Some time ago, over on the Progressive Minds site, I brought up the idea of including Portuguese in the Bermudian education system. Nothing really came of it, but I think its an important issue that needs to be more adequately addressed, so I’m bringing it back up for discussion here.
It has always surprised me that in our education system there is a choice between learning Spanish or French as second languages, but not Portuguese (I understand Mandarin may now be available too). As we have a minority ethnically Portuguese population with a distinct history and culture, this has always been surprising to me. Perhaps the most unfortunate consequence of such a neglect is the number of ethnic Portuguese who, for various reasons, have lost the ability to speak fluently in Portuguese, retaining only a pig-din and occasional cultural identity with their heritage. To me this is a great loss, losing ones heritage, as well as a potential economic loss for our country as a whole.
The Africans and Native Americans that were enslaved and brought here, they lost their cultural and linguistic identity through a systematic cultural and linguistic genocide. While there have certainly been pressures directed towards the Portuguese to conform, the pressures have no-where been the same as that faced by the Africans and Native Americans.
Portuguese however is also a major world language, not so much because Portugal and the Azores (where most of our Portuguese-Bermudians trace their ancestry) but because of Brazil, Angola, and Mozambique, as well as Cape Verde, Sao Tome & Principe, East Timor and Macau. Brazil in particular is a major economy (tenth largest in the world) that Bermuda could capitalise on, just as we have previously capitalised on our location between Europe and the USA. Angola and Mozambique are also potential major emerging economies, and Angola itself is the ancestral home of many Black Bermudians through the Atlantic slave trade.
It seems to me that it would be prudent for Portuguese to be taught throughout the school system, right up to GCSE level. French, Spanish and Mandarin should also be made available as electives in at least the final years of secondary school, but all Bermudian children should have a working knowledge of Portuguese in my opinion.
I should stress though that the Portuguese I would support for introduction is not that of Portugal and the Azores, but Brazilian Portuguese. The two dialects though are similar, and a student learning Brazilian Portuguese should not have too much trouble interacting with African or European dialects of the language. A grounding in Portuguese would also be an asset for those wishing to additionally learn French and Spanish, due to the family relationship of these Romance-languages.
I am not calling for Portuguese to be made a full official language of Bermuda, although a case could be made for that. But I definitely think it is about time we incorporated it fully into the Bermudian education system, especially as we are currently in the process of reforming it at the moment.