Byline: Bernardo M. Villegas
I have been residing in Spain for almost two months and am still far from being fluent in Spanish. Despite the odds (I give some of my classes at the IESE Business School in English and many of my friends speak to one another in Catalan), I am encouraged in perfecting the language by the thought that Spanish is the fourth most spoken language in the world after Mandarin, English, and Hindi. In an article that appeared in a leading monthly magazine, Mundo Cristiano (February 2007), Spanish is described as the official language of some twenty countries and is the second most studied language in the world, thanks among others to the efforts of the Instituto Cervantes, which is very active in Manila and whose current Director is an accomplished international journalist, Jose "Pepe" Rodriguez.
Next month, in the tropical town in Colombia called Cartegena de las Indias, considered by many as the place where the most beautiful Spanish in the world is spoken, the Fourth International Congress of the Spanish Language will be held. The theme of the Congress will be The Present and Future of the Spanish Language: Unity and Diversity. During the days previous to the Congress, the text of the New Grammar of the Spanish Language will be approved and the International Certificate of Spanish as a Foreign Language (similar to TOEFL) will be presented. The Congress will touch on a diverse set of topics: Spanish as an element for iberoamerican integration; its future as a language of universal communication; the presence of Spanish in science, technology and diplomacy; and the unity of scientific terminology. Mr. Rodriguez of Instituto Cervantes in Manila will be heading the panel on linguistic diversity. I hope there will be a large delegation to the Congress from the Philippines, one of the Asia Pacific countries with the largest number of students taking up Spanish as a foreign language. Strangely enough though, Japan has more students of Spanish than the Philippines (60,000 vs. 20,000). In China, Spanish is offered as a specialization in university studies in some twenty universities and there are expectations that the numbers will increase significantly in the coming years as China intensifies trade and cultural relations with Spain and Latin America. In the last academic year, there were 400 applicants in the Spanish Language Course in the University for Foreign Studies in Beijing for 44 places.
Learning a foreign language is always intellectually stimulating and culturally enriching. Filipinos are in the best position in Asia to learn Spanish as a foreign language because of the many Spanish words already incorporated into our own languages. Besides a Filipino has the least difficulty among Asians in pronouncing Spanish words. Those who speak deep Tagalog, like those from Bulacan, will agree that the following description given by a Mexican writer, Carlos Fuentes, of the Spanish language can equally apply to our national language: "Possibly English is more practical than Spanish. German more profound. Italian, more graceful. And Russian, with more angst. But I believe that it is the Spanish language that gives us with the greatest eloquence and beauty the widest repertoire of the human soul, of the individual personality and its social impact. There is no other language that is more consistent and more vocal: we write as we speak and we speak as we write." Those who have heard the poets from Bulacan (like UA&P professor Emil Antonio and his son Joem) deliver talks in deep Tagalog will agree that our own language deserves the same praise given by the Mexican author to Spanish.
Spanish is one of the three languages habitually considered as official in international organizations. In the last few decades, it has spread rapidly in educational institutions all over the world. According to the Instituto Cervantes, in the entire planet there are some fourteen million …