When the children of the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago return to their classrooms this month they will find a new compulsory subject on their time–tables: Spanish. Britain gained control of the islands from Spain in 1797 and since then English has been the official and general language even though Venezuela and the land mass of South America are only seven miles from their shores. It is surprising, in fact, that the decision to make Trinidad and Tobago Spanish–speaking has not come sooner; only about 1'500 of the country's 1.3 million citizens currently speak it but the government's target is that its civil servants and younger generations should do so between 2010 and 2020.

This latest decision in favour of Spanish as an international language underlines the decline of French in that role; as for English it will probably keep its status for a variety of reasons, not least that it is the principal, but not the only language of the United States, the other, of course, being Spanish. There are already indications in British schools and universities that Spanish is replacing French and German as the second language of choice; this is entirely understandable given its international reach throughout most of North and South America and its literary and cultural attractions. Mandarin Chinese is said to be the next most popular for British students; this is a recent development and driven, presumably, by the prospect of China's emergence as a major world power. On cultural and historical grounds one might also expect Arabic to be a favourite second language but the current international climate presumably works against this.

Britain should welcome Trinidad and Tobago's decision to adopt the Spanish language. The British influence is unlikely to be lost there after so long a time and with so many family links between the two countries. Cricket will presumably still be played; Carnival is more a Spanish than a British tradition and if the music of calypsos and steel bands take on a Spanish accent, let it be so.