Cuba’s Spanish for Chinese Program

Osmel Almaguer

HAVANA TIMES, April 30— In 2007, at the initiative of Fidel Castro, it was decided to create a program to teach Spanish to Chinese young people who in their homeland were less likely to attend college.

This would not only reorient the lives of those foreign students, but would also provide China with the personnel needed for penetrating the Spanish-speaking market in the Americas, and would especially help Cuba pay down its huge debt that it had incurred with the Asian giant during the roughest years of the Special Period crisis.

The program required the selection of the best students in the humanities from all of the island’s provinces to become Spanish teachers. A total of 110 students changed the course of their lives when they “stepped forward to the call of the homeland.”

They were faced with a challenge that required greater sacrifice than that of their peers. They had to complete their studies at the University of Havana while at the same time preparing themselves to become Fast-track Spanish Teachers of Foreign Students.

Later, while they were still in the middle of their studies, it was decided that these young people would immediately start giving Spanish classes to the Chinese students – a plan that proved successful.

The Council of State, which led the project, would need a similar number of students over the subsequent two years, since the prospects for the project were positive – at least at that time. Again, more students “stepped forward” after having been chosen from each university.

However, two years later the Language Teaching Program for Chinese Youth was no longer a priority of the Council of State due to the new demands of incoming president Raul Castro and his Ministry of Higher Education.

But what about the teachers?

Since the island was to begin its turbulent process of downsizing, not so many of these teachers were needed. The rest were gradually returned to their home provinces along with their frustrated expectations, uncompleted studies and joblessness.

Very few have been able to resume their dreams back in their provinces. Many of those teachers, ones who were really talented, still don’t have jobs today.

Others, feeling betrayed, have left the country. There are still some at the language school for Chinese at the Tarara suburb on the east side of Havana, and other locations, who — seeing their former classmates thrown to the fire — are now preparing for the worst.

To be continued…


One thought on “Cuba’s Spanish for Chinese Program

  • To alter an old American expression, “Go EAST, young man, go EAST!” I have a friend who studied Mandarin Chinese in the mid-1980’s. She took a teaching job at the Beijing Normal University in the late 1980’s, and since then has never looked back! After teaching, she went on to more lucrative employment, translating for the Australian Embassy in Beijing, then for a series of companies. Hence, for any one who can learn a foreign language well, I’d say there are better options than either the meagre offerings of the Cuban State, or of most self-employment on the island. Taking into consideration how the Cuban economy is changing, it may be better for the government to facilitate the easing of any roadblocks to emmigration for such students, as they will be able to send back hard currency to their families. Also, I suspect that in the future the Yuan will be in much better shape than either the USD (now being printed up in vast quantities to help the banks) or the Euro.

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