Bilingual signs spark internet debate

by INÊS LOPES [email protected]

Opinion over whether road and information signage in the Algarve should be in both Portuguese and English appears to be split, after a debate initiated by the Algarve Resident recently sparked controversy.

Last Friday, the Algarve Resident asked its Facebook followers if they thought road and information signs in the Algarve should be bilingual (Portuguese/English) and, within a few minutes, we had various different views on the subject.

It became clear that further research and an official view were required.

While some people think the Algarve, as a holiday destination, should be more welcoming to its visitors with a tourist-friendly signage system, others think it is unnecessary because tourists have “clearly coped” until now and foreign residents “should learn Portuguese anyway”.

While researching the subject, the Algarve Resident discovered that the Algarve Tourism Board had, in fact, worked on a project in 2001 to improve road signage for tourists, but a bilingual option was never considered.

Entitled ‘Algarve Tourism Road Signage Project’ (Projecto de Sinalização Turístico-Rodoviário do Algarve), the plan developed by the tourism body was actually implemented along the EN125 and A22 after a “cooperation protocol” was signed with Portugal’s Road Institute.

Although the project aimed to improve the road signage system for tourists, ensuring clearer directions and information, thus reducing journey times and accidents, a proposal to have signs in Portuguese and English was never put forward.

According to António Pina, President of the Algarve Tourism Board, the project never included a bilingual model. “We don’t even know whether it would be possible under road traffic signs regulations,” he said.

When asked if he thought bilingual signage would add value to a tourist destination such as the Algarve, particularly in the face of strong international competition, António Pina said tourism was “unquestionably important” to the region but didn’t think the model was actually possible.

He added: “I do not know about such a model in other parts of the world and I cite neighbouring Andalucía, the French Riviera, the Greek Islands or the Balearic Islands as examples.”

However, a quick search on the internet revealed several images of bilingual signage systems around the world, while comments from several well travelled residents approached by the Algarve Resident confirmed these. Resident John Perera, who travels extensively and has visited many countries, said: “Some countries have road signs in two languages. These include countries in the Arabian Gulf where there are significant English speaking populations.

“In Singapore all road signs are in English. Although the population is predominantly Chinese, English is taught as the primary language. The government understands the importance of English in the modern world.

“In Portugal, there is no reason why the electronic road signs on the highways should not use English in addition to Portuguese. It would be easy to implement.”

Larry Hampton, who spends a few months in the Algarve and travels the rest of the year, told the Algarve Resident: “There are many instances of dual language signage, but almost always in areas like the Basque Country, Catalonia or Switzerland, where both languages are ‘recognised’ as official, or border areas, where cross border traffic is heavy, for example France or Spain.”

Larry Hampton also gave the example of America where in areas like Texas, Southern California or Southern Florida public signage is in Spanish as well as English because the Spanish minority is large enough.

“I do believe that the Portuguese government needs to be, and would benefit from being, more conscious of, and caring about, its English speaking minority, including obviously English speaking tourists,” who he said received “a real kick in the face” with IVA hikes in restaurants and golf and an “indecipherable and unworkable” toll system.

But Nigel Wright, our travel contributor, has a different opinion: “I actually think that the Algarve is quite well signposted with many reasonable Portuguese/English examples in tourist areas.

“Personally, I don’t think there is a significant problem. I regard understanding of the language a very important part of living here.

“The Algarve is a fabulous tourist destination and I remain unconvinced that masses of new bilingual signs would be a worthwhile investment.

Lynne Booker, who has lived in the region for many years and is well integrated in the Portuguese way of life, thinks most road signs are internationally recognised, so bilingual signs would not be necessary.

However, she said, the one bilingual sign that might be useful would be the one for portagem as the symbol that indicates electronic tolls is not clear enough.

“Most information signs showing, for example, what attractions each concelho has also include symbols, so again I don’t think a translation is necessary,” she said.

“My husband and I recently saw bilingual road signs in Galicia (Galician and Spanish) and we’ve seen Arabic on signs in Andalucia.”

The opinion of a Portuguese national was important for this discussion, so the Algarve Resident spoke to Catarina Rocha, a teacher in a public school in the popular tourist city of Albufeira, who said bilingual signs should be implemented in the region “without a doubt”.

“Those against this model need to accept the region’s reality and drop their ‘patriotic ways’. Tourism is our bread and butter and with serious competition out there, our government needs to get smarter and make the Algarve stand out for being a tourist-friendly destination.”

Catarina Rocha said she has witnessed, many times, tourists struggling to get to places in Albufeira, where “clear signs also in English” would have been helpful.

The President of the Algarve Tourism Board concluded by saying that there are currently no plans to develop a bilingual signage system for the Algarve but highlighted that most tourist information guides and material are already in both Portuguese and English.

Do you have a view on this subject? Please email Editor Inês Lopes at [email protected]

Here are some of the comments we received from our Facebook followers to our question ‘Do you think road/information signs in the Algarve should be bilingual (Portuguese/English)?’

Sarah Crake-jones: They should stay as they are. I have managed for the last 35 years!

Rob Verdonkschot: Expats have to pay respect to this country and put an effort in learning Portuguese.

Avril ‘Abby’ Jones: No, we should learn Portuguese. The signs in Britain aren’t bilingual (unless you are in Wales). The Germans and Dutch would want the same and the signs would get too ridiculously large.

Anne Wilcox: It would not do any harm given the volume of British visitors.

Andrew James: Yes, in English as would cut down road accidents. Crossroads and roundabouts can be so dangerous and rest of Europe drive on the same side as Portugal. So it would help the Brits.

Jackie O’Grady: would be a good idea… For some people who decide to live here (especially English pensioners), it’s not so easy.

Monica Luz Pearce All Brits living in the Algarve should learn Portuguese. I am Portuguese but have lived in the United Kingdom for the last 11 years and I had to learn English to live in here, and it is the same with any other country you go.

Anita Thomas: I think this is up for a huge open discussion here in Portugal but I live in Wales where we are used to bilingual signs.

Visit our Facepage page under ‘The Algarve Resident’ for all comments to our question.

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