Cervantes type effort required to bring an ‘English-speaking Union’ to the Rock

We have been fortunate in Gibraltar that our founding fathers were far-seeing and broad-minded enough to make English our official language and so this has been for centuries. And although in our daily lives we are a predominately bi-lingual nation, no one should run away with the idea that English is our main speaking tongue.

Speaking the English language as most of us do everyday has ensured that, in the Mediterranean, in a sea where modern civilisation began Gibraltar acts as a bridge.

The Rock borders both Europe and Africa, the latter only a few short miles across the straits. We are uniquely placed at a crossroads, our nation has always been blessed with the facility to learn, speak and use English, and because of this we have gain a great advantage over other countries in the region like Spain and morocco of incalculable proportions!

English the world's language

English is increasingly the language of global communication. It is spoken as a second language by around 375 million people. As I write this, about 200 million Chinese are in the process of learning English. It has official status in at least 75 countries, with a total population of over two billion. A quarter of the world's population speaks it. It is the language not only of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Byron, Dickens and Jane Austen, but also, increasingly, of commerce, diplomacy, business, science, technology and the internet.

In Europe, young people between 15 and 24 years are five times more likely to speak English as German or French. At European Union meetings speakers automatically choose the language that excludes the fewest people in the room. This is almost always English. English is quite simply the best instrument for communication because it is now the world's language.

English gives Gibraltar the ability and the means to conduct and attract business, commerce and visitors to Rock, to the considerable benefit of our economy and the enrichment of our culture.

Our geographical position coupled with our bilingualism gives us a huge competitive edge. In this respect, our use of English helps us to achieve our goals of economic growth and international communications and friendship. It enables us to speak to the world.

This is not to say that Spanish is not an important speaking element in our lives.

There is a lot of merit in some areas of society, businesses etc to try and improve certain aspects of the use of the Spanish language the employ commercially, but this should not be taken as some people think, that speaking Spanish should be competing or on par with English as our everyday and principal spoken language!

So when the institute Cervantes was given permission to set up shop in Gibraltar I could not in all honesty see the long term everyday benefit to the ordinary citizens of the Rock, compared in my view of further improving our English speaking skills. After all we have survived over 300 years with the Spanish we speak everyday and we have survived!

But like many others, I fear the Cervantes institute has been imposed on us, politics has played its part. Even Spanish politicians appear to view the presence of the Cervantes in Gibraltar rather differently and not the way it was sold. You will remember that not so long ago in the Spanish parliament the Instituto Cervantes director Carmen Caffarel commented that the 'Instituto' would have to produce Spanish teachers in Gibraltar because the standard is 'deficient' and 'totally inappropriate.' Mr. Caffarel obviously knows something the majority of us here do not!

Locally we are proficient in speaking Spanish

The majority of people in Gibraltar are quite proficient in speaking Spanish; personally I believe most of us speak enough Spanish in our everyday lives to survive most things in life, particularly when we venture over the border on our recreational outings and shopping experiences. However in my view the standard of English in Gibraltar as the mother language should be over and above average for most of us! Something which I don't think is the case. Those who want to become more proficient in Spanish is their prerogative, but does it justify having a Cervantes institute based on the Rock?

If anything, and as I have intimated already, I would turn the tables and focus on improving the English speaking standard on the Rock, which I believe is under continued threat now more than ever. You just have to see the way in which many people in Gibraltar are warming up seriously to all things Spanish. Take football and how thousands of locals openly support Spanish football teams, I'm even sure some would give their lives to defend the shirt of such teams as Barcelona or real Madrid.

Who can forget the shameful spectacle last year of hundreds of Gibraltarians openly supporting the Spanish national team during the world cup? We all know its sport, and we keep on being remembered of this. Although we only here it here in Gibraltar that 'we should not mix politics with sport' but tell the Spaniards that!

Or tell the many local sporting federations that Spain does not mix politics and sport!

A Cervantes type effort required bring an English-speaking union to the Rock the Gibraltar government should take the necessary steps to bring a local branch of the 'English-speaking union to Gibraltar' (ESU). The government pulled out all the political stops to get the Cervantes institute here. They should in my view also with the same vigour and political enthusiasm do nothing less to bring an ESU over here.

I am convinced many people would jump at the opportunity to improve their English, in the same way as those who are now learning at the Cervantes all things cultural Spanish, including how to speak it in the correct and proper manner!

The ESU has over 40 branches in the United Kingdom and over 52 international branches in countries around the world, the ESU promotes a variety of activities such as debating, public speaking and student exchange programmes, runs conferences and seminars, and offers scholarships, to encourage the effective use of the English language around the globe. It is an international charity, founded in 1918, to promote English in international public speaking, encourage the enjoyment and constructive use of English through educational programmes and provide a forum for international friendship through the worldwide network of English-speaking unions in every part of the world.

In common with the objectives and ethos of ESU worldwide, the ESU is committed to raising standards of spoken English, with particular emphasis on schools and universities, fostering the enjoyment and constructive use of English through educational programmes and encouraging cultural activities in English.

Personally given the importance of English to Gibraltar's development in business, commerce, financial services and tourism and everyday life the establishment of an ESU Gibraltar branch would be a crucial step forward.

11-08-11

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