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Costa Rica aims to become bilingual nation

August 02, 2010

EDITOR'S NOTE: Throughout the summer, ASU students studying abroad will be writing back to the states about their overseas adventures. Fostering international student experiences is just one part of ASU's commitment to making a global impact.

Brett's blog:
The language barrier seems to be dissipating as the Tican government emphasizes learning English by dedicating finances and attention to programs like Costa Rica Multilingue. The youth reap the benefits of their country’s aspirations to produce a bilingual workforce, and the graduates, who speak multiple languages, have advantages over competing applicants in the Costa Rican job markets. Even though the Tican youth continue to strive toward bilingualism, the current workforce faces a generational and educational gap making it difficult for it to survive long enough for the next, more highly educated generation to take over. While the future Costa Rican professionals concentrate on furthering their education, existing employers must endure hiring non-bilingual individuals.

On the tour of Dos Pinos, the largest exporter in Costa Rica, I realized that the language barrier is a more pressing issue because a large majority of workers are not bilingual. Our teacher's role translating the entire Dos Pinos tour illuminated the obvious lack of English speakers within the company. If the largest exporter in the country does not hire, or at least seemingly stress the hiring of more bilingual employees, then it certainly is not a pressing issue for most other businesses.  While Costa Rica Multilingue attempts to improve primarily students’ overall lingual skills, the middle-aged workforce is left behind. The tourist businesses seem more willing to spend additional money on bilingual employees, while other markets are less excited about the prospect of hiring expensive, educated applicants.

I recognized the generational and educational gap among Costa Ricans when I attempted to have a conversation with a waitress. Since she was older and did not speak any English, it was difficult for us to converse. However, after many failed attempts and me struggling through broken Spanish, we finally managed to somewhat understand each other. On the contrary, when I have spoken with younger Ticans I have been able to hold conversations with ease. As Costa Rica aims for a bilingual nation, the language barrier remains, and the barrier is evident by the lack of English speakers in the current workforce.

Brett Fitzgerald, a finance and accounting major, will be a sophomore this fall. He is studying abroad in Costa Rica this summer.