New Prospects for the Spanish Language in the Philippines (ARI)
|New Prospects for the Spanish Language in the Philippines (ARI)
ARI 27/2009 (Translated from Spanish) - 26/2/2009
The pilot project by the Philippine Department of Education means that
17 state schools will offer Spanish as an optional language at
secondary level. This offer comes in addition to the courses available
in private schools and universities. Spain can offer support for
teacher training, linguistic consultancy or bilingual classrooms, as it
does in other countries. Naturally, the Latin American dimension of the
language and people’s right to choose their education cannot be
6 November 2008, the Philippine Education Secretary, Jesli A. Lapus,
announced that Spanish would return to the state education system,
dependent upon the Department of Education. The announcement came
within the framework of the 4th annual Tribuna forum between Spain and the Philippines, held in the city of Cebu, and involving some 100 delegates from both countries.
announcement unleashed an enthusiastic response from the Spanish
authorities. On the same date the move was announced, Spain’s Foreign
Affairs and Cooperation Ministry (at the request of its Foreign Policy
Director for Asia) issued an official statement saying that ‘the
Government of Spain is delighted by the solemn announcement’ and that
‘Spain expresses particular satisfaction’ at this ‘excellent news’,
which ‘implies a great step forward in strengthening bilateral
relations’. The statement also said that ‘Spain is studying the launch
of a linguistic cooperation programme’.
The Cervantes Institute
issued another statement concerning what it called a ‘significant step
forward in the presence of the Spanish language in that country’, but
added that it is an ‘offer of optional classes to secondary school
pupils’. It also outlined a ‘plan to mitigate the shortage of
teachers’, with the involvement of the Institute, the Spanish Education
Ministry and the Spanish Agency for International Development
Press agencies carried comments by the
Spanish Ambassador in Manila, Luis Arias, and the Director General of
Foreign Policy for Asia and the Pacific Region, José Eugenio Salarich.
The newspapers carried reports, and some Spanish media, in Internet
editions, even ran the following unfortunate headline: ‘Spain
Reconquers the Philippines’. Significantly, the US agency Associated
Press sourced its teletype print-out in Madrid, not in the Philippines.
the Philippines side, the Secretary’s announcement was just that: an
announcement, with no frills attached. Initially, there were no
official communiqués or press releases. The Philippines News Agency,
when reporting about the Tribuna
forum, made no mention of the language issue. The Department of
Education took two months to make the news public, via a purely
descriptive press release on 28 January 2009, with no added opinion.
Only then did the Philippine press report the news and the political
and academic world began to react.
There are two visions of the same issue: the Spanish vision and the Philippine vision. Perhaps, two different emotions.
fact, it is the repetition of a ‘decision already announced by the
President [of Philippines], Gloria Macapagal [-Arroyo] on her state
visit to Spain in December 2007’, as indicated in the communiqué issued
by the Spanish Foreign Ministry and as reported at the time by the
The presidential decision had immediate
consequences. The Under-Secretary of the Department of Education, Vilma
L. Labrador, circulated a Memorandum (17/XII/2007), on the ‘Restoration
of the Spanish language in Philippine Education’. In it, the Department
‘encourages secondary schools to offer basic and advanced Spanish in
the Third and Fourth Year level respectively as an elective’.
Cebu, Secretary Lapus reiterated the initiative and offered a few more
details, and still more specifics were provided at the subsequent
meeting. The project consists in launching a Special Programme in
Foreign Language, having recognised that the prevalence of English is
no longer sufficient due to the international demand for speakers of
other languages. Accordingly, adding foreign languages as optional
subjects has become critical for the Philippine educational system.
programme begins with Spanish, for historical reasons and because of
its relationship to the Philippine national language (according to
various sources, between 20% and 33% of Tagalog words are of Spanish
origin). In the pilot project, which will start in June 2009, one
secondary school (preferably with a language laboratory) will be chosen
in each of the 17 administrative regions. Two classes, each with 35
students, will be set up from among pupils in the final two years of
high school. They will receive four hours a week of Spanish classes.
programme will therefore benefit 70 pupils in each of the 17 schools
selected: a total of 1,190 pupils. Considering that Spanish is not
offered even as an optional subject in the state-run education system
in the Philippines, this is a significant step forward.
adequately assess its scope, it is worth recalling that in the
Philippines there are 5,078 state secondary schools, with 5,072,210
pupils, plus another 3,377 private secondary schools, with 1,290,792
For some years, there have been educational
rapprochements between Spain and the Philippines: Philippines-Spain
Friendship Day, on 30 June, introduced by law in 2003 (Republic Act No.
9187), which the Department of Education celebrates each year in cities
like Manila, Zamboanga and Baler; the Tribuna
forum, which began in 2005 as a forum for bilateral meetings; and the
SPCC (Spanish Program for Cultural Cooperation) which the Spanish
Culture Ministry launched in 1997 to foster cultural programmes via
universities in the Philippines and Pacific islands. Some private
cultural institutions in the Philippines (Ortigas Foundation, Vibal
Foundation and Fundación Santiago) also contribute to learning about
Spain. The Philippine Academy of the Spanish Language could again play
an interesting role.
