By Mudassir Raja
It was in 2010 that Unesco decided to mark April 23 every year as the UN Spanish Language Day. It was initiated to celebrate the multilingualism and cultural diversity as well as to promote equal use of all six of UN’s official working languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.
There are expatriates from Spanish speaking countries living in Doha in large numbers and other people have also been taking interest in learning the language.
Francisco Navarro is Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Panama in Qatar. He is a native speaker and teacher of the language. Further, the Panama embassy also offers Spanish learning opportunities.
Sharing brief history of the language, Francisco said: “Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world after only Chinese. It is the official language of 21 countries namely, Puerto Rico: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela and, of course, Spain. Though it is not the official language, Spanish is commonly spoken in the United States, Belize, Andorra and Gibraltar. There are more than 400 million native speakers of Spanish. It is the third most studied language in the world, after English and French.”
In tribute to the writer Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, who passed away on April 23, 1816, the day is celebrated as Spanish Language Day. “Known as ‘El Manco del Lepanto’, Cervantes left among their works the novel The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha, a monumental text that contributed to the enhancement of world literature and Spanish language. Described as the first modern novel, this has been the most translated and edited book in history, only after the Bible,” he claimed.
“The celebration also commemorates the contributions of another great writer of Spanish language, Colombian Gabriel García Márquez, who died in Mexico City in April, 2014. He is considered one of the most celebrated authors of the 20th century and one of the best in Spanish language. He was awarded the 1972 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature,” Francisco said.
Speaking about characteristics of the language, he said: “Spanish, like French, Italian, Romanian and Portuguese, is a Romance language that evolved from Vulgar (Common) Latin. It originated on the Iberian Peninsula, the southwest corner of Europe, which includes present-day Spain and Portugal.
“The Castilian continuation of Vulgar Latin (from Spain’s Castile region) mixed with the Arabic dialect spoken by the Moors, the first group of Arabs that crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and conquered parts of the region. In the late 15th century, the Spanish conquest of the Americas started through the expeditions of Christopher Columbus. In the case of Panama, the city is also celebrating this year, the 500 years of its foundation. In 1519, the conquistador Pedrarías Dávila, founded Panamá city which is the oldest European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas.”
For many reasons, the interest in studying Spanish is growing. “Research conducted for the Telefónica Foundation found that bilateral trade increases by almost 300 percent when Spanish is the common language of commerce, suggesting that it is in the best interest of countries and companies looking to expand into the fast-growing Latin American markets to ensure they have Spanish-speaking employees and representatives. The interest in the language is also increasing both in US and China.”
The demand for learning Spanish in Doha is growing rapidly, too, promoted by the strength of Qatar’s relations with many Spanish speaking countries. “There are many learning Spanish opportunities in Qatar; in the Embassy of Panama, we offer free Spanish lessons with our programme ‘Se habla español’ as well as the popular ‘Club Latino’ which is a cultural and networking space to practice Spanish for those with short time, more busy lifestyle, or with basics of Spanish for those who want to keep on practising.”
Also, it is very easy to learn the language with new technologies and applications. There is even a new recently opened radio station in Qatar called ‘Golfo Radio – 98.3’, which plays only Spanish songs. This reflects the growing interest in the language and the community as well.
The Panama diplomat is hopeful that more people in Doha will take to Spanish language in the coming days. Qatar’s FIFA World Cup 2022 is all set to have many visitors from the Spanish speaking countries.
Ana Bravo is from Spain. She is a Spanish language teacher with International School of London, Qatar. For her, Spanish is a language “to hear out for.”
She said: “The number of people who speak Spanish as a second language is close to 60 million. The numbers are increasing rapidly as many countries are choosing to teach Spanish as a second language in their educational system.”
She added: “It is estimated that approximately, 4,000 words in Spanish originate from Arabic. May be that is the reason it is becoming increasingly popular in the Arab world.
“As a Spanish teacher, I believe one of the beauties of the language is that it is phonetical, making it easier to spell and learn than other languages. Students love to be able to listen to it, spell it and then enquire the meaning of their new word, giving them great independence in learning. It is also easier to pronounce than other languages. Additionally, it is a language of love and happiness, linked to popular music that feeds the soul.
“People in Doha do seem to love to learn Spanish. Most of the international schools teach Spanish as a second language.”
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