South Africa is about to be invaded by hordes of people who like nothing more then stabbing enraged bulls to death at close quarters – and we have no idea how to speak to them nicely. Fortunately, the Spanish government is trying to help: it is funding a programme to teach scores of local tour guides how to speak the language of Cervantes and Che Guevara in time for the World Cup next year.
South Africa has never been a major destination for visitors from Spain and Latin America, and the closest most of us has come to hearing Spanish spoken is during an emergency visit to an imported Cuban doctor.
All that will change in less that 500 days when tens of thousands of fans from Spain and South America arrive for the World Cup, all talking at once, and – in the Latin way – at the tops of their voices. They will want to know where is the stadium, where is the taxi and sometimes even where is the bar. Very few of them will be asking in English.
The lucky ones will come across people like Mario Borchards or Charmaine Aspeling, two of the guides who have benefited from intensive one-month course in Santander, Spain, and are eager to practice their command of phrases like “ que opresa que Bafana ha Ganado 3-0 a Espana” (What a surprise that South Africa beat Spain 3-0)
“Spanish is a difficult language,” said Borchards, who acknowledged his main interest in Spain before doing the course was following the fortunes of Real Madrid and Barcelona. “It’s easy to understand, but the language is difficult to speak, although we’re getting there. We don’t have a Spanish community at all, so you don’t hear Spanish anywhere.” Aspealing said learning even rudimentary Spanish had opened doors for her. “The minute you can speak a little bit of a new language, you can connect with people” she said. “You start out learning how to speak the language and from there it just grows. It’s been a great journey and it can only get better.”
Raimundo Robredo, a counselor for cultural co-operation at the Spanish embassy in Pretoria, said the Spanish government had so far funded language training for about 100 guides from Limpopo, Gauteng and Western Cape. Some are based in provincial game reserves and some are self-employed.
“It’s part of our general co-operation strategy with South Africa,” he said. “South Africa has made it very clear that they are looking specifically for help with creating wealth and creating jobs. Skills acquisition and promoting jobs are very high on the agenda.” He said that Spain, which is among the world’s top three tourist destinations, had particular expertise in this area. “The tourism sector is very intensive in low-skill labour. It allows for many people to climb on the first step of the labour market.”
Robredo said the Department of Environmental Affairs and Toursim had asked Spain to focus on language training with a view to 2010. “They expect a big inflow of soccer-mad fans … who cannot speak English and they think they are going to have a problem coping with that.”
The point was underlined by two Spanish tourists who visited Cape Town and the Garden Route this month: Charo Alba and her partner Eduardo Prieto, who live in the sleepy town of Tudela, Navarra. Alba speaks some English, but Prieto speaks none except for the words “goal”, “penalty” and “corner”. “The country is marvelous, the people are marvelous, but nobody speaks Spanish,” says Alba. “I don’t understand why, when we come here, we can’t understand anybody and nobody can understand us.” She said inquiries at official visitor information centres in all the towns they visited when they were met with bank stares and shrugs.
“They could at least have signs in Spanish with important information,” Alba said, “If you have a problem, no one can help you.” Prieto said he would have been lost without Alba to translate for him. “I wouldn’t even have been able to order a hamburger,” he sais. “If I had been on my own, I would have gone home after three days.”
Apart from the language, there’s the food. “You cant offer Spanish people bread like this,” Alba said, indicating the standard sliced bread offered by local restaurants. “It’s disgusting.” Borchards sees great potential in being able to help people like Alba and Prieto. “It’s a brilliant way to create a niche market,” he said. “In Cape Town there aren’t tourist guides who do Spanish. In Spain, I’d say 10% of the population speaks English, many of them only basic English.”
Source: Sunday Times – 1st February. Article by Anton Ferreira.