Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned at school.
– Albert Einstein
Learning is a life lesson, it is ingrained in us from our birth and being bilingual, or even better, multilingual, is a requisite in today’s world and the language of international business, diplomacy, commerce and social media is – English. Barbados is uniquely placed geographically, to be an English learning centre. It is close to Latin America with a direct flight to Brazil and soon, Chile, and direct flights from Europe, especially Germany. It offers: a delightful climate, an interesting cultural past and many natural attractions, established learning centres offering courses of English as a Foreign Language (EFL), the Test Of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and qualified experienced personnel who facilitate them.
Foreign students, for the most part, are placed in Barbadian homes where they become a part of the family life and environment, mix with English speaking people and learn the nuances of the language. In my case, I benefitted from my parents’ vision to provide such an education when, in 1950, my older sister and I were placed as boarders at the Ursuline Convent in Barbados. The Convent, as the combined schools of St. Angela’s and St. Ursula’s are commonly referred to, has been a favourite of parents for over a century, teaching English to foreign students, mainly from South America. So was Codrington High School when it had its boarding establishment. Completely immersed in a foreign language (English), a new world opened up for me under the able instruction of our well-versed Ursuline nuns from England, France, USA and the Caribbean. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton and Dickens merged with my love for Cervantes. Indeed, I fell in love with the English language and it steered me into the future, to teach both, my mother tongue Spanish, and my second tongue English.
Acquiring language skills, using and updating them, is a life process. Our expressions and descriptions are ever richer when taught by life experiences, rather than just books, by listening, observing, modulating and transforming them into clearly articulated and distinctly pronounced speech and correct writing. Barbados has the qualified teachers of English, the schools, the colonial past, its history and customs with which to educate interested foreign students to learn the universal language, English.
In Barbados, there are many places to visit and learn from: The Barbados Museum and its Garrison area, a nominated World Heritage Site; the George Washington House with its interesting accounts of the future US president’s life; the Defence Force St. Ann’s Fort and its cannon collection; the Sugar Museum and history of the sugar process; Animal Flower Cave and Harrison’s Cave depicting the intricate and delicate structures of an underground world; the Flower Forest and Hunte’s Gardens, to delight any horticulturist’s eye; the Concorde Experience, visiting the very plane on which Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II flew from Barbados back to England, and so many other varied and interesting sites, in addition to the magnificent beaches. Barbados is rich in its diverse religions and their respective picturesque churches, a well-restored synagogue, historic plantation houses with manager’s quarters, stables, boiler houses and windmills; quaint villages, over a thousand rum shops and unique colourful chattel houses.
The interest in the learning of the English language is present and in great demand throughout the world. The foreign students are eager for the knowledge of the language and living experiences in a tropical island, experiences which will shape their lives and job options. Let us keep that interest alive, enticing them to learn English in the ideal conditions this little island nation offers. What is needed, is a clear vision implemented to facilitate the entry of these prospective ‘bona fide’ foreign students to our shores, embracing them into the society while Barbados benefits greatly, not only from the foreign exchange they generate but also, from the interchange of languages, ideas and customs which the diverse groups of students bring from their native countries. Some have come from as far as: Japan, China, Korea, Thailand, Russia, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, France and Spain; while from the western hemisphere, they have come from: Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Argentina, Peru, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Honduras and the French departments of Guadeloupe and Martinique.
It has been and could be again, a win/win situation: the foreign students acquiring the desired knowledge of the English language and Barbados benefitting from the influx of the much-needed foreign exchange, particularly, when the students’ family and friends visit them in Barbados, staying at hotels or apartments, renting cars, taking tours, shopping, enjoying the culinary delights and experiencing the night life, etc. There is much to offer and Barbados has the facilities and willing exponents of the English language, ready to teach.