Tuesday 4th October, 2005


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Enhance our rich, multicultural island

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez.
AP Photo

The Secretariat for the Implementation of Spanish has developed the following paper centred on debunking certain myths about the SIS and the SAFFL initiative.

Fact and Fiction: The Spanish As the First Foreign Language (SAFFL) Initiative.

T&T’s historic thrust to make Spanish its first foreign language has captured the attention of various media houses around the world. In an effort to ensure that SAFFL policies and objectives are not misunderstood or misrepresented, the Secretariat for the Implementation of Spanish (SIS) has decided to clarify certain issues surrounding the work of the SIS and SAFFL initiative.

Fiction: SAFFL is not a government initiative.

Fact: The Spanish As the First Foreign Language (SAFFL) initiative was adopted by the Government of the Republic of T&T in September, 2004. It is one in a series of programmes aimed at making our nation more attractive to foreign investment and also another step towards our nation achieving developed country status by the year 2020. The Secretariat for the Implementation of Spanish (SIS), a division of the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), has been mandated to drive the SAFFL initiative SAFFL will increase the economic potential and marketability of T&T to foreign investors. It was therefore decided that SAFFL should be in the province of the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Fiction: SAFFL does not take into consideration Trinbagonians who do not speak Spanish but are bilingual /multilingual

Fact: The SAFFL initiative recognises T&T’s linguistic diversity and seeks to enhance it by encouraging the learning of Spanish. One stated aim of SAFFL is the facilitation of a new learning environment through which the citizens of T&T will learn and adopt Spanish as the First Foreign Language. It does not deny that many sectors of Trinbagonian society are already bilingual or multilingual, given the diversity and eclectic nature of our twin-island state. The Initiative also does not intend to discourage the learning of foreign languages other than Spanish. Rather, it seeks to encourage and make it easier for more citizens to develop proficiency in Spanish because of the personal and national benefits to be accrued. Some of the benefits of SAFFL include:

• With Spanish As the First Foreign Language (SAFFL), our citizens will be able to compete for higher paying positions in the bilingual workplaces of tomorrow.

• With a Spanish and English proficient workforce, our local companies will be more competitive and attractive in the international marketplace.

• With Spanish As the First Foreign Language (SAFFL), we will become more attractive to our neighbours in the Americas and to potential trade partners across the globe.

• Spanish in T&T will not erode but will seek to increase appreciation for, and further enhance our already rich multicultural fabric.

Fiction: SAFFL seeks to displace Trinbago’s culture (including the English language) and promote that of Latin America.

Fact: The SAFFL initiative involves no policy to align T&T’s culture more closely to that of Latin America. It does not seek to replace English with Spanish as our first language. Nor does it aim to make Spanish an official second language, partly because of the complex social, bureaucratic and legal ramifications this shift would entail.

It does, however, recognise that our country already possesses a rich cosmopolitan culture which is interconnected at various levels with that of Latin America. Therefore, it seeks to highlight some of these links to demonstrate that speaking Spanish is not alien to our society and that many facets of our heritage is in fact Spanish in origin. In our recently published article, “Spanish place names in Trinidad” (Guardian, August 31, Pg 31), we highlighted the Spanish roots of various streets and cities in T&T.

SIS also acknowledges that culture is a constantly evolving entity and in an era of increasing globalisation, this is certainly more true than ever before. Therefore, one of the objectives of SAFFLE is to ensure that there is a clear understanding of the cultures which are emerging in our society and their impact on the cultural landscape of T&T.

Fiction: Proficiency in Spanish means you can translate every English word into Spanish.

Fact: The SAFFL initiative is designed to help our nation become proficient in Spanish within the next ten to fifteen years. However, just as no anglophone speaker can know the English word for every concept, it is rather unrealistic to expect that even a native Spanish speaker will know every Spanish word, far less someone learning Spanish as a second language. An ordinary person’s knowledge of the English language evolves throughout that person’s life and it includes improvements in the construction of syntax and prose, the discovery and recalling of synonyms and the development of an understanding of the various nuances of words. Similarly, an individual’s understanding and ability to utilise Spanish is so developed.

Fiction: SAFFL is relevant only to medium and large-scale firms with importing and exporting capabilities.

Fact: It is more than likely that some level of proficiency in Spanish will be valuable to employees and business people across the board. This applies to the self-employed small businessman or woman providing for local markets, to companies engaged in international trade. According to statistics from the Central Statistical Office (CSO), the amount of visitors from the Spanish Americas coming into T&T has increased steadily from the late 90s to 2003, especially for vacation, business and convention purposes.

This implies that the chances of interacting with, native Spanish-speakers are increasing, not just for those whose commercial, activities are based on tourism and hospitality, but also for those in local retail businesses and even in intra-island transportation (For example Taxi drivers). Being able to market products, services, stores and other facilities in Spanish might just increase local customer bases in the near future.

Also, the link between Spanish and e-commerce, which involves marketing and selling products and services via the Internet should not be forgotten. The percentage of non-anglophone speakers using the internet is growing, and being able to translate web content into Spanish, the dominant language in the Western hemisphere will be valuable to entrepreneurs and other local firms interested or involved in e-commerce.

And of course, some level of proficiency in Spanish might just boost one’s confidence marketing products and services (no matter how big or small) in neighbouring Spanish speaking countries of the Caribbean, South and Central America.

For more information on the Spanish as the First Foreign Language (SAFFL) initiative, please contact the Secretariat for the Implementation of Spanish (A division of the Ministry of Trade and Industry) at 624-8329/627-9513. Fax: 623-0365.






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