There are rising concerns about the decline of bilingualism in public broadcasting on the Rock.
There was a time not too long ago, when Radio Gibraltar’s Spanish-language service used to enjoy a good standing on both sides of the Frontier.
But recently, Spanish language radio programming has been in retreat due to the seemingly unstoppable advance of English-language content, with more and more people lamenting that the public broadcaster has ceased being a true reflection of Gibraltar: a multicultural society that, despite the dominance of English, is still a bilingual community.
Radio Gibraltar hit the airwaves in 1958 and would go on to merge with the newly created Gibraltar Television in 1963 – giving rise to the Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation (GBC). In its early stages, Radio Gibraltar aired extensive programming in English and Spanish from 8 a.m. until midnight.
The current Managing Director at GBC is Gerard Teuma; he recalls how the station was consolidated in 1969, after the Frontier was closed and communications were cut off by the Franco dictatorship. GBC would go on carry out an important social service: the exchange of messages between friends and families on either side of the border, who were unable to communicate directly.
Now, Radio Gibraltar airs Spanish-language programming for two hours a day, Monday to Friday, between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, which can be listened to on the secondary Radio Gibraltar Plus, while English language programming continues on the main frequency. As for Gibraltar Television, Spanish-language content is non-existent.
Teresa Gonçalves, the presenter of Radio Gibraltar’s Spanish show “Saludos” which she inherited from Norma Delgado, is the first to lament the lack of balance in Gibraltarian broadcasting. She says that she has not yet abandoned hope and will continue to work hard to redress the situation.
“Although our official language is English, we’re bilingual in Gibraltar; this is our identity and we should not lose it… Also, Spaniards on the other side of the Frontier tune in because developments on the Rock are of interest to our neighbours in Spain.”
Gonçalves told ReachExtra that she believes that the social function of local radio, which was best demonstrated in the 60’s and 70’s, has become evident once again in 2020 during the Covid-19 lockdown.
“During the bad times, radio is always there: we have had so many elderly people tune in who are at home alone and who prefer to speak in Spanish; people in the homes for the elderly and also Spanish workers… During those short couple of hours every weekday, that segment of our audience was able to get their information and entertainment, they were able to get the comfort of someone speaking to them, listening to music and let them know what was happening outside… Radio for me has always been a form of therapy and I have been to see that it is therapy for many other people too.”
Another voice calling for a higher presence of Spanish in Gibraltar’s public media is academic Charles Durante; one of the great defenders of bilingualism on the Rock. In one of his many articles that he has devoted to this issue, he lamented how a “high-ranking academic commented, without a care, that she would not mind if the use of Spanish in Gibraltar was lost”.
Durante said: “These intransigent and short-sighted views, from those who are considered to be enlightened, are obstacles which we need to overcome when we try to keep English and Spanish on equal footing.”
According to Durante, “as a general rule, we opt for English because it is our academic language as well as our official language, so there is no stigma associated with only speaking English. It is also the language of the internet, and most people now interact through social media.” He also complains that, for some time now, “the underlying perception is that you cannot be a true Gibraltarian if you speak like a native Spanish speaker”.
He is concerned that in recent decades Spanish seems to have become the “Cinderella of GBC”, but says that he still trusts that “institutional anglophony” will not put an end to one of the greatest riches of the people of Gibraltar. “Some people say that Spanish is disappearing. If Spanish disappears, then Yanito will follow, and we will end up as a monolingual society; we will lose something valuable which many other people can only acquire with great effort and expense”, he warns.
The Closure of the Instituto Cervantes on the Rock Seen as a “heavy blow” to bilingualism
Both Durante and Teresa Gonçalves, who was one of his students, said that they deeply regretted the closure of the Instituto Cervantes in Gibraltar, which they see as a “heavy blow” to bilingualism. Francisco Oda, the then-Director of the institute who is now Director of the Instituto Cervantes office in Tetouan, Morocco, echoes that “it is a shame” that current GBC programming does not reflect the rich diversity, culture and language of Gibraltar.
“Except for 2 hours of Spanish radio, everything else is in English: news, advertising and TV without a single spot in Spanish … and it is not as if Spanish is not spoken in the City”.
Oda recalls that this was not always the case in Gibraltar, and that Spanish did enjoy more prominence on public TV and radio for a while – at a time when shows like “Pepe’s Pot” were widely watched and conducted in “Spanglish”; bingo was also held in Spanish and English, and there were also some debate programmes where the interviewees would speak in both languages.
For its part, the government of Chief Minister Fabian Picardo seems to have a “sincere interest” in ensuring that Spanish is not lost particularly among the younger generations. In fact, Francisco Oda recalls that, when the Instituto Cervantes closed, the Ministry of Education began promoting Spanish classes in secondary school (where it was previously only being taught once a week), and also through the University of Gibraltar.
However, this interest does not seem to have been reflected in GBC’s programming, at least as it now stands, and despite the fact that, as Oda argues, “listening to the radio and watching TV are the best ways to improve your skills in any language.”
Spanish: The First Foreign Language in the UK
Interestingly, despite the perceived decline that Gibraltar is experiencing, in the past few years Spanish has become the most widely taught foreign language within the British education system, having overtaken French. According to the latest report from the British Council (entitled “Language for the Future”), Spanish is now the UK’s first choice for Secondary and University-level students, and the 1st most popular for GCSE and A-level exams.
Francisco Oda, whose diplomatic career has seen him living in Manchester for the last 5 years, explains that British companies are increasingly valuing candidates who have a good level of Spanish for certain positions; “a language that is now spoken by 600 million people world-wide.”
With this in mind, the former Director of the Gibraltar Instituto Cervantes said that “it would be a shame and detrimental to the competitiveness of new generations, especially in a globalised world, if Gibraltar ends up losing one of its greatest assets: its natural propensity for bilingualism.” Oda pointed out that “in the United States, some 50 million people speak Spanish, and Gibraltar, as with other ‘Anglo-Hispanic’ bilingual territories, are natural bridges for large-scale business.”
In addition, the diplomat recalls that “Gibraltar is part of the hispanophone world and this has always been an outstanding sign of the identity, in the linguistic and cultural sphere, of this wonderful geographical space, where two of the great global cultures and societies coexist: the Anglo-Saxon and the Hispanic. Indeed, many of Gibraltar’s literary, poetic, pictorial, musical and gastronomic expressions are expressed and produced in the Spanish language, and are just as Gibraltarian as those expressed in English. It is evident that the city’s media could make a little effort to reflect that natural strength, which connects Gibraltar with a global world in which pan-hispanism carries great weight”.