá (1580); and Cordoba in Argentina (1613).

(N.B.: Harvard University was founded in 1636, the first in the English-speaking part of the Americas.)

With the coming on stream of the FTAA, there will be greater need for our people to be able to communicate efficiently in both English and Spanish. Professionals who are able to interact and communicate without the need of a translator will be an asset. His or her possibility of employment will be enlarged. We will be able to transact business more swiftly and more efficiently, as one of the challenges of translators has always been the appropriate translation of technical information.

A lot of people in the English-speaking Caribbean have never seen the need to learn Spanish or any other foreign language because it was felt the onus was on others to learn our language if they wanted to do business with us. It was also felt in some quarters that academic excellence was an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon.

Our tardiness in recognizing the need to encourage our people to learn Spanish may have been a result of the latter. The fact that the University of the West Indies has been slow in moving to establish meaningful links with Latin American universities has had some negative impact. It has always baffled me why our beloved UWI has never made a significant attempt to make use of the experiences of the universities of Santo Domingo and La Havana, which are 410 and 220 years respectively older than it is.

It is important that our people, especially our students, understand the importance of learning Spanish if we are to maximise the benefits from our integration into important hemispheric institutions. If you cannot communicate with the people, you cannot effectively compete in their marketplace.

If knowledge is power, then anything that enhances our potential to obtain knowledge adds to the power. Scientific development knows no language and we must position ourselves to capitalise on these developments.

We must be prepared to meet the challenges ahead or we will be condemned forever.

Dr. Franklyn James