Tue | Sep 29, 2020

Ja to woo native Spanish speakers for schools

Published:Tuesday | March 12, 2019 | 12:00 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer

A recent call from Santana Morris, one of Jamaica’s youth ambassadors to the United Nations, for the island to quickly become multilingual, has found favour with State Minister Alando Terrelonge.

The state minister said that the Government was seeking to woo language teachers from native Spanish-speaking countries to increase literacy among Jamaicans, even from the early childhood level.

“I have already indicated to Permanent Secretary Grace McLean that next I would love to be able to announce that our foreign-language programme is up and running,” Terrelonge said last Thursday.

“To truly empower Jamaica at the next level is to ensure that we have a multilingual society. It means that we will have more opportunities for young people to gain employment outside Jamaica, but still in the region. The prime minister has stated on many occasions that he wants Jamaica to be bilingual, and I completely endorse that,” he added.

Terrelonge, who was appointed state minister in the education ministry in February, revealed that his children communicate with him around the home in both English and Spanish. The benefits, he said, are obvious.

“I raise my children bilingual. I recognise that when you raise your children bilingual, it increases their cognitive skills,”the state minister told The Gleaner.

“They are able to think in two languages at the same time. They either respond to me in Spanish or English, which ever they choose. I want every Jamaican child to have that grasp of a second language, because it will take them far.”

Terrelonge told The Gleaner that the Jamaican Government was mulling over agreements that would facilitate a cross-border system of diploma and degree certification that would allow persons to move freely across Latin America and the Caribbean. He said he has had preliminary talks with the Spanish ambassador on the prospect of having teachers from his homeland conducting stints in Jamaica. The state minister also revealed that he was seeking to arrange meetings with Latin American counterparts from Colombia and Cuba. Even Chinese is in his sights.


“I think Mandarin is also very important. The truth is that China is a world leader,” said Terrelonge. “China has definitely positioned herself in the region and is one of our major trading partners,” he said, referring to the billions of dollars in investment funding that has been pouring into both the public and private sectors.

On the weekend, former Jamaican ambassador to Japan, Claudia Barnes, urged the Government to spearhead programmes that facilitate citizens travelling to countries that speak languages other than English. Also, she highlighted the importance of children learning proper English grammar first and foremost.

“We need to start by teaching the children proper English and the grammatical structure of the language. My experience is that if you know proper English grammar, it is easy to learn other languages,” said Barnes.

“Once you can transfer that English knowledge of the grammatical structure of the language, it will be easy to pick up Spanish, French and to pick up any other language. A multilingual environment in Jamaica will make a difference.”