Philippines: accept our bilingualism and build on it

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Jan 11 13:16:14 UTC 2007

Mac, Congress disagrees
Written by Patricio P. Diaz/MindaNews

Thursday, 11 January 2007 00 01 47

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/10 Jan)  On September 28, 2006, Dr. Macario
D. Tiu wrote in his Bisag Unsa MindaViews column his advocacy of the
native tongue as medium of instruction in our schools. Entitled Mother
Tongue Education, it was written in Bisaya. About the same time, perhaps
earlier in the month, the House of Representatives passed on third and
final reading HB 4701 seeking to revive English as medium of instruction
in all school levels, doing away with the bilingual language policy.
This much I can say, Mac, Congress disagrees.  From those who reacted to
Dr. Tiu, we can see opposition to his advocacy although we quite fully
agree with him based on our own experience as a teacher. But by the same
experience, three decades as English language teacher, I question the
practicality of HB 4071 even if advocated by an educator, Rep. Eduardo
Gullas of Cebu.


Dr. Tiu also posted his column in Mindanao 1081, an internet discussion
loop. On October 9, he had to post an English translation of his Bisaya
original as non-Bisaya readers complained about not understanding his
interesting article. May I quote two paragraphs from the English
translation: Mother tongue education is practiced in all advanced
countries. This is very natural to them. What their language is, that is
also their language in school. In fact, that is also their language in
their movies, media, books, etc. The use of ones own language in school is
simple and logical. The students learn faster because they understand
their lesson directly. That is why mother tongue education is the policy
applied in all advanced countries.

Dr. Tiu stated a fact -- true in Asia -- except the Philippines and
Singapore -- Europe, the Americas and Australia. Special schools offered
English for those who want to learn the language. The problem of course is
the practicability of a multi-native language policy of instruction in our
schools that Dr. Tiu advocates the native language of every region as
medium of instruction from the pre-school to college. This can create
inter-regional problems. For instance, the curriculum could be the same
for all regions. But teachers in one region cannot teach in other regions
unless they speak the languages of regions other than their own.

Revive English

HB 4701, still pending in the Senate despite assurance from Senate leaders
to pass it, seeks to revive English as medium of instruction in all
schools. What a misstatement! English has never been abandoned as medium
of instruction in our schools.  The bilingual policy in our schools is in
keeping with bilingualism in the Philippines bilingualism, if not
multilingualism, in our offices, in our media, and in public places. Since
the Commonwealth period, as embodied in the 1935 Constitution reiterated
in the 1972 and 1987 constitutions -- there has been a policy to develop
the Tagalog-based national language. Without special push from our
leaders, the development has been slow but appreciable.

The resulting bilingualism has eroded quality of English. A Pilipino with
multi-dialect vocabulary has also been developing. What have evolved are
what might be called broken English and broken Tagalog, the first
sometimes referred to as Taglish. Until the 1950s but most specially a
decade back Filipino English speakers may have been handicapped by
regional intonations but grammatically they spoke the language like native
speakers. And quite flawless, too, in writing. HB 4701 reflected the alarm
over the deteriorating quality of English among Filipinos among them
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. In the job market, especially abroad,
Filipinos have edge over other nationalities because of their English
proficiency. But recently, they have been losing the edge.


Can revival of the Filipino efficiency in English until the 1940s or
before World War II be legislated? I want to read HB 4701 to know how this
concern may be effected. Have our legislators properly understood the
problem and provided for it? The deterioration of the quality of English
among Filipinos is principally due to the change of language learning
environment in our schools brought about by nationalism. Does HB 4701
provide for the suppression of nationalism to reverse the environment?
Until the 1940s, Filipino children in schools were situated in strictly
enforced second language learning environment. Only English was spoken in
schools during class hours and even after outside of the school campus
during school-related activities. Speaking of the dialect was punishable.

The same strictness was enforced in the 1950s but soon the nationalists
prevailed. Why should Filipinos be forced to speak English and punished if
caught speaking the dialect? Any language can be better learned by
constant correct practice. Without strictness, this imperative was
abandoned. During the next 50 years, English language learning environment
worsened.  The English proficiency of teachers all products of worsening
environment naturally worsened. So the teaching of English and the
learning continued to decline to the present quality. Like water that
cannot rise above its level, no students can learn better English than
their teachers. The problem is not reviving the use of English as medium
of instruction.  It has been and still is. Rather, it is how to return the
language learning environment to produce gradually improving quality of
English teachers. Can this be legislated?


Language develop and grow by usage. The more the people mix, the more
their languages will inter-mix. Whether we like it or not, we are a
bilingual nation. We are destined to speak and write in English and
Pilipino. Taglish in reality, a mixture of English, Tagalog and other
dialect is a reality, not a passing fad. Pilipino will continue to develop
from the different dialects even if the grammar is Tagalog-based. The
grammatical structures of other dialects are about the same. Nationally,
Filipinos tend to speak in Pilipino or their dialects but to write in
English like office notes and records. Written names of our streets and
buildings, road directions, billboards, etc. are in English.  Our major
newspapers are in English but Pilipino is mainly used in television
programs. We are not only bilingual but bi-modal speaking and writing.

So why dont we accept our bilingualism and build on it? The English of
prospective workers abroad can be specially taken care of. And, perhaps,
Mac can reconcile mother tongue education with this reality. ("Comment" is
Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of
MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr.  Diaz with
a "Lifetime Achievement Award" for his "commitment to education and public
information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.")

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