Is Gibraltar slowly losing its grip on bilingualism? One little school has a big plan
If you walk down Main Street today, through the sea of cruise ship tourists your fellow Gibraltarian is still recognisable. However, the unmistakable Llanito lilt is becoming less and less prominent, fading out into an almost whisper amongst the throngs on Main Street. But why is that? And how can we turn that whisper back into a roar?
Due in no small part to our geographical location, the inhabitants of Gibraltar have historically spoken both English and Spanish and, due to its melting-pot nature, Llanito. Today, the elder generation are speaking Spanish, the middle-aged are speaking Llanito, and most people under twenty are speaking English, albeit with smatterings of Spanish words. The decline of the Spanish language in what we proudly describe as a bilingual community is gradual, but undeniable.
These days we’re far more likely to see grandparents speaking to their grandchildren in pure English. Is this simply a natural progression into modern times? Or is it something more sinister? It has been suggested that heightened tensions between Gibraltar and our neighbour has made Spanish ‘a language of the oppressor’, but although the disputes likely haven’t helped, politics can’t be entirely to blame.
The advent of British and American television, not to mention the rise of social media platforms, have undoubtedly played a part in English becoming the established norm in Gibraltar. Efforts to encourage the vitality of the Spanish language in Gibraltar have nevertheless been made, such as with the opening of the Instituto Cervantes in 2011. However, this was relatively short-lived, and Cervantes closed its doors in 2015 with Margallo stating that there was no need for such a school, as in Gibraltar “everyone speaks Spanish, except for the apes”.
In 2016, Gibraltar was given a new opportunity in the form of the Little English language school, located in the heart of town. Local entrepreneur Sophie Clifton-Tucker and her partner Chris Hedley sought to bring the best elements of the educational institutions they worked in across the globe, from Oxford to Sydney, Auckland and Tokyo, to allow locals the opportunity to build on their language skills – an opportunity they strongly believe everyone should be afforded.
Sophie reminisces: “As I enter into my 30s, I look back on my time at Westside School where, although lessons were primarily conducted in English, my teachers would deftly dip in and out of English and Spanish without a second thought (much to our English contingent’s chagrin). ‘Sientate please, abre sus libros on page 64.’ At lunch times I would head to abuela’s house where, regardless of how hungry I was, I would be greeted with ‘Fui a Seifwe, ahi tienes fideo, lenteja y pollo empanao’ and even after second helpings told que ‘no has comido tanto miarma, toma una croqueta…hay Petifloo tambien!’.”
Chris adds: “At Little English we are finding more and more locals in their 20s coming in inquiring about Spanish lessons. It’s this generation who have been left with a kind of residual Spanish, many understanding Spanish perfectly without being able to (or being confident enough to) speak it fluently.”.
Today Little English is a beacon for all things language-related. As well as English and Spanish lessons for all ages and levels (their youngest student is 4, and oldest 74!), they have offered French, Italian and German courses, exam preparation, proofreading services and more. This little school has grown from strength to strength, recently partnering with the likes of Lottoland, Ladbrokes Coral and Playtech to deliver corporate language courses directly into their local offices.
As passionate believers in bilingualism, heritage and culture, Little English strive to re-lay the foundations of the Spanish language, instilling confidence and improving grammar and vocabulary in order to pave the way for young locals and foreign workers alike to speak in their second language without trepidation or fear of embarrassment. Vice versa, they continue to support cross-frontier workers by improving their level of English in order to foster a healthy working relationship between Gibraltar and Spain.
Politics aside, our Latin and Mediterranean roots should be something to celebrate and nurture. It’s precisely the privilege of being able to straddle (at least) two different cultures that gives us our distinctly unique identity. And what could be more critical to understanding and crystallising the Gibraltarian identity than that?
Tel: +350 200 72470