By the time Spaniards colonized the island in 1492, Tainos, the island’s indigenous people, predominantly inhabited La Hispaniola. Tainos all spoke a common language, but the taino’s language was soon extinct as were the tainos themselves. Slaves were brought from Africa at the start of the sixteenth century, but due to assimilation slave languages were lost. In 1668 the French began their occupation of the western side of the island and by 1697, with the signing of the Ryswick treaty the occupation became official, dividing the island in two. However, the proceeding years brought many conflicts between the two colonies, including the occupation of the western side of the island by the Haitians. In 1844 the Dominicans declared independence from Haiti. Even though the first constitution did not declare an official language, a subsequent Reforma Constitucional made Spanish the official language of the Dominican Republic.
The language of instruction in Dominican public schools is Spanish. All schools have to follow a national curriculum, and offer English and French starting in the 5th grade. However, in practice, not all schools offer these subjects due to lack of qualified language instructors; the ones that do, in most cases, are inadequately taught. Private schools, which predominantly serve middle and upper class students, pay more attention to foreign language instruction, and along with private afterschool language programs, help students show better results. Moreover, over the last couple of decades, there has been an increasing interest in offering instruction in English (English immersion and bilingual programs) in private schools from early years, in order to make their students more competitive in the global market.
Currently, the Oficina Nacional de Estadística reported that 524,426 immigrants, from at least 60 different nationalities, live in the Dominican Republic. The vast majority is Haitian, representing 87.3% of the total immigrants living in the DR. However, data is said to be unreliable. Different groups, including international organizations claim that there are more than 1 million Haitians in the DR. Neither the National Curriculum, nor the Plan Decenal de Educación (2008-2018), make any accommodations or offer any programs for children with a different mother tongue. Linguistic and cultural assimilation is expected.
The Dominican Republic aims at becoming the leader of the Caribbean, a region with six official languages spoken, plus a number of creoles and patois. Well-informed and pertinent language education policies are needed.
* There is no reliable data on how many deaf people live in the DR. Very few deaf students have the opportunity to learn sign language or receive any type of education. Most spend their lives using “home signs” or communicating through gestures.