The Need to Learn Spanish in English-speaking Caribbean Islands

People in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago – two Caribbean nations where English is the official language – are starting to recognize the importance and practicality of learning Spanish as a foreign language.

Jamaica’s Minister of Education, Youth and Information, Alando Terrelonge

In an recent interview with JIS News, the Jamaican Minister of State in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, Hon. Alando Terrelonge, encouraged people to be more open-minded about learning Spanish. “We are an English speaking country and a patois speaking country as well, but we have to think beyond that. We have to start thinking that we are going to empower more of our young persons by letting them learn a foreign language,” the State Minister said. Jamaica – which is the third largest island in the Caribbean and has a population of 2.8 million people – is centrally located between Spanish-speaking Caribbean countries such as Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and Central and South American countries such as Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela. “There are over 500 million persons who speak Spanish in the region, so you can imagine the opportunities for trade, scholarships and work,” the Jamaican Minister explained. “With Spanish, we will empower our young persons and we will increase their marketability within the region. English is not the most common language in the region, it is Spanish,” he added.

The Jamaican government is currently in collaborations with the governments of Cuba and Spain to bring more Spanish teachers to the island, as well as resources that would allow more Jamaican students to learn Spanish as a foreign language. “We are also thinking of establishing greater relations with our partners in Mexico and Colombia, to ensure that we get the best of the region and get more teachers here,” Mr. Terrelonge noted.

1,915 km away from Jamaica, in the island of Trinidad and Tobago, the question of whether Trinidadian nationals should start learning Spanish is also becoming an important part of the conversation, especially since thousands of Venezuelans are migrating to this nearby territory. In an open letter to the editors of the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday newspaper, a reader of the paper, identified as GA Marques, advised people in the islands to begin learning Spanish. “They will then find life much easier as they could well end up with their next-door neighbour being Venezuelan,” Marques says on his letter.

According to an article in The Guardian, as of April, 2019, “the Trinidadian government estimated that 40,000 Venezuelans are living in Trinidad, of whom 10,000 have registered as asylum-seekers with the UN refugee agency”. Due to its proximity to Venezuela, it is possible that the Spanish-speaking population in this territory continues to increase considerably in the next few years.

The marketability and work opportunities that learning Spanish represents for Jamaicans, and the multicultural alliances that this language could establish among Trinidadians and Venezuelans, suggests that learning Spanish as a foreign language will become a priority for many people in the English-speaking nations of the Caribbean.

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