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Looking Back
Spanish on comeback trail in Philippines

By Ambeth Ocampo
First Posted 22:32:00 12/06/2007

Filed Under: history, Language

MANILA, Philippines - Two decades since the obligatory learning of Spanish in the university level was abolished, we are now seeing the revival of Spanish, mainly through the high-profile efforts of the Instituto Cervantes and a number of universities that maintain a Department of European Languages. Two decades since the abolition of Spanish as an obligatory course in the university level, we have the welcome news that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will endorse Spanish (that has since been dropped as an official language of the Philippines) as a preferred language. The President is fluent in Spanish, and as an economist she knows the value of this language in our time.

I do not want to get into the debate on English versus Filipino as a medium of instruction. I would rather think that everyone benefits from solid language instruction, and that the more languages the modern Filipino can speak, the better suited he or she will be for a global and globalized world. When we revisit the four reasons that led to the abolition of Spanish in 1987 (please refer to my column last Wednesday), we can see how we have changed and how the climate for Spanish learning is now ripe for the picking.

(a) In 1998 the Philippines celebrated the centennial of its declaration of independence from Spain. Instead of the bitterness that such memory generated, we now see a more understanding view of the past. Spain brought both good and bad things to the Philippines and we should acknowledge and remember both. The renewed interest in history and cultural heritage, resulting from the Centennial Celebration, required and encouraged the use of Spanish once again. Through the efforts of Sen. Edgardo Angara, we now celebrate by law Filipino-Spanish Friendship Day.

(b) The teaching of Spanish today is different from that in my time. New methods emphasize communication rather than grammar. Students are encouraged to speak, read and write in Spanish. Grammar has been pushed to the margins as a support to language instruction rather than the end-all of it. Furthermore, learning Spanish has been supplemented by audiovisual materials readily available on the Internet and cable television, especially TVE, or Television Espańola, that provides us the news, game shows like ?Saber y Ganar,? documentaries and films 24/7.

Unfortunately we still have a Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) whose mandate or guidelines definitely have to be reviewed since the slightest hint of sex or nudity results in the temporary suspension of TVE. Filipinos are great fans of Mexican ?telenovelas? [TV soap] beginning with ?Marimar,? and TVE has these daily. TVE and the Internet have exposed Filipinos to Spanish not just from Spain, but from the wider Latin American world. Filipino children are now bred on basic Spanish from ?Dora the Explorer? and, of course, everyone knows Betty la Fea or Betty la mas fea who has since crossed over into America and is now known as Ugly Betty.

(c) The recent rise of the call center industry has given Spanish a practical and lucrative use in the Philippines. While we have a competitive edge in English in the call center business, we have cutthroat competition from India, Pakistan, and now even China. The Filipino has an obvious edge in Spanish in this area, and we are told that Spanish speakers are paid more than those who know American English. As the Philippines tries to be more competitive in the global and globalized world, the government has refocused on enhancing the deteriorating English skills of students, and, by extension, Spanish is making a comeback. Frankly, in universities where a foreign language component is required, given a choice to take any foreign language like French, German, Japanese, Chinese or Bahasa, it is obvious that Spanish becomes an attractive option, a ?preferred? language.

(d) Aside from its commercial use, the rise of Spanish as a spoken language has made the learning of it practical and useful to Filipinos who travel to the United States for work or tourism because in some areas Spanish is fast becoming a second language; and some recruiters and employers require overseas Filipino workers bound for the United States to obtain a certificate in basic Spanish.

With all of the above changes that have come about in the past two decades, one can only say there is a renewed and growing interest in Spanish today. The Instituto Cervantes de Manila, which took over from the Centro Cultural de la Embajada de Espańa, has taken the lead in Spanish language training, and from what I hear from satisfied students, they have made the task of learning a new language fun.

Aside from language, the Instituto has a weekly screening of Spanish films, there are lectures to reintroduce us to Spanish culture in food, literature and poetry. This is starting to sound like a PR job for the Instituto, but seeing the new method for learning Spanish makes me wish that they were around when I was in college, because if they were, I would not only be reading Spanish, I would surely be speaking it fluently today. Things do come full circle in time: Spanish was once an official language of the Philippines, and then it was scrapped from schools; now it is back as a preferred language. Let?s see where it goes in the next decade.

* * *

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu.

More Inquirer columns

Previous columnsf:
The loss of Spanish ? 12/04/07
Red pants for a revolution? ? 11/29/07
The Filipino who would be white ? 11/22/07
Old but timely reports ? 11/20/07
A visit to Rome ? 11/13/07
Preparing for death ? 11/02/07
A Halloween tale ? 10/31/07

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