Unpopular opinion: French is better than Spanish

In our twin-island republic, relatively few people may agree. Some may cite our country’s geographic location, current migration trends, or their personal conviction that Spanish is easier to pronounce than French, to justify their preference for Spanish over French. Whatever the reason, it is undeniable that, locally, the French language seems to rank second place. This seems especially true when compared to its sister Romance language, Spanish. For others though, learning French has proven to be the key to their academic and professional success. We recently interviewed three French enthusiasts, Gennike Mayers, Sophia Almorales and Kevon Swift. They shared the pivotal role French played in their careers. We hope that their enriching experiences will whet your appetite for ‘the language of love’.

Gennike Mayers


Gennike is the CEO of Interpreting Your Needs. This is a small, up and coming, multilingual communications company offering interpreting, translation and communications services. She is also a translator for The UWI’s Caribbean Interpreting and Translation Bureau. Most recently, she became the author of CARICOM: Good Offices, Good Neighbours. A text which explains the diversity of CARICOM Members States’ approaches vis-a-vis the Venezuelan crisis. Her professional background includes journalism, education, public relations, communications, interpreting and diplomacy. While her current portfolio seems relatively homogenous, Gennike’s career path has been anything but mundane. This is undoubtedly due to her determination to consistently seize opportunities to do what she loves. In her words, “If you love what you do, and you end up doing what you love, you really don’t notice that you’re working…you excel…there’s no competition”. For her, her professional accolades are all attributable to her following her heart. She is passionate about languages and loves meeting interesting people. French, notably, has been the language that opened the door to many professional opportunities.

Soon after completing secondary education, 18-year old Gennike began working as a journalist at a local television station. Although not directly related to her foreign language qualifications, she transferred her language skills to her written and oral duties. Knowing that languages were her passion, however, she decided to pursue undergraduate studies in French at The University of the West Indies. As an undergraduate student, she took advantage of an existing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to study abroad in Martinique. This experience strengthened her determination to make languages her full-time career. Upon completing her undergraduate studies, Gennike applied to be an English Language Teaching Assistant in Martinique. She spent three years there teaching at the primary and secondary levels. While in Martinique, she had the opportunity to work freelance, as a bilingual journalist, radio announcer, an editor for a tourism magazine and an English teacher in a beauty school.

Gennike eventually moved to Guadeloupe where she successfully completed a Masters in Communication. Upon returning to Trinidad she landed a public relations job in a marine research institution, which frequently collaborated with Martinique, Guadeloupe and Cuba. In 2007, she obtained her post graduate diploma in Interpreting. She remembers her first job as an official translator at a CARICOM Forum. The experience remains indelibly etched in her mind – the adrenaline of interpreting for regional officials, the commendation received for her excellent work and the handsome cheque that completely covered the cost of her post graduate studies.  A firm believer that “learning a language is a lifelong process”, Gennike’s professional trajectory bears testimony to that sentiment. Now, as she as an entrepreneur, she continues to engage in professional development activities. She is currently developing her business management skills with the Academy of Women Entrepreneurs (AWE). Additionally, she continues to further enhance her language skills and refine her interpreting and translating techniques. We are confident that she will continue to excel in her future endeavours.

Sophia Almorales

sophia_almoralesMadame Almorales, as the students of St. Mary’s College fondly call her, is a French language teacher. She is also an advocate of the French language and francophone culture. She is the CEO of So Fleur Language Learning. This is a small business, which provides French language support primarily to French exam candidates. Sophia also attended Republic Bank’s Action Club Business Education Series. This workshop is “designed to help small self-employed professionals build the skills to achieve goals, grow profits, build stronger teams, create employment and contribute to the strength and resilience of the local economy”. She holds a Masters in International Cooperation and Intercultural Relations, from the University of Lille. Additionally, she holds a postgraduate Diploma in Education from The University of the West Indies. She is also certified to train pre-service teachers of French as a Foreign Language, having obtained certification in both Guadeloupe and France. Sophia seizes every opportunity to underscore the importance of learning French regardless of age (read a recent interview here). She also speaks frankly about the entrepreneurial opportunities afforded to her because of her French competency.

French is Sophia’s “love, passion, and obsession”. Growing up in a time where access to technology was limited, Sophia’s interest in the world was sparked by reading and looking through encyclopaedias. She wanted to travel, she wanted to learn more. And so she decided that learning foreign languages was the best way to achieve her goals. She therefore set her sights on entering one of the few schools in Trinidad that offered both French and Spanish. Prior to entering her alma mata, St. Joseph’s Convent, St. Joseph, Sophia recalls excitedly looking through her French textbooks in anticipation of the new worlds she would be discovering. While the desire was evident, Sophia admits that she was not necessarily the best student. She, in fact, performed better in Spanish than in French. During her high school years, she claims that she proved to be her own worst enemy, putting undue pressure on herself to excel. Regardless of her self-proclaimed under-performance, Sophia decided to pursue her undergraduate degree in French at The University of the West Indies. During that time, she too took advantage of her gap year and applied for the English Language Teaching Assistantship program. She was assigned to a college, in the small town of Mourenx, in the South Western part of France. For her, this was a prime opportunity to take her French competency to a higher level.

