Fri | Jul 20, 2018

Don't make Spanish mandatory at UWI

Published:Saturday | July 2, 2016 | 12:00 AM


I read a news report that stated that the University of the West Indies will make it mandatory for all students to study Spanish "as a way to strengthen relations between CARICOM and Latin American territories". This was announced by the vice-chancellor, Sir Hilary Beckles.

While I agree that Spanish, or any foreign language, can be an asset in many fields, I don't see why it has to be compulsory at the university level, presumably as a first-year course. I would much rather if greater emphasis was placed on English, the official language, enabling graduates to be more comfortable and conversant in their communication.

Communication in English is not generally a problem when you travel to many non-English-speaking countries, whether for business or tourism. We should, therefore, learn to master English first!

If anything, Spanish (and other foreign languages) should be optional at the tertiary level, unless, of course, it is the students' major. Recently, Prime Minister Andrew Holness also announced that he wanted Spanish to become Jamaica's second official language and that Spanish should be made compulsory in schools. He has since backtracked somewhat.

Not everyone will have an aptitude for foreign-language study, which, in my view, is best learned in the early development years. I, therefore, urge the UWI to reconsider its position. When it comes to tertiary study, optional is usually better than compulsory. The word 'compulsory' is not one that should be used lightly, especially when dealing with adults.