Starting next semester, Texas A&M University-San Antonio (A&M-SA) students will reap the benefits of Spanish classes taught by teachers from Spain, trained by the largest institution in the world dedicated to teaching Spanish, Instituto Cervantes.
A unique memorandum of understanding was signed Monday morning between the Southside university and the Spain-based institution that fully integrates Instituto Cervantes into the school. This programming, however, will not be locked behind tuition or kept on school grounds. President Maria Hernandez Ferrier expects the entire San Antonio community to benefit and plans to offer online classes and seminars for business representatives and community members.
“We’re often told by business (leaders), ‘We need people who can not only speak conversational Spanish, but can speak professional Spanish,’ ” she said. “As we look at education, culture, and business, all of those areas – including medicine and engineering – the learning of the correct Spanish for that particular profession is incredibly important.”
According to the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, about 30% of the San Antonio metropolis speaks both Spanish and English. Language statistics can be a bit murky (how well do you have to know another language to be considered bilingual?) – but it has been estimated that about 20% of Americans are bilingual.
Two offices will be made available for the incoming Spanish teachers and they’ll be using classrooms like any other faculty. Ferrier also expects there to be a strong presence of Instituto Cervantes at A&M-SA’s downtown Educational and Cultural Arts Center – formerly the Museo Alameda. Eventually, Ferrier said, a full program will be developed around these classes to offer a Spanish major and minor.
“One aspect (of the Instituto Cervantes) is to teach and promote our language and to promote (its) future,” said Instituto Cervantes Albuquerque Executive Director Anastasio Sanchez Zamorano. “The other (aspect) is to provide a relationship with universities in the Hispanic world to support them with library materials and cultural activities.”
Zamorano also noted that there are other universities, academies, and institutions in San Antonio that teach Spanish, including Universidad Autónoma Guadalajara and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). “We are not going to compete with them. We’re going to try to offer to the society and to the community of San Antonio something that they are not offering,” and collaborate with them.
Joining Ferrier and Zamorano in signing the understanding was Ambassador Enric Panés, consul general of Spain in Houston, and Raul B. Rodriguez, honorary consul of Spain in San Antonio.
“Through the Instituto Cervantes we have a window to the Spanish life and culture,” Panés said. By opening minds up to a new language, people are also opening minds up to new ideas and new perspective. “Being familiar with Spanish culture will also stimulate the eagerness of your students to go deeper.”
Rodriguez broke down the benefits of a bilingual, Spanish-speaking society.
“Spanish in America spells nothing less than history,” he said. It is, after all, the first European language spoken in this territory.
“Spanish is demography. It symbolizes the new landscape in America, or rather, the rebirth of one. We were not always a minority in this land – we became one. Today we are growing four times as fast as the general population – 10 times as fast as non-Hispanics.
“In 50 years, one-third of America will be Hispanic,” Rodriguez continued. “Before the end of the century, this will be the largest Hispanic nation in the world.”
The Spanish language connects neighborhoods and communities, encourages exploration into culture and therefore new and old universes, and is simply a beautiful language to hear – to translate, he said. “The Instituto Cervantes is first and foremost a place for congregation.”
Shahrzad Dowlatshahi, chief of protocol and head of International Relations for the City of San Antonio, also spoke to the core relevancy of bilingual communication.
“Using language is fundamental – the ability to communicate makes a difference,” she said. “If we’re unable to communicate (and translate), we’re unable to make important things happen.”
Dowlatshahi speaks many languages, including English, Spanish, and Farsi. She put Instituto Cervantes into context for those who haven’t heard of the nonprofit, public body of the Kingdom of Spain. It sets the international standard for Spanish-speaking proficiency with more than 80 centers (and many smaller offices) in 50 countries. San Antonio joins New York, Chicago, and Albuquerque with this center at A&M-SA.
“If you want to study in Spain or Latin America, you have to show your proficiency in language. The Instituto Cervantes … in addition to teaching … they are the institution that validates the proficiency in the different levels of Spanish,” Dowlatshahi said.
Educational and business exchanges between international cities is inevitable, she said, so we should be prepared to communicate.
“Education and culture – they are the precursors to the business relationships to come,” she added.
It was an emotional day for Dr. Alfonso Chiscano, a cardiovascular surgeon who has worked for more than 23 years to get programming like this to San Antonio. He held back tears while thanking President Ferrier and the consulate delegation.
Chiscano worked closely with Institute Cervantes to find funding and a suitable facility. That search ended when he found a ready and willing partner in A&M-SA. As a doctor and a father, he sees the need for a higher level of Spanish instruction at work and at home.
When his children were in high school, he would step in to watch their classes.
“I was horrified,” he said to the audience. “They didn’t know how to teach them (Spanish).”
He said he could now rest easy knowing that high-quality Spanish instruction is now within the community’s grasp.
“Our students and teachers are going to have the opportunity to learn from the very best Spanish teachers in the world,” Ferrier said.
*Featured/top image: From left: A&M-SA President Maria Hernandez Ferrier, Ambassador Enric Panés, Consul Raul B. Rodriguez, and Instituto Cervantes’ Anastasio Sanchez Zamorano sign the memorandum of understanding. Photo by Iris Dimmick.