Spanish is the second most widely spoken language, accounting for 5.85 per cent of the global population, or 405 million people. Roughly 5.52 per cent or 365 million people speak English, making it the third most widely spoken language.
In some countries where several languages are spoken, English is the language used to conduct business and its use enables the majority of the population to communicate with others. For example, in India, which has over 100 languages, 30 of which are recognised, it is Hindi and English that are the languages for government, business and education.
In today's world, nearly all people speak more than one language. Since people everywhere are part of a global labour market, the astute ones choose the languages that are most widely spoken so that they can function in as many countries as possible.
Countries that are increasingly integrated with the world economy are encouraging a second language as part of their education system. The Chinese are busy learning English and the United States is rapidly becoming a bilingual country. Now, Cuba, in preparation for more contact with the world and increased tourist arrivals, is making English a more integral part of its higher education system.
The English language will be a requirement of all Cuban university graduates in the near future. A university degree will not be granted if they cannot prove their mastery of the English language, irrespective of passing all other exams relevant to their curricula. The Minister of Higher Education Rodolfo Alarcón Ortiz said that the new measure will be implemented as soon as conditions allow.
Here in Jamaica, English, which we inherited from the British colonialists, is the official language. Jamaican patois is an English-based creole language with West African and Spanish influences.
The problem for Jamaica is twofold because only one of the languages, ie English, is useful for interacting with the world, and only a small minority of our population is truly competent in English. The number of people who can speaking Jamaican patois is no more than four million, assuming that there is one Jamaican abroad for every two at home.
The number of people in Jamaica who can speak English, much less who are competent to read and write English, is estimated to be less than 200,000. But we have to retain it as the official language because English is the international language of commerce, communication and science. It is the most widely spoken second language in the world.
While patois is the language most widely spoken by Jamaicans, we must acknowledge that it is of no use for external communication, and we do need a second language for that purpose.
Some years ago, the Ministry of Education under the late Sir Florizel Glasspole declared Spanish Jamaica's second language. It is time that we really make it so. Why? Jamaica is located in the middle of the Western Hemisphere in which the vast majority of the population are Spanish-speaking.
Bilingual competency in English and Spanish could best be accomplished by starting with the requirement that university graduates be certified as capable of speaking Spanish.