BEING MULTILINGUAL: A VALUABLE TALENT

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Do you know one thing most locals in Curaçao have in common? We are all multilingual.

 

 What is a multilingual? I’m sure you have heard many times how people in other countries are proud to be bilingual. A bilingual is a person who speaks two languages.

 

A multilingual is a person who speaks more than two languages with some level of fluency. If you were born in the 80s and 90s in Curaçao in a traditional local family household, you technically become multilingual at a young age, you just didn’t realize it.

 

 CURAÇAO AND PAPIAMENTU

Curaçao is located right outside of the hurricane belt, just 90 miles north of Venezuela. It is an autonomous country within the Royal Dutch Kingdom. Along with sister islands Aruba, and Bonaire, they are commonly referred to as the ABC islands. Curaçao is also an export hub for talent in sports including baseball and footballentertainment, languages, offshore and financial expertise.

   
 Curaçao
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Growing up in a local family household in Curaçao, you first learn the native language Papiamentu. Papiamentu is a Creole language based on colonial-era Portuguese and Spanish, Venezuelan Spanish, English, Dutch, and French. It was also influenced by the Arawak Indigenous and African languages. It is spoken on the ABC islands each with its dialect flow version of the language. Same as with English (U.K. vs. U.S.) and Spanish (Spain vs. any country in Latin America) you will find differences in the Papiamentu dialect on the ABC islands.

 

THE LOCAL EXPERIENCE

In the 90s, as you entered the education system as a child you learned Dutch as the mandatory language in Curaçao. All the study material was in Dutch. Papiamentu was given as a minor subject. Thankfully this has changed over the years and younger generations are more exposed to the grammar of our native language.

 

During the last year of primary school, children get a little taste of English and Spanish grammar and the dialect but by that time most kids were already familiar with one or both. Most households had free Venezuelan-Spanish Television broadcasted by mainly Venevisión, Radio Caracas Television, Televen, and Corporación Venezolana de Televisión in addition to the local TV station broadcasted in Papiamentu. Those with a well-positioned household with cable were exposed to American English programming.

 

I grew up watching Spanish content with Venezuelan, Colombian, and Mexican dialects. Living on the islands I met many individuals from the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Venezuela. Later in high school, I dived more into Spanish grammar as an elective course. I also had French as part of the curriculum but had no interest in it at the time.

 

German is also a very commonly known language among those who lived for many years in The Netherlands and under the youth who chose to study for a university degree in the Netherlands and came back to the island to join the local workforce.

 

Sometimes it also depends on your family background whether you will be more likely to know more languages. The island has a history of foreigners that came, stayed, and help build the island’s economy like the Portuguese establishing their minimarkets, the Chinese establishing their restaurants, and the Indians and Arabs establishing their retail stores. So, as you can see, many locals know are more likely to know more than 3 languages.

 

LET’S TALK ABOUT PROFICIENCY AND FLUENCY

Proficiency means mastering a language. Understand the logic, sentence structures, and grammar to the full extent.  Fluency is speaking a language comfortably. The speaker may not use grammar correctly but can form sentences that can be understood by the native speaker.

 

My generation is fluent in Papiamentu but has difficulty with its grammar. It is not surprising since it was not an important subject in primary school or high school. Those who are proficient made an effort to learn grammar as adults. Entering the job market many were proficient and fluent in English and Dutch.

 

These days somehow some local business recruiters have the impression that Dutch proficiency is not at par which is not a fair assessment when even the Dutch struggle with the language the same way Americans struggle with English.

 

Many people know the basics of the Dutch language, but it is also true that Dutch grammar rules are complex. So much so that a yearly update used to be recommended for all businesses in the financial sector. In my experience, locals in general preferred to invest in improving their English proficiency and fluency for international business opportunities. Doing business in Dutch is limited to the Royal Dutch Kingdom, Belgium, and Suriname.

 

Proficiency and fluency in Spanish usually differ per person based on their experience. In my case, my Spanish-speaking fluency was influenced by Venezuelan Spanish. When it comes to writing in Spanish, it is a challenge to perfect it with all the accent marks to remember along with the upside-down question and exclamation marks.

 

CLOSING

To summarize, in Curaçao you will find people proficient and fluent in Dutch and English in addition to the native language Papiamentu. A large portion of the population understands Spanish, but the fluency and proficiency may differ per person.

 

In addition to the above-mentioned, you will also find people proficient and fluent in Portuguese, French, and German. The beauty of our fluency in languages, especially with English, is that we speak to them with limited to no accent which sets us apart from other Caribbean countries.

 

The sad part is that we do not promote our talents loud enough for the world to know. Instead, we tend to focus on everything else that is trending.

 
We have invaluable talents on this tiny island called Curaçao. Be proud and showcase them”
   

This article is also available in Dutch and Spanish

 

References

2017. Omega Engineering Inc. Engineer Of The Year

2019. AFP. Jamaica, Curacao reach Gold Cup quarterfinals

2020. M. Kelley. How did Curaçao become a baseball paradise?

2020. The Daily Herald. Buladó wins prestigious Netherlands film award

2020. S. Slater. Interview: Eché Janga Talks Dutch Oscar Contender ‘Buladó’ and Showcasing Curaçao Culture

2021. B. Verhoeven. ‘Bulado’ Director on Why His Films Have Little Dialogue: ‘I Tell My Story With Images’ (Video)

2022. World Series. Meet the Teams: Final Four at the 2022 Little League Baseball® World Series – Little League

2022. J. Star. Curacao shuts out Taiwan 1-0 to move to LLWS championship. News4JAX.

2022. The Daily Herald. Curaçao wins international final but loses to US champ Hawaii

   

The images used in this article belong to their original creators.

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