Photo credit: Pip R. Lagenta

I went to a British school back in Peru where I was taught the majority of my courses in English. The school has been around for a very long time (1938) and even my mother and her sisters went there when they were little. It has a great reputation and it’s undoubtedly responsible for my being bilingual since it was there where I learned English in a formal setting.

When I attended the school in the 1980s, there used to be an unwritten rule that they would only hire teachers from Great Britain to teach us English as in Language Arts, as they call it here. Although, if memory serves me right, all the other courses I took in English were also taught by British teachers. My mom says it was the same during her time there.

I never ever had an American teacher — they worked at the American schools — and now that I think about it in a more critical way, I imagine the whole point was that we’d learn to speak English as its spoken in Great Britain. The school’s goal, as stated on its website, is “to provide an integral education based on the best aspects of the British and Peruvian educational systems.”

I understand things have changed at my old school and while they still hire the majority of their English teachers from Great Britain, they do hire English-speaking Peruvian teachers, including their own alumni. I guess they’ve taught them well.

So when I first heard about a similar practice at a bilingual private school here in this country, I didn’t give it much thought. I thought it was the same thing reversed. But the more details I learned about this school’s particular situation, the more disturbed I was by the whole thing.

Apparently the school tries to hire only Spaniards to teach in their Spanish program. Although they won’t say this out loud, this school seems to think the Spanish spoken in Spain has a higher status than the Spanish spoken in the rest of the Spanish-speaking world. In fact, the person from whom I learned this information told me that her child’s teacher makes sure to correct his students if they don’t use the correct Spaniard version of a particular word. This person also told me that in terms of teaching students about the Spanish-speaking culture, anything coming from Spain is predominant.

Now, I’ve nothing against la Madre Patria. In fact, it’s one of my favorite countries in Europe and their food is out of this world. But I do have something against the notion that the Spanish spoken there is somehow “better” than the Spanish spoken in Latin America.

While the concept that there’s one Spanish that’s better than the others is nothing new*, it truly doesn’t belong in a bilingual school. Any school that’s teaching its students Spanish should be concerned with their teachers’ capabilities, experience, quatlifications and education, not their nationality. Just because a person was born in Spain doesn’t automatically make him the best Spanish teacher.

(*If you speak Spanish, particularly if Spanish is your first language and you grew up in Latin America, you’re probably familiar with the competition that exists regarding who speaks the best Spanish in the world. While some people immediately assume it would have to be the Spaniards, time and time again Colombians come out on top. I’ve no opinion one way or the other, but I do have to admit that I’ve yet to meet a Colombian who didn’t speak proper Spanish.)

I’m really bothered by this notion at all levels, but mainly because it once again undermines the status of Latinos in the United States.

What do you think? Should bilingual schools hire only Spaniards to teach in their Spanish programs?



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