YENIA SILVA CORREA / PHOTOS: ALBERTO BORREGO ÁVILA
SHENG Yz Zhu is 26 years old and sells marble in China. Jean–Baptiste Joses is Haitian, a lover of Cuban culture and wants to study medicine. Mohamed Osma Aldeen, from Syria, is pursuing a doctorate in Physical Education and is not a big talker. Angolan Roney Athfany is preparing for a career as an economist.
Although less well-known than other areas of study, Cuba has offered Spanish language courses since 1976, when the country first began training non-Spanish speaking professionals.
The University’s Spanish Department offers several options including short courses, the preparatory program for students planning to enroll in Cuban universities, semester-long classes and Spanish as a second language for those training to become translators and interpreters, as well as special courses.
One of the features of these programs is that groups are composed of students from various parts of the world, so classes are conducted entirely in the target language.
In the opinion of Manuel Merardo Montero, head of the department, "One of the advantages is that learning occurs in the linguistic environment. The majority of our students live with Cuban families, study in the city and naturally the course is complimented in daily life."
ASPIRING FOR MORE
Cuba is represented within the International Spanish as a Foreign Language Certification System (SICELE), an organization which works to ensure that certification exams in all Spanish-speaking countries are equivalent. At this point, the most widely recognized is that developed by the Cervantes Institute.
"If we are accredited by SICELE," Montero said, "our exam will have the same value as that of the Cervantes. If the standards of our exams are approved, they will send an evaluator to see if prerequisites are met. If we are granted the SICELE seal of approval, we will have this status.
"We have participated in several meetings of the Academic Committee. We also have a team of professors working on the development of the exams in accordance with the requisites. There are two parts: one is the Academic Meeting and the other is the work we must do here to develop an exam which meets requirements established by SICELE."
While work is underway to align Cuban exams with international standards, two cohorts of students have earned degrees in Cuban Sign Language from the Spanish Department and fruitful collaboration has been established with other universities.
As a result of a project with the University of Cádiz, the Linguistic Services Center was created, specialists from Spain presented courses for the Cuban teaching staff and professors from the two universities have worked jointly on the development of text books.
Additionally, the Center has acquired servers needed to create a virtual campus to support students outside of the classroom.
Contacts with other centers of higher learning in the region include work with the Cooperative University of Colombia and Nicaragua's Autonomous University, in addition to relationships with schools in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
More than 1,000 students have been enrolled in the recent past, with approximately 700 in 2012 and an increase is expected.
All appearances indicate that the goal cited by Montero is well defined, to situate Cuba as "a reference in the teaching of Spanish as a foreign language."