By: Hailey Blanco
The recent decision to open up ties between Cuba and the U.S. has done more than just effect the country’s economy; it has had an incredible effect on the daily lives of the Cuban people. In the past, learning or even speaking English was discouraged. Now, some might say it is becoming almost as important in the country to know English, as it is to know Spanish.
After the Cold War, children were taught to speak Russian instead of English, and now the consequences of that choice are coming back to haunt the country. Those who once learned Russian instead of English have little use for it now, and are finding it harder to learn English now than it may have been as a young child.
For some, learning English has become less of a choice and more of a necessity. Jobs are requiring employees to have a basic understanding and proficiency in English if they are to continue to work and maintain their salary. If employees are not able to pass their English exams, they risk receiving a salary up to ten times lower than they were previously paid. For many Cubans, their ability to speak English may be the deciding factor in whether they are hired for certain jobs or not.
Even for those that are self-employed, learning English has become necessary to be able to stay in business. Many Cubans own small shops and business, which sell primarily to tourists in the country. The last year or so has shown promise for these individuals, as tourism in Cuba has never been higher, yet many have had trouble communicating with tourists because of their inability to speak English. No English means no business, something most Cubans cannot afford.
Adults facing these many issues while struggling to learn English at such a late stage in their lives are taking steps to make sure their children do not face the same challenges. Schools are aware of how vital English has become for Cuba’s economy and international image and are implementing English classes for students at young ages. Recently, English has even become a graduation requirement for secondary schools and universities.
It is clear that Cuba is trying to remedy the problems it may have caused when English was first discouraged in the country. But as exciting and promising as this English boom is, many Cubans will not reap the benefits of this new Americanized Cuba. The fact that the economy is picking up speed is not so readily reflected in the normal salaries of the Cuban people. English classes are expensive, and it is difficult for someone to pay $10 or $20 a month when his or her average salary is only $25 to begin with.
Because there is such a high demand for English classes, more and more are emerging, appearing out of what seems like thin air. Though this benefits the country as a whole, it takes business away from the original schools teaching English, especially if the new competition is able to offer classes at a lower rate. For Cubans who earn a little bit more or get help from family and friends in the U.S., price of English classes may not be an issue. But for the many Cubans who do not have the means to learn a language that is 1) one of the hardest languages to learn and nearly impossible to do so self-taught and 2) becoming more and more important to speak every day, it will become much harder for them to continue living the daily life they are used to while only being able to speak Spanish.
English is the universal language. Learning it and making it an integral part of Cuban society may in fact be for the betterment of the country. Only time will tell.