our rich, multicultural island
President Hugo Chavez.
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
T&Ts 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&Ts 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
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
Fiction: SAFFL seeks to displace Trinbagos culture
(including the English language) and promote that of Latin
Fact: The SAFFL initiative involves no policy to align T&Ts
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 persons knowledge of the English
language evolves throughout that persons 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 individuals 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 ones 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.