Why PH youth should embrace Spanish | Inquirer Opinion

Why PH youth should embrace Spanish

Fifteen years ago, in 2003, Republic Act No. 9187 took effect. It declared June 30 of every year as the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day to commemorate, among others, the cultural ties between the two nations. Through this law, the importance of the Spanish language was also recognized—a reassessment of Congress’ earlier act, in 1987, of scrapping Spanish from the college curricula.

The 1987 Congress did not foresee what would emerge as globalization in the years to come. Today, young Filipinos face a new world of interconnectedness; thus, they need communication skills more than ever. For the next generation of Filipinos to be relevant and competitive in the global community, English should be complemented with another international language. The spirit of RA 9187 suggests Spanish: It is the most practical, the most advantageous, and the closest to the Filipino heart.


Spanish is the easiest to master because Filipino, to begin with, has at most 4,000 loaned Spanish words. Other languages, like Cebuano, have a few thousands more. So, if one speaks both, there are about 5,000 words to start from. Moreover, Spanish phonetics is similar to Filipino phonetics, and Filipinos can practically read Spanish aloud with comfort. Incidentally, no new writing system needs to be learned since Spanish uses the Latin alphabet.

Learning Spanish is advantageous because it supplements English. It will help one to perform better not only in aptitude tests such as the TOEFL, but also in everyday practical life—say, when an unfamiliar word pops up. Latin and French, the mother and a sister language of Spanish, respectively, have greatly influenced English; as much as 58 percent of English words have roots from Latin and French.


Spanish can also be used to jump-start learning other Romance languages, as patterns can be observed between and among these languages—for instance, the conjugations between Spanish and French. As a result, one who fully understands Spanish may also understand some Italian or Portuguese, especially its written form.

With a good command of English and Spanish (and, incidentally, the Romance languages), one may be able to live and work comfortably in many countries where any of these languages is spoken. These countries have an aggregate GDP of about two-thirds of the world total. Potential opportunities abound for those who have access to these economies.

Managers in any industry worldwide often prefer to hire individuals who speak an international language in addition to English. In many BPOs, the basic monthly salary offered to a multilingual is rather high, ranging from P35,000 to P100,000. This trend will continue, because the demand for language skills is set to rise sharply.  US statistics project the demand for multilinguals to surge by about 40 percent between 2010 and 2020—a result of globalization, of which the Philippines is a part as its economy continues to grow (threefold by 2030).

Overseas Filipino workers can also take advantage of Spanish skills. As of 2013, about half of the 10.2 million OFWs are in the United States and Europe. The population of Hispanics in the United States is about 17 percent, and will be 31 percent by 2060. In the European Union, meanwhile, where Spain ranks fifth economy-wise, political and economic centralization is being reinforced.

In “Mi último adios,” Jose Rizal, on the eve of his execution, wrote a passionate ode to his country—the plundered Eden—and the pain of leaving her for eternity. The poem is just one of many great works in Spanish that value, cherish and inspire national consciousness and patriotism.

The period leading to the Philippine Revolution was a time when our national heroes and forefathers produced some of the country’s greatest literary works, mostly in Spanish. Pedro Paterno’s “Nínay,” the first Filipino novel, marked the beginning of a national consciousness in literature. Apolinario Mabini’s “El verdadero decálogo,” a work that influenced the drafting of the first republican constitution in Asia, the Malolos Constitution, was the “Ten Commandments” of Filipino patriotism. Jose Palma’s “Filipinas,” the origin of “Lupang Hinirang,” was an emotion-filled prose from a Katipunero. And, of course, who would forget the well-loved “Noli me tángere” and “El filibusterismo,” whose themes centered on “nation first before oneself”?

Today, with the “Patría” increasingly under threat, young Filipinos need to read and reflect on these writings in their original form, the way their forefathers wrote them. A translated piece is a work of two minds—the writer and the translator. It’s true that a good translation captures the form and substance of a text, but it loses part of the original’s literary quality and artistic touch—its soul.


It’s been 31 years—a full generation—since Spanish was scrapped. That generation has lost not only opportunities and advantages, but also a big part of being Filipino.

Congress need not have to bring back 12-24 units of Spanish, but it is important that the youth embrace the language—certainly not as a glorification of colonialism, but as a recognition of its necessity in the global community, and its historical and cultural significance to our national identity.

Jose Luis O. General is a published translator and a linguist. He just graduated from law school and will take the bar exam this November.

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