While Spanish is the official language of Cuba, Spanish Creole and “Lucimi” Spanish are often also considered official languages. Spanish is the mother tongue of 90% of the population, yet over 400,000 residents speak Creole Spanish (Travel Cuba Language, 2006). Lucimi is a Yuruboid language spoken only secretly in religious Santaria ceremonies. Today, English and French are also spoken in tourist areas as tourism is one of the country’s main sources of revenue.
Prior to Spanish colonization, Cuba was inhabited by the Taino (Indigenous- See Puerto Rico). The Spanish arrived and colonized Cuba in 1510 and shortly after brought African Americans to Cuba as slaves to work as field laborers. While Spanish was introduced through colonization and the use of Cuba as a major port, Creole was introduced when thousands of French colonists left Haiti and moved to Cuba. Before the revolution, Cuba’s major trade partner was the United States. Because of trade and U.S. tourism, many Cubans learned English. English was taught at the state run secondary schools. The revolutionary government stressed the importance of education, decreed free education for all students, and implemented the Literacy Campaign responsible for bringing the illiteracy rate to only 3%. Today, nearly every high school student graduates and the literacy rate is nearly 100% (Donovan, 2009, p.21). Students start school as early as 2 years old as nursery school is available for free. As Cuba’s relationship with the U.S. soured, Cuba’s ties with the Soviet Union grew. This close relationship with the Soviet Union brought many benefits for the country’s economy. While Russian was briefly introduced in 1979 in the secondary schools, the lack of Russian teachers meant that the plan was unsuccessful. English continued to be taught as the most popular foreign language. With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba sought areas for economic growth focusing on tourism from other countries and worked to train citizens to speak English in order to improve the economy. After this collapse of the USSR, Cuba focused on tourism as a major source of income. This desire to increase tourism changed their approach to language. While there were already many English speakers, this increased the numbers drastically. To meet the need, the Ministry of Tourism initialized a program to promote the teaching of English. As late as 2006, there were as many as twenty schools of tourism regularly teaching English (Martin, 2007, p. 552).
In 2015, U.S. President Barack Obama opened ties with Cuba, which created a huge shift to the teaching of English. Cuban revolutionary and Communist party leader, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura has been urging students to study English claiming that the ability to speak English is essential (Kozlowska, 2015). Cuba’s Higher Education Ministry’s has proposed to make English language studies a requirement for a university degree.