Phillipines: teaching in the native tongue

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Aug 8 18:33:52 UTC 2007

Cebu Daily News / Opinion

Overkill : Teaching in the native tongue

By Anton Java
Cebu Daily News

Posted date: August 07, 2007

My last column generated quite the agreement (and some opposition)
from friends, colleagues and strangers alike, who either participated
in an online thread or who e-mailed me directly. And to each and every
one, I thank you for your reactions (apologies to e-mail senders whom
I couldn't reply to directly, there were just more than usual last
week, but please, do keep them coming). I found it gratifying that
many share my sentiments about the Visayan language and the declining
treatment it has found of late.

Based on some questions a few people have asked me about my last
column, allow me, however, to clarify a few points about my idea of
teaching Binisaya to the Bisaya, in school or at home, from a personal
point of view.

I grew up speaking both English and Bisaya. But like so many others, I
was made - directly and indirectly - to appreciate English more than I
should appreciate Bisaya. I remember times in school where teachers
really did impose fines on students who speak Bisaya. I used to be so
proud of the fact that I almost never got fined, at least not as much
as the other kids. But now, here I am, a professional using English as
my main tool to earn a living. I look at myself and think how proud I
am to have been taught English well. But then I'm also quick to see
that whenever I look at myself, I see a Bisaya, born and bred, often
declaring myself "fiercely proud" of being Visayan. And I can't even
say "fiercely proud" in Bisaya without pausing to translate it first.

I'm not saying English should take a back seat to Bisaya in school.
What I'm saying is that both should be taught equally, just as in the
current curriculum, English and Tagalog are taught equally. While the
current setup is good for Tagalogs, what of the people in the rest of
the country who are NOT Tagalog? For people based in Luzon, they're
taught English - the "global" language - which they use every day, and
they're also taught Tagalog - their native language - which they also
use everyday. Good for them. But here in the Visayas and other parts
of the country, we're also taught English and Tagalog equally in
school. But while English is still our global language, what's Tagalog
to us? Tagalog isn't our native tongue, and it's status as the
"national language" is merely an illusion cooked up by Tagalogs. Once
Tagalog language classes are done, what good is being taught the
intricacies of Tagalog if we don't use it? (Unless of course you end
up based in Luzon.) What good is being taught the intricacies of
Tagalog when we're just going to forget it completely from non-use six
months after our last Tagalog class?

Here in the Visayas, our native tongue is Bisaya, so in our schools,
we should be taught English and Bisaya, not English and Tagalog. To us
Bisaya, English is still the global language, while Bisaya is OUR
native tongue.

And that should go for other parts of the country as well - they
should be taught English and their own native tongue, whether it's
Ilocano, PampangeƱo, or whatnot. That's not going to be a hindrance
for national communication because English is taught everywhere in the
country anyway. Even our national laws are made in English.

But in our current setup, being taught English and Tagalog in school
relegates the many other beautiful native languages in the country as
second-class languages. And what evolves from that? The native Tagalog
speakers end up thinking that all other native languages are inferior
because it's Tagalog that's taught in schools; it's Tagalog that's the
"national language" in a country of over two dozen local languages;
it's Tagalog that, in a way, represses other native languages in the
country from being used properly. It's Tagalog that's choking the life
out of the many beautiful ways the Filipinos (not the Tagalogs)
communicate because by nature, we are a country of multiple languages
and multiple cultures, NOT a country of Tagalogs. This, I believe,
ultimately also leads to a repression of other Filipino cultures. But
that discussion is for another day.

That said, a friend of mine who is a linguistics instructor based in
Mindanao referred me to an apparently little-known policy passed by
the Department of Education sometime earlier this decade. In 2002, the
Basic Education Curriculum was amended so that in every school in the
country, the regional/native language is to be used to teach students
up to grade 3 in every subject except English so that complex concepts
could be explained better. I suppose that's a start, but then what
happens after grade 3? Should a region then forget all about its
native tongue and stick to English and Tagalog? And besides, teaching
in the native language is not the same as actually being taught the
intricacies and proper usage of a native language. And without such
lessons, a language is bound to become misused and perhaps,
eventually, rendered extinct. Some schools in the Visayas already
teach Bisaya classes as electives (the University of the Philippines
in Cebu, for one). That's good. However, it's merely an elective,
while Tagalog is a requirement. Shouldn't that be the other way

There should be a major rethinking about how us Filipinos appreciate
our diverse nature, starting with our use of languages. And while
there is nothing wrong with people who wish to learn Tagalog, it
should not be a requirement force-fed to us non-Tagalogs.

English for the world, but Tagalog for the Tagalogs, Bisaya for the
Bisaya, and the other beautiful native tongues of the many other
beautiful native cultures of the Philippines. That is how us Filipinos
should be taught.

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