The Annual Meeting of Directors of the Instituto Cervantes closes its sessions with the challenge of digitization

The Annual Meeting of Directors of the Cervantes Institute ended this Wednesday with the presentation of the conclusions, in which a priority issue was addressed: the challenge of digitization and adaptation to the new technological scenario. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain, José Manuel Albares, highlighted in a recorded video the “need to optimize the potential of Spanish” taking advantage of the technological revolution and artificial intelligence, the use of which “opens up a whole horizon of possibilities”. We are, said José Manuel Albares, in a “moment of transcendental historical change” in which “Spanish can and must become a generator of employment, entrepreneurship, technology and economic growth.”

The Plenary Hall of the Granada City Council was the setting chosen to celebrate this last session that puts an end to three days of debates, inaugurated by Queen Letizia last Monday, in which the challenges, achievements, shortcomings and operation of the institution have been examined in depth.

The director, Luis García Montero, who these days advanced the convenience of modernizing the organization and thinking about new projects to face the future, said that “our heart remains in Granada”, his hometown, and appreciated the hospitality, which “is a round trip.”

García Montero left the leadership to the general secretary, Carmen Noguero, at the closing of the sessions, in which the mayor of the host city, Francisco Cuenca, expressed his gratitude for the meeting of the seventy directors of Cervantes.

Noguero predicted that the digital transformation “will lead us to a lot of reflection” and that this transition, embodied in an ambitious strategic digitization plan, can generate hard times, with difficulties in adapting and a heavy workload. Therefore, the issues dealt with these days in Granada must be transmitted to the employees of the centers. Their involvement should also be sought to create a new network of international connections between them, which takes full advantage of the “distinctive value” of Cervantes: being a network present throughout the world.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation said that “digital reality has definitely settled among us”. “The enormous effort undertaken to adapt to the virtual environment prepares us to face new challenges” and “will provide us with a solid foundation to take advantage of all the opportunities of the virtual”. Among them, the so-called PERTE New Language Economy, whose key element for the elaboration of strategies that promote Spanish will be the Global Observatory, based in La Rioja.

Regarding the functioning of Cervantes, Albares stated that “it has managed to become our best tool for promoting the teaching, study and use of Spanish, contributing to the expansion of Hispanic cultures abroad.” This 2022 has been the year of the recovery of face-to-face activity, of the return to normality and the reactivation of the examination work to obtain Spanish diplomas, he said. And also “the year of expansion” with the consolidation of the centers in Dakar (Senegal), the inauguration of Los Angeles (United States) and the approval of Seoul (Republic of Korea). All of this reflects the Government’s commitment to be present in important areas for the dissemination of the Hispanic language and culture.

Artificial intelligence

With this session in the Granada City Council, the annual meeting came to an end, which on Wednesday had three work sessions. The last one focused on artificial intelligence (AI) in Spanish, language processing and conversational systems against misinformation, by two tenured professors from the University of Granada: Juan Gómez and Zoraida Callejas.

Juan Gómez, from the Department of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence, explained to those in charge of Cervantes the operation and advances of AI, its programs and algorithms. AI systems work with computational techniques based on studies of neural networks unraveled by Nobel Prize winner Ramón y Cajal, applied mathematically to computer language.

Human language application models are a special type of neural network trained to work with texts, capable of “learning” and predicting a sequence of words from one, until generating longer and more complete texts.. With an increasing use of Spanish (a few years ago almost all did it in English), these models are used as a base for other tasks such as text classification or machine translation with a corpus of parallel texts. They still have limitations, bugs, and non-transparent behavior, but they can be very effective and fast.

Zoraida Callejas, professor at the Department of Languages ​​and Computer Systems at the University of Granada, spoke about conversational computer systems, among which are well-known virtual assistants such as Siri or Alexa. Given that oral or written interaction is growing, and that more and more tasks will be carried out by speaking with machines, it is important that they are available in Spanish, with tools specifically created for our language.

He insisted that the different variants in Spanish must be included and that the synthetic voice that clones the human voice collects this richness of speech, which “is not always on the agenda of the big technology companies.” We must also work to eliminate biases, respect privacy to “anonymize” the voices and include common sense, refining the content of the arguments they offer when they are asked certain questions.

Online courses and presence of Spanish

After the sessions on Tuesday, in which the Digitization Plan was addressed, on Wednesday issues were addressed on the marketing of online courses, a type of teaching that is on the rise as a result of the pandemic and confinement, although the face-to-face Spanish courses. The coexistence of both teaching models generates debates about the most convenient price and cost structure in the different centers, the convenience or not of centralized management, competition between centers, how to advertise online courses, etc. Important issues because class enrollments, both online and face-to-face, are one of the main sources of income for Cervantes along with certification (Spanish diplomas).

In the session on institutional collaborations, the general director of Spanish in the World (of the Secretary of State for Ibero-America) admitted that we must fight to defend the presence of Spanish in international organizations: Spanish disappears as a working language in secretariats of many organizations where the English-French pairing is well established. For this reason, Guillermo Escribano encouraged them to collaborate with the “Friends of Spanish”, some NGOs and other voluntary groups or associations.

The delegate in Spain of the Cero y Cuervo Institute (Colombia), Martín Gómez, also spoke, who thanked the projection they achieve thanks to the cooperation with Cervantes, which dates back to October 2014; and the Vice Chancellor for International Relations of the University of Granada, Dorothy Anne Kellywho invited greater cooperation and cultural symbiosis, especially in the offer for their students internships in Cervantes centers.

After the concluding session, the singer Miguel Ríos gave Luis García Montero a legacy for the Caja de las Letras del Cervantes at the Isabel la Católica Theater. The artist from Granada also offered the concert “I return to Granada” accompanied by the Black Betty Band, Antonio Arias and Anni B Sweet.

The Cervantes Directors Meeting has been organized with the collaboration of the University of Granada, the Granada City Council, the Fuente Vaqueros City Council and Renfe (official train of the Annual Meeting).

Sent by Jose Antonio Sierra, Hispanic adviser.

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The Annual Meeting of Directors of the Instituto Cervantes closes its sessions with the challenge of digitization