"Myths about languages in the Philippines"

Don Osborn dzo at bisharat.net
Sat Mar 1 02:34:46 UTC 2008


Myths about languages in the Philippines


By Isabel Pefianco Martin

Philippine Daily Inquirer

First Posted 02:27:00 03/01/2008


While the nation awaits the outcome of the hearings on the ZTE-NBN deal, a
small, almost invisible battle continues to be waged among stakeholders of
language and literacy in the country. Very few are aware of the persistent
efforts of lawmakers to institutionalize English as the sole language of
learning in basic education. Even fewer wonder if the Speak English Only
Policy of some schools or the present Bilingual Education Policy of the
Department of Education actually works.


I have been reflecting on these movements in language and literacy for some
years now. I have come to realize that many arguments about the issue are
hinged on buried premises, on myths about languages in the Philippines.


The first set of myths has to do with English in the Philippines. There is a
prevailing belief that if you don't know English, you simply don't know!
This myth is evident in Filipinos who laugh at those who do not speak
English with native-like fluency and accuracy, in school heads who will not
hire a teacher because he or she has a strong Ilocano accent, and in
teachers who give low marks to students with subject-verb agreement or
preposition errors in their compositions. These teachers overlook depth of
insight or evidence of critical thinking in the students' writings. The link
between intelligence and English language proficiency is very flimsy. In
this world, you will find intelligent people who cannot speak a word of
English, as well as not-so-smart ones who are native speakers of the


Another misconception about English is that the language cures all economic
ailments. This is evident in House bills that seek to make English as the
sole medium of instruction in the elementary and high school levels. The
goal is to produce English-proficient graduates for contact centers,
hospitals and medical transcription offices, never mind if these graduates
are unthinking products of the schools. This belief that English brings in
the money is also evident in most contact center training programs which
overemphasize proficiency in the language, while sacrificing the agents'
ability to manage culture-diverse environments. Working in a contact center
is very demanding. The ability to speak like an American will certainly not
ensure excellent performance in the contact center jobs.


That some Filipinos aspire for native-like proficiency in English is
symptomatic of another misconception about the language. This aspiration
points to the myth that there is only one kind of English language in this
world, and that is, Standard American English. What many do not know is that
World Englishes exist, and Philippine English is just one among these many


In 1969, Teodoro Llamzon, the first president of the Linguistic Society of
the Philippines, already wrote about this in his trailblazing "Standard
Filipino English." In 1996, at De La Salle University-Manila, a conference
on the theme "English is an Asian Language" reintroduced this idea of
English as a Philippine language. It was at this conference that poet Gemino
Abad proudly declared that the Filipinos have "colonized the English


And then there is the myth that English and Filipino are languages in
opposition to each other. This is evident in those who insist that English
should be totally removed from basic education, as well as in some of the
reasons cited for opposing House Bill 305 and Executive Order 210.
Nationalism always seems to be associated with the Filipino language, as if
one cannot express one's love of country in English or in the local


Finally, the most dangerous of all myths is the belief that there is no
place for the local languages in basic education. This is evident in the
existence of the Bilingual Education Policy, as well as in the persistent
efforts of lawmakers to pass House Bill 305 (formerly known as HB 4701). In
public schools across the nation, teachers have already been using the local
languages (a.k.a. first language or mother tongue, which includes English
and Tagalog in the cities) in teaching basic concepts to schoolchildren. No
amount of legislation can remove the first languages from their natural
settings, which to my mind include the schools.


This year, as we celebrate the International Year of Languages, we must also
celebrate the reality that the Philippines is a multilingual paradise.


As the nation focuses on the present crisis of credibility, it has become
trapped in the past sins of its leaders. But what about the future of this
nation which lies in the tiny hands of the schoolchildren who continue to
drop out of school because they cannot understand their teachers?



Isabel Pefianco Martin is president of the Linguistic Society of the
Philippines. She is associate professor at the Department of English of the
Ateneo de Manila University and part-time commissioner of the Komisyon sa
Wikang Filipino (Commission on Filipino Language), representing
Kinaray-a/Hiligaynon. She is also a member of International Year of
Languages Committee-Philippines (IYLC Philippines). For information about
the contributions of LSP to IYLC Philippines, please visit www.lsphil.org.
You may email your comments to linguisticsoc(at)gmail.com.



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