Until the current Constitution in 1987,
Spanish had been an official language, alongside English and Filipino.
This Constitution establishes four categories: one national language,
namely Filipino (based on Tagalog); two official languages, namely
English and Filipino; regional languages as auxiliary languages; and
two languages for voluntary promotion, namely Spanish and Arabic.
is important to point out that Spanish never replaced the vernacular
Philippine tongues and no-one ever tried to make it. The Filipinos
never abandoned their own languages. Spanish, despite being an official
language between 1565 and 1987, was never a threat to the Philippines’
linguistic diversity. Quite the contrary, it broadened it further,
through its own presence and the emergence of Creole tongues known
generically as Chavacano.
The status of Spanish has changed
radically in the just over a century since 1898, and even more so since
the end of the Second World War. It is no longer the international
language of the Philippines, because that role is now for English. It
is no longer the language of the country’s social, political or
cultural spheres, because that role is now for English or Tagalog (or
Filipino, as the national language). And it is no longer the language
of households, because Filipinos use their own vernacular languages (of
which there are some 120) at home.
Francisco Moreno and Jaime
Otero claimed that in 2007 ‘native speakers’ comprised 439,000 people,
which accounts for just 0.5% of the population (90 million). However,
we observe that even mixed families, who used Spanish as their usual
language, have stopped speaking Spanish to their children and
grandchildren, and now speak English and Tagalog. Accordingly, what is
being lost is not a ‘colonial’ language, as some would have it, but a
specific and unique dialectal variety, with its own phonetic,
grammatical and lexical characteristics: the Spanish of the Philippines.
at home is possible; but trilingualism is much more difficult. For
three quarters of the people in Philippines, Spanish would be their
fourth language, after their mother tongue, Filipino and English.
Accordingly, the situation of Spanish is truly difficult in the context
of the linguistic reality in Philippines, which is so diverse. Not only
are there many languages, but each individual is multilingual.
he made the announcement, the Philippine Education Secretary offered
two examples: the initiative by the People’s Republic of China to
support the teaching of Chinese in the Philippines by sending 100
teachers, and private schools where Spanish is taught.
private schools are mostly located in Manila and its suburbs, in Cebu
and in other cities like Baguio City. They are international schools
(American, French and British) or religious schools with Spanish or
Mexican staff. Some also offer Spanish at primary level.
Saint Pedro Poveda College (run by the Teresian order), in Quezon City,
is the highly prestigious school that is taken as a reference. It
offers Spanish throughout its curriculum, at both primary and secondary
level. When it introduces Spanish in the state system, the Department
of Education plans to take into account the curriculum at this school.
Poveda is so closely linked to Spanish that some years ago there were
talks aimed at making it a Spanish-Philippine school, but the Spanish
Education Ministry eventually withdrew from the initiative.
universities offer Spanish, but fewer now than before, as part of the
general trend that we have already mentioned. In 1995, Maruxa Pita
identified 70 higher-education institutions which offered Spanish
classes to 15,578 students. In 2006, her successor at the helm of the
Cervantes Institute in Manila, Javier Galván, counted 32 institutions
and 12,466 students.
In some cases, it is a specific subject for
students studying Humanities degrees. In others, it is offered within
the Department of Language and Literature (University of San Carlos,
Cebu) or the Department of Modern Languages (Ateneo de Manila
University) for students studying any degree. The university with the
broadest range of qualifications is the state-run University of the
Philippines, where it is possible to take a Bachelor of Arts degree
(Spanish), Master of Arts (Spanish: Language, Literature, Rizal
Studies, Translation) and Doctor of Philosophy (Hispanic Literature;
Spanish American Literature; Spanish Filipino Literature; Peninsular
On the Spanish side, the AECID sends three Spanish
lecturers to Philippines universities and the Cervantes Institute in
Manila cooperates regularly with them and offers classes to more than
For decades, Spanish has been losing ground
because it has been looked upon with prejudice as outdated, colonial,
useless, difficult or elitist. The change currently taking place is
hugely important: Spanish is starting to be seen as a useful,
international and open language. Many Filipinos now regret not having
learned it better and earlier.
President Gloria Macapagal, who does speak Spanish, knows and values the role of the Spanish language in the world.
development consultants advise the authorities to encourage Filipinos
to learn Spanish, just as Japanese or Koreans do, to help boost their
trade relations with Latin America and Spain (and the EU).
Consequently, they have told the National Economic and Development
Authority (NEDA) that Spanish is part of development. And they told the
mayor of Zamboanga to reinforce Hispanic elements because cities that
identify with their culture tend to prosper more. Today, Zamboanga,
‘the Pride of Mindanao’, is also known as ‘Asia’s Latin City’.
some degree programmes (History, Law), Spanish is still extremely
useful, not least in order to understand the original Philippine
Students of medicine and nursing now study Spanish to
enhance their chances of being able to emigrate to the US, because they
know that it is the second language there and that, consequently, they
will have better employment opportunities if they speak it.
at call centres also speak it: their salaries are quite a lot higher if
they can offer a bilingual service. Due to its geographical location
between Europe and America, the Philippines is the ideal place to fill
the gap caused by time differences. In Zamboanga, where the Chavacanos
learn Spanish easily, it has become an instrument for professional
Carers (of children or elderly people) who have
emigrated to Spain have found that learning Spanish has opened new
doors for them.
For all these reasons, the Technical Education
and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) has set up the National
Language Skills Institute (LSI) which offers Spanish classes directly
geared to obtaining work permits. And the Cervantes Institute of
Manila, which is now run by José Rodríguez, offers courses for specific
niche employment groups: Spanish for call centres and teacher training.
Spanish is now perceived as an instrument of communication, with 400
million speakers and, even more importantly, as the second language in
the US. It has become a channel towards new opportunities and a way to
climb the employment ladder.
Spanish is starting to be less
associated with Spain, the colonial past and the history and literature
of the Philippines. In a way, we are witnessing a decoupling between
the Spanish and Philippine identities and the Spanish language. This is
pivotal: it is a useful tool, with no further connotations. It is as
successful as English as a universal tongue: most do not learn it for
historical or literary causes, but for practical reasons.
this new backdrop, we can ask ourselves what Spain can do. The
Cervantes institute already does great work teaching the language and
spreading the culture in Manila, but it could open new branches or
satellites elsewhere in the country. The AECID could contribute by
sending more lecturers and implementing more educational development
projects. The Ministry of Culture could reinforce its cultural
cooperation programme (SPCC). And the Education Ministry could launch
the Education Department at the Spanish Embassy in Manila, set up in
2002, and follow the example of its own experience in other countries,
with linguistic consultants, resource centres, Spanish sections in
schools, Spanish language and culture classes or sponsored schools.
could help with the training of Philippine teachers, publishing school
materials, organising education and better divulging the reality of
Spanish in the Philippines (as in the magnificent book by Antonio
Quilis and Celia Casado-Fresnillo, La lengua española en Filipinas, CSIC, 2008).
all of these areas, I believe that from Spain we should be particularly
sensitive. And we should also consider the American dimension of
Spanish, because Spain does not own the language, and nor is it the
main focus of interest of those who learn it. The relationship between
the Philippines and the US and Ibero-America (especially Mexico) must
be taken into account.
At the same time, the Spanish authorities
must pay more attention to the 32,000 Filipinos who live in Spain,
offering a range of new possibilities, with people who are perfectly
bilingual or trilingual (Spanish-Tagalog-English,
Spanish-Cebuan-English). Accordingly, the teaching of Philippine
tongues and fostering studies about the Philippines take on a whole new
meaning and would serve to strengthen ties between the two countries.
First and foremost are the opportunities for people who wish to learn
languages in Spain or in the Philippines. It is a question of human
rights, of individual freedom: freedom of culture, education and
expression. We all want opportunities for freedom. And that includes
the freedom of parents to choose for their children to learn Spanish at
home and at school, whether in the state or private system.
argument is that it is more important for Filipinos to learn Chinese or
Japanese, and that is reasonable. But let us leave it to the pupils
themselves (or their parents) to decide. Let us allow each person to
choose the language they want to study, because it is precisely the
Philippine Constitution that entitles them to, stating expressly that
Spanish is a language that will be fostered on a voluntary basis.
is necessary to know the socio-linguistic reality of the Philippines,
since not all places are the same. It is a vast country, full of
nuances. It makes much more sense to learn Spanish in Metro Manila,
Cavite, Zamboanga and Cebu than anywhere else. Consequently, a special
effort should be made in those areas, where there are families with a
Spanish background and pupils spontaneously interested in learning the
language. There are people from households where they have heard
Spanish spoken and others who speak Chavacano as their native tongue
and would be delighted to learn international Spanish, or for their
children to learn it. Consequently, there should be a distinction
between when it should be taught as a quasi-native language and when it
should be taught as an international language (foreign language). Or,
what amounts to the same, when to teach that ‘What’s your name’ is ‘¿Cómo te llamas?’ or, in Filipino Spanish ‘¿Cuál es tu gracia?’, because in no case should the teaching of standard Spanish entail snubbing the local linguistic varieties.
In conclusion, let us help offer alternatives to those who want to study the Spanish language or in
the Spanish language. Let us grant them new opportunities for jobs,
development, culture, education and individual freedom. And let us do
so with resources.
in Linguistics and Chairman of the Spanish Association for Pacific
Studies (Asociación Española de Estudios del Pacífico)Resumen en Inglés
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