Philippines: King's English

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Jan 11 18:00:45 UTC 2009

King's English

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:15:00 01/11/2009

King's English

 WHEN Congress resumes on