Spanish Language in Philippines

30 years of Instituto Cervantes

August 7, 2021

I saw on Facebook that Instituto Cervantes is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. I thought that they had been around longer. In the Philippines, when you hear the mention of Spain, people often have an impression that something is really old.

Instituto Cervantes was established in 1991 in Madrid (in Alcalá de Henares, Cervantes’ birthplace). In 1994 they found their way in the Philippines.


Many years ago, I visited the Spanish school Las Lilas here in Singapore (an Instituto Cervantes affiliate). I was surprised to see many groups of students. I have no clue what drives their interest in speaking Spanish. Local children here are taught to speak English and their native tongue (which could be Tamil-the oldest living language, Malay and Chinese).

This experience has made me think. Shouldn’t we, Filipinos, be more interested in learning Spanish? Considering we not only have shared history with Spanish but that many of our words were derived from it?

Furthermore, our centuries of history and written records are in Spanish. These are “closed books” (as the Jesuit priest Fr. Arcilla puts it) to us until we learn la lengua de Cervantes.


I studied Spanish at Instituto Cervantes in 2009. I enjoyed the classes and watching jai alai in its backyard. The occasional floods (in Calle Kalaw) were a bummer but that’s Manila for you.

I have not intentionally blurred my face to hide my identity. It’s just my bright personality – radiating. Nah, it’s that bright blue polo shirt LOL

Instituto Cervantes for me has great meaning. They serve as a reminder that Spanish will never disappear in Filipinas. I don’t know whether they see themselves as beacons of the Philippine-Spanish past, but they certainly are. 

I remember summoning all my courage to ask then the head of the Instituto, José Rodríguez Rodríguez.

I started in Spanish. I was like Hola, Don Pepe ¿Puedo preguntaros una cosa? and that’s it since I could not articulate in Spanish very well, I switched to English fast! It was like a scene in a comedy. I keep mumbling my words.

Anyway, the question was: Why is Spanish presented as a foreign language to Filipino students?

In my recollection, our teachers would point out differences in how certain words would be different in their use in Spain and other Latin countries.

My grandparents and their generation and the generations before them spoke Spanish. How about them? How did they speak in Spanish?

Filipinos would be able to relate more to this, right?

The instructors were all top-notch I should say, I don’t want to imply that they should be history experts. However, a more appropriate way would be to teach Filipinos how Spanish has been used in the past by Filipinos. This would awaken a sleeping memory among many.

It would be helpful to present how Spanish used to be the dominant language in the Philippines. For example, there are Filipino songs in Spanish as well as poems and books.

Pepe Rodríguez, who was obviously busy, replied that what I said is a good idea.

That’s how that little conversation ended.

But in fairness to Instituto Cervantes, their ad campaign at the time was brilliant. The “Español, bahagi ng ating kultura” was a head-turner. And oh, The Berso sa Metro, those were awesome.

I wonder if they still have these ads today?

Cuartel de Sta. Lucia in Intramuros.

Compañeros de clase

I have classmates who took Spanish classes for course units for employment. Some of them hail from far off provinces. A pair actually got robbed in Luneta. Admittedly, they said, they look too promdi and attracted the wrong kind of attention.

There was a guy, who had parents that spoke Spanish. He is conversant in Spanish. He just wanted to take formal classes and eventually a teaching certificate (diploma). Then there’s this Filipino-Indian fella who was bound to go to the prestigious London School of Economics. He wanted to learn a second European language.

So, I understand that Filipinos are not enrolling to take classes to learn Spanish for its historical significance. Most people who enrol in Spanish have practical reasons for doing so.

There is more work to be done in the field of promoting Philippine-Spanish history and culture.

To Pepe Rodríguez’s credit (the IC head then), he partnered with the local labor agency to make sure Filipinos leaving the country for work in Spain first take Spanish lessons. I am not aware of this partnership’s status today.

Although this is an additional expense on the part of those leaving for Spain, it helps them prepare for life in their host country (or for hispanists like myself, Madre España!). My classmates have all been very positive about their experience.

Estatua de Miguel de Cervantes

Centro Cultural

I have attended many events at the Instituto Cervantes (all in their former location on Calle Kalaw). I have made many friends that I get to know very well. Some have passed on, such as Pio Andrade Jr. and Benito Legarda Jr. (corresponded with Dr. Legarda for years, but only met him twice). This makes the Instituto all the more memorable.

Instituto Cervantes has been a place where people with an interest in our Spanish past congregate during seminars and expositions. They’re more than just a Spanish school. The institute for me is a center for promoting hispano-filipino heritage, not only Spanish and Latin American culture.

Instituto Cervantes Manila’s headquarters is now in a new location in the historic Intramuros (Casa Azul, Plaza San Luis Complex). It is fitting that they established themselves there. They also have a branch in Ayala (Makati).

They’re aptly named after Cervantes because they take on a quixotic mission—teaching Spanish in a country where its standard history text has long diminished its importance. 

““In order to achieve the impossible, one must try the absurd.”

Don Quixote de la Mancha


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