By: Shanoy Coombs
As a Development Communication person, I tend to find communication lessons everywhere and a few weeks ago when I was among a group of students from the German-Jordanian University, it was no different. As this diverse group of students were in the middle Eastern country, Jordan for immersive experiences while learning the Arabic language, it brought some important language lessons to the fore. With courses ranging from one semester to an entire year, I was bemused by the emphasis placed on acquisition of a second (and in some instances a third language). As I struggled with basic Arabic terms, it took me back to something I have always been almost preachy about-that Caribbean nationals NEED to learn a second language.
This has long been apparent to me while working within the United Nation’s Latin America and the Caribbean cluster. I recall with much clarity that the monthly regional Communicators meetings had in excess of two thirds of the attendees being from Spanish Speaking countries. It was even more worrying that most attendees from the Spanish speaking territories could speak and understand English with some clarity but not vice versa.
More compellingly, I recall working along with colleagues from Chile and Venzuela to translate a series of Petro Caribe related documents-all published in Spanish and needing to be readied for the English heavy Jamaican media. It dawned on me then with much force, that my colleagues by virtue of their ability to move between the English and Spanish languages had better equipped themselves for regional posts within the organization. That fact hit me with such a blunt force that I refocused my efforts on at least grasping Spanish. This realization and my recent Arabic immersion compelled me to list some of the reasons why Caribbean Nationals NEED to learn a second language:
- Regional Commonsense: By virtue of our geographic location, the Caribbean will likely forever be looped with Latin America. It is therefore commonsense that Caribbean people start with a second language such as Spanish to better assist us to navigate trade and other relations throughout the region.
- Personal Good: If you love meeting new people as much as I do, then this is a no brainer. Some of my most meaningful conversations have been struck in airport lounges, coffee shops and other common areas while travelling with persons from other nationalities utilizing my intermediate level Spanish skills.
- Business Development: Sure you can hire a translator, but on the odd account that you are travelling for business solo or negotiating a new deal as a young entrepreneur, it is useful and beneficial to be able to interact at the basic level in the native language. Besides, the ability to communicate in a native language can set the tone for better reception and even lifelong friendships thereafter.
- Added Value/Competitive Edge: Increasingly, as we forge ahead in this ‘global marketplace’ a second language should be as second nature as utilizing technology across borders. Indeed, in some professions it already is and in toe to toe job interviews for example, your ability to interact in a second language can be the deciding factor.
- Adaptability: So you want added opportunities and you want to be recognized as a “global minded” individual? One of the easiest ways to actually earn this title is to adequately prepare yourself to be recognized as such. Being able to speak a second language puts you in a better professional position to bridge several multi cultural barriers and essentially shows that you are diverse, adaptable and possess the ability to interact with other cultures.
Communication industry wise, I’m going out on a limb to say ALL Communication professionals (Journalists, Public Relations practitioners, Development Communication Specialists, Behaviour change and Corporate communication officers etc) and indeed anyone with the intention to do business outside of their own country’s shores should be equipped with a second language. This becomes more imperative if you are trying to diversify your service offerings across borders and cultures. Notably too “Cross culture” and “Intercultural communication” continues to be industry buzz words that aren’t likely to disappear soon. Hence NOW is the time to ensure you are meaningfully engaged in this “world without borders” paradigm.
From my end, there is much merit in being a bi or multi-lingual development communication specialist and so I’m continuing the fluency pursuit con El Espanol. Who knows too, having grown a new appreciation for the Arabic language after being so thoroughly immersed during my recent middle Eastern hop, it may just be my next language to fully pursue.
It is heartening too that for a while now, the Jamaican Government has been encouraging more citizens to learn Spanish as second language. Whether or not there are fully mapped plans in place to ensure there is island wide take up is another situation. Frankly, having studied Spanish as a high schooler, I am now seeing major merit in advancing to sit same in the local Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) exams. In fact, mandatory Spanish at the examination level may be just the start to ensure there is widespread take up.
Otherwise, the Venezuelan Institute in several Caribbean countries offers free Spanish lessons from the Basic to post-superior level. There are also local language centers which offer Spanish, French and other language lessons and remotely, several online platforms offer engaging language studies. Still, Caribbean Nationals can also learn languages by immersion at neighboring countries where the language of choice is the native language.
Are you a bi or multi lingual professional? What are some of the benefits you have reaped as such? What are your favourite channels by which to learn a new language? Have you learnt a new language via cultural immersion? Share in the comments below.
P.S. Read about my “Jamaican in Jordan” feature in The Gleaner.
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Shanoy Coombs is a Development Communication Consultant in the Latin America and Caribbean region. Are you Social? Connect with Shanoy on twitter via @InspiraShan and learn more about her work via the projects page