of speech delivered by Ken Valley, Minister of Trade and
Industry, at the launch of the Spanish as the First Foreign
Language initiative on March 22
sí to Spanish
Spanish as the First Foreign Language programme is an important
step in the process of integrating our economy with that
of Latin America. By declaring Spanish as the first foreign
language of T&T, the Government has made a bold move
to prepare our citizens for the challenges and opportunities
of regional expansion.
When we initiated plans to propel this nation to developed
country status by the year 2020, Government recognised that
along with formulating and implementing policies at the
trade and investment levels, we had to equip our people
with the appropriate skills, training and techniques in
order to compete effectively on the global stage.
Today, we know that one of the most important abilities
we can develop as a nation is proficiency in both the English
and Spanish languages, to provide prospective investors
with a workforce that can communicate effectively and conduct
business in the two dominant languages of this hemisphere.
As a predominantly English-speaking nation determined to
become the regional business, manufacturing and transshipment
hub, our strategy to accomplish this vision incorporates
the development of a competitive advantage in relation to
While we do enjoy a strong geographic position and highly
developed business sector, our economic goals demand that
we also ensure a commercial setting where the human resource
base responds rapidly and efficiently to the demands of
modern-day business in a global environment.
In addition, as a nation bent on enhancing its trading capacity,
we must be responsive to the growing population and the
related increasing economic power of Spanish speakers in
Census figures in 2000 indicate that within the next decade,
Spanish speakers will cross the 900 million mark in the
Americas. As a result countries are clamouring to advertise
in the Spanish-language media market, employees proficient
in Spanish and English are being hired over equally qualified
monolingual employees, and already trade talks are increasingly
held, not in English, but in Spanish.
Right here, at meetings of the Association of Caribbean
States where I am chairman of the Special Committee on Trade
Development and External Economic Relations, discussions
are conducted primarily in Spanish. Those of us who wish
to participate in English must utilise the interpreters.
Twenty years ago it would have seemed unrealistic to imagine
34 countries from our region uniting to strengthen trade
links. And yet this is exactly what is happening, with the
onset of the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Our region
is meeting the demands of globalisation head on, and as
the front-runners to host the FTAA headquarters, we must
lead by example.
With 18 of the 34 countries in the FTAA citing Spanish as
their first language, and the fact that Trinidad and Tobago
benefits from over $1 billion in trade from our Spanish
speaking neighbours, it seems only fitting that we take
steps to ensure that our citizens can survive and thrive
in this new, increasingly bilingual environment.
As we increase our stature in the trade arena, develop further
our links with sub-regional groups such as Mercosur, the
potential opening of Cuba and the growing economic power
of many countries across Latin America have inspired us
to not only improve our proficiency in Spanish, but develop
a competency at the national level which will place us ahead
of the game when companies make crucial choices for business
Trade liberalisation and globalisation, with their inherent
challenges and opportunities, are impacting all nations
at the socio-cultural as well as economic levels. As countries
develop even closer ties, eventually, not only trade demarcations,
but slowly and surely, the importance of national and cultural
boundaries will diminish. The world is changing rapidly
around us, and we must be prepared to meet the new imperatives
head on, to arm ourselves and, most important of all, our
children with the skills needed to manage this new environment.
Today we celebrate a major step in our drive to meet the
demands of globalisation and trade liberalisationthe
launch of the Spanish as the First Foreign Language programme
in Trinidad and Tobago, and the establishment of the Secretariat
for the Implementation of Spanish, that will serve as the
execution arm of this initiative, on behalf of the Cabinet-appointed
For those of you familiar with my ministry, which is grounded
in the world of bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations,
business, commerce and industrial development, this project
may seem to be a somewhat unfamiliar undertaking. But the
demands of regional and international business and world
trade ultimately drive its implementation and therefore
make it part of our mandate.
While this country remains a stalwart member of Caricom
and the English-speaking Caribbean, we consider this step
to make Spanish our first foreign language as a recognition
of our long-standing cultural connection to the Spanish
language and Hispanic culture. This is grounded in our history
as a colony of Spain for nearly 400 years, and of course
from our geographic position a mere seven miles from Venezuela,
as the crow flies.
One need only look to the names of our cities to see Spanish
is a highly visible element of life in Trinidad and Tobago:
San Fernando, Santa Cruz, Las Cuevas, Sangre Grande, San
Juan and Diego Martinjust to name a few. The mountain
range which inspired the name of our nation is an extension
of the Andes on the South American continent.
So close are we to the Americas that many across the globe
incorrectly assumed Spanish is our mother tongue. With the
launch of this initiative, we will ensure the answer to
inquiries as to whether we speak Spanish will be sí.
Already, senior executives throughout the private sector
are saying sí to Spanish. The TTMA and
Tidco report that trade visits to Latin American countries
are resulting in greater interest in Spanish language programmes
at home. The Centre for Language Learning at the University
of the West Indies reports increased enrolment in Spanish
language classesas do the Venezuelan Embassy, Niherst
and many private Spanish institutions and providers across
Many employment agencies, both locally and internationally,
have reported a significant number of clients giving preference
to persons competent in our first foreign language. The
recently published UWI Institute of Business Corporate Confidence
Index shows that 61 per cent of executives indicated their
companies would be recruiting within the next year. Job
seekers already fluent in Spanish can use this capability
as leverage in negotiating for higher salaries and/or benefit
packages from employers.
Those of us that follow employment trends will remember
that 15 to 20 years ago, prospective employees listing computer
literacy on their resumes were able to do the same. Those
individuals who failed to notice the trend, today find themselves
facing great difficulty in todays computer-driven
While we are closing the technological gap, as a responsible
government we cannot allow a similar situation to challenge
our citizens in the bilingual workplaces of the future.
That is why we are launching SAFFL todayto contribute
to the ongoing development of our nation.
As the Ministry of Education has stated, their language
instruction process is designed to ensure that a child born
tomorrow will be exposed to Spanish during their primary
While this ensures there will be knowledge of the language,
the SIS is mandated to ensure utility of that knowledge.
Focusing on the public and private sectors, the secretariat
will serve as a resource, providing statistics on the practicality
of having a Spanish proficient workforce, information on
best practices in creating a Spanish learning environment
in the workplace and helping companies explore the Spanish
training options best suited to their needs.
Charged with the implementation and development of Spanish
as the first foreign language in all spheres of our society,
the SIS will be diligent in bringing this initiative to
fruition. Already the secretariat has been activeworking
to launch Spanish training programmes in government ministries.
At the Ministry of Trade and Industry, signage in our offices
is in both English and Spanish, and we have established
Spanish language programmes at different proficiency levels
for staff. Documents sent to Latin governments and agencies
are translated into Spanish to facilitate better communication
and emphasise cultural sensitivity, and our new ministry
corporate profile will be published in both languages.
As you know, implementing a language programme nationwide
requires dedication at the individual level and support
at the national level. We encourage individuals, organisations
and indeed communities to begin acquiring Spanish language
skills, and assure you that the SIS is here to assist in
any way possible.