Discrimination Towards Indigenous Languages in Colombia

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In Colombia, Spanish is the commonly spoken language but there are about 60 to 80 languages that are spoken by the natives of different areas (Stavenhagen, 2016). The mandatory multilingual education makes it easy for the natives to be fluent in more than one language. Multilingual education has provoked negative impression because the indigenous languages are referred to as an ‘illness’. Because of the fact that Spanish is widely spoken, other languages that are spoken by minority groups are seldom accepted. It becomes hard for the citizens who speak only their native language and need access to public amenities in the workplace and in the military.

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According to Stavenhagen (2016), indigenous people are discriminated in employment and occupation as the Spanish native speakers are given better opportunities in comparison to their counterparts. Employer language policies state that no employee should be discriminated based on their age, gender or language. As Stavenhagen (2016) opines, there have been instances where employees have been complaining of their employers offering more salary to the employees who can fluently speak Spanish and offer less to the indigenous language speakers such as Quichua, Romani, Creola English, Palenquero, among others despite having the same qualifications.

Stavenhagen (2016) writes that requiring employees to speak only Spanish is discriminatory and not justifiable. He further states that for an employee to please clients and the organization, they have to speak in Spanish. Which becomes hard for the indigenous language speakers. However, on the brighter side, making an effort to speak Spanish shows interest and seriousness but should not be a measure of competency; this is because interpreters and translators can always make work easier.

The military has various discriminations; from gender to age and language. According to Joffe (2017), during a census in the military, the soldiers who speak indigenous languages are forced to fill in Spanish as their native language; something that is discriminatory because, in one way, they are forced to renounce their native language. Language discrimination is very pronounced during the recruitment stage where Spanish native speakers are given the first priority and only a few indigenous speakers are recruited into the military (Joffe, 2017). Furthermore, in the army, discrimination has been the order of the day with many soldiers facing hard times which lead to physical injuries, trauma and even death; indigenous speakers are at the center of it all and more often than not, they are in grave danger (Joffe, 2017).

Joffe (2017) opines that special treatment is given to the Spanish speakers in terms of protection on the battlefield. He further explains that while on the battlefield, the commander would give orders in Spanish, not putting into consideration that some soldiers do not speak Spanish. In a similar way, discrimination is quite pronounced during promotions as the Spanish are treated with more regard and are given a higher chance of being promoted.

In conclusion, language discrimination in Colombia has caused problems from the workplace to the military. The employment sector gives more regard to the employee who can speak fluent Spanish while the military requires soldiers to identify with being Spanish rather than their own native languages. It is important for Colombia to take action against discrimination by providing laws that protect the right of an employee and a soldier despite their native language. It is also important to invest in interpreters and translators to make communication easier where there is a language barrier.


Joffe, P. (2017). Advancing Indigenous Peoples’Human Rights: New Developments in the Americas.

Stavenhagen, R. (2016). 5 Indigenous Peoples: Emerging International. Ethnic Diversity and Public Policy: A Comparative Inquiry, 133.

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Discrimination Towards Indigenous Languages in Colombia. (2018, Dec 27). Retrieved January 27, 2023 , from

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