Philippines: Ready to habla Espa ñol again?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Jan 26 15:48:31 UTC 2008

Ready to habla Español again?

Ronald S. Lim

Filipinos are no strangers to Spanish culture. With more than 300
years of shared history, it's hard not to be familiar with the culture
that our former colonizers left behind. There is always a bit of
Spanish flavor permeating into our everyday lives: From the food that
we eat, to our choice of matinee idols, and even to the shows that we
watch on primetime TV.  This familiarity extends even to our
diplomatic relations. Spain considers the Philippines "the Asian
country with greatest political relevance." Just last year, President
Arroyo was given full honors and courtesies by Spain during her
three-day visit to the country.  Alongside the many agreements that
the two countries forged was Arroyo's promise to the Spanish
government to promote the Spanish language in the country, a
declaration which prompted some to ask if this meant a return of
Spanish language teaching into the curriculum. Not so, says Instituto
Cervantes director Jose Rodriguez. Or at least, not yet.

"What the President said in Spain is that the sitting government is
committed to promote the Spanish language in the country. That
commitment must be now articulated into reality, and that is a very
important commitment on the part of the President and the government,"
he explains. In the past, it was required in college to take 12 units
of Spanish. There was no escaping learning the root words of verbs,
the conjugations, or the recital of poems in Spanish.  The matter of
whether every Juan dela Cruz will be learning ' como estas?' with
their "How do you do's?" is still very much an undecided matter
according to Rodriguez, who is only sure that whatever agreements are
reached between the two countries, the 17-year old Instituto Cervantes
is sure to play a pivotal role.

"It's now government to government, and I do not know what the role of
Instituto Cervantes is right now. We can't commit on what our role
will be because it will be up to the governments to define what the
policy will be, but definitely the Instituto Cervantes must have a
role," says Rodriguez. "We are now training 6,500 students studying
Spanish here in Metro Manila, and from time to time we have courses
for the improvement of the teaching of Spanish, updating the Spanish
teachers from all over the Philippines."

Time for reacquaintance

With or without an agreement, Rodriguez stresses that learning the
Spanish language is not just a matter of looking back at a shared
history, or to fulfill a desire to sound like a snotty mestizo. "I
think it's time to know each other, because we are not informed
properly," he says. "Whenever I am in public speaking engagements, I
have to inform them that Spanish can be a tool for economic
development. Spain is one of the ten largest economies in the world.
Forty-five millon people speak the language in the United States of
America. Even here in Instituto Cervantes, we have people from the
United States looking for billingual people for call centers, or as
caregivers, nurses, even lawyers."

Rodriguez also points out that despite the shared history, the
Philippines is lagging behind its Asian neighbors when it comes to the
importance Spanish is accorded in the school curriculum. "The
Philippines must be at the same level as their neighbors in South East
Asia," he stresses. "South Korea has 13 universities which have Ph.
D.'s in Spanish. In Taiwan they have 10. Here in the country, it is
only the University of the Philippines that offers a doctorate in the
language. It is my goal that Filipinos, through information, know the
importance of the language, how it can change your life. It can be an
employment-generating language."

Instituto Cervantes is certainly not lagging behind when it comes to
promotion. Aside from its immensely popular Spanish film festival
Pelicula, held every October, Rodriguez says that they are trying to
reach as many people as they can through different activities,
workshops, events, and partnerships with institutions sharing the same
goal of popularizing Spanish. "We are forming more and more agreements
with institutions that have the same vision and mission of spreading
the language, and we are looking for more and more agreements. Right
now we are even preparing for an agreement with the University of
Nueva Vizcaya," he reveals.

Those partnerships aren't just one-sided affairs either: Rodriguez
says that both partners flourish in this relationship. " We have very
committed and involved partnerships with other institutions," he says.
"The Instituto will be present for the affairs of that particular
college and university and help them not only in upgrading their
teachers and systematizing their courses, but even in their cultural
affairs and even with providing language scholarships. At the same
time, we here at the Instituto get to go out and meet the people, hear
their ideas, and in the process make better policies."

More recently, the Instituto Cervantes, together with the Cultural
Center of the Philippines, brought to the country renowned Spanish
conductor Bernardo Adam Ferrero for a concert whose proceeds will
benefit the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra. The Instituto has also
partnered with the launching of Chabacano publications in Ternate,

"Berso sa Metro"

Another partnership that may be more familiar to frequent riders of
the city's trains is the Instituto Cervantes' "Berso sa Metro"
campaign. The campaign displays famous verses written in Spanish by
Spanish, Latin American and Filipino poets inside the carriages of the
LRT and the MRT trains. "'Berso sa Metro' is an idea that we came up
with, and is a campaign that is out there to make people think about
their roots," he says. "Our two countries have an intertwined history.
No matter how we want to change it, the history is there.''

Rodriguez encourages people to look into the positive side of that
shared history, in the language and culture. ''We put up Spanish poems
with Filipino translations and Filipino poems with Spanish
translations so people can compare. We are not telling people to study
Spanish, we are just letting people think about what our two countries
share. If we have information, we have the most important tool; people
will know what role Spanish plays in their lives."

The advantages that we have over other Asian countries, says
Rodriguez, is also something that should not be set aside.

"The Philippines has more advantages when it comes to learning
Spanish, and they should not waste the momentum that they have. If you
have the language, you have the advantage. It is the language of the
times and you have to flow with the times," he says.

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