Sofia_Almorales_with_studentsUpon returning to Trinidad and completing her undergraduate studies, Sophia was appointed to the public service as a teacher, first, in QRC and then at St. Mary’s College. For Sophia, teaching provides her with a professional challenge and a sense of community with her colleagues. She feels a deep sense of fulfilment in seeing how her passion for French takes root in her students’ heart and germinates. A few of her boys take advantage of study and work abroad opportunities in France and other French-speaking countries and territories. During her teaching profession, Sophia took a sabbatical to pursue her post graduate studies at the University of Lille. This experience she confirms, was cultural immersion in the truest sense. She engaged, not only with French natives but more so with students, like herself, who spoke French as a second language. Her appreciation for the similarities between different cultures was enhanced, as she interacted in French with classmates from Senegal, Angola, Bolivia, Romania, Russia, Latvia, and Serbia, to mention a few. Indeed, this experience, which was only accessible to her thanks to her French competency, strengthened her conviction that countries share more similarities than differences. In her words, “it is only when we learn another language we understand that and we get an authentic experience”. We are entirely confident that Sophia will continue inspiring her adolescent students, and even young and adult learners as she continues to expand her services at So Fleur.

Kevon Swift

kevon_swiftWhat do you call a native English-speaker who speaks fluent French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and a bit of Creole? Anything but boring, I am sure you would agree. Of course you could imagine that an interview with someone who has such a propensity for language and a genuine interest in people and connections could well last hours! So who is Kevon Swift? My synopsis? A true man of the world, who has a voracious appetite for life. Born in the south of Trinidad to a Trinidadian mother of Tobagonian heritage and Trinidadian father. Raised in central Trinidad, but educated in the west at Fatima College. Kevon currently lives in east Trinidad but works from anywhere with an Internet connection. That geographic fluidity is also evident in his academic career. Kevon started his undergraduate studies in Caen, a town in northern France. But then continued his post graduate studies in Salamanca, Spain; Parma, Italy and finally Malta. He is currently employed at LACNIC (The Internet Addresses Registry for Latin America and the Caribbean). His tasks there primarily revolve around external relations in internet governance. Internet governance is an area which seeks to ensure that key stakeholders from different sectors of society are involved in the decision-making process and policy implementation related to digital solutions within the region.

Kevon’s foray into French began neither with some romanticized notion of the language, nor a desire to travel the world. At an early age, he appreciated the added value of foreign language learning for his academic and professional life. He fondly recalls the visit to the World Trade Centre and UN Headquarters, which left an indelible impression on his adolescent mind. He adopted the mind-set “languages and…”. Convinced that he wanted to do more than teach, acutely aware of the cost of post-secondary education but cognizant of his ability to obtain a government scholarship, Kevon turned his attention to international study options. For him, languages would be the key to open up opportunities in his academic and professional life. And this was certainly the case. At a visit to the Alliance Française, he spoke with the late Madame Camps Campins, a matriarch in the local French-speaking community, who informed him of the possibility of free tertiary education in France. He seized the opportunity! Though unsuccessful in his first attempt at the Dalf exam, he persevered and passed on his second try. With evidence of his French proficiency in tow, he embarked on an academic journey that would vastly expand his knowledge of international law, economy, politics, governance and IT. Studying abroad also deepened his understanding of others and his ability to see the similarities between the differences.

Interestingly, this particular skill is one that he regularly employs in his current role at LACNIC. As the sole Caribbean employee, native English-speaker and plurilingual, Kevon is often placed in the role of mediator. Technically speaking, he is no stranger to decoding technical engineering terms and interpreting them into legal speak for the benefit of the legal staff, and vice versa. Linguistically speaking, he is often tasked with translating and interpreting from French to Spanish, Spanish to French, or French/Spanish to English and the reverse. His understanding of others and humanitarian issues also comes to the fore in times of natural disasters. Here too, his mediation skills are critical. At times, he has to convey to his international colleagues, the significant impact of natural disasters on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), before proposing appropriate digital solutions. Kevon is clearly not your run-of-the-mill language user. He loves languages, but more importantly the transformative power of communication, achieved through foreign language competency and intercultural awareness. Kevon wants to see the Caribbean transform digitally and for him foreign languages are inextricably linked to this transformation. He envisions himself as one of the pioneers of a comprehensive and inclusive Caribbean digital society.

On a personal front, he is also passionate about storytelling. And wants to help others tell their stories, while identifying commonalities that transcend geographic and linguistic barriers. One of the ways he hopes to achieve his goals is by tapping into his networks in the regional community, French and Spanish-speaking alike. Perhaps it is his love for storytelling that endears him so much to Trinidadian Patois. He is an active member of a community called Trinidad Patois Speakers. Since 2017, this community has organized concerts in Patois called, Tout Bagay Patwa. In collaboration with Nnamdi Hodge, Dr Jo-Anne Ferreira and Michelle Mora Foderingham, the group hopes to form a registered company that will propose and implement digital solutions to preserve Trinidadian Patois, and connect with other Patois/Creole-speaking communities in the Caribbean and beyond. We certainly look forward to seeing their efforts materialize in the years to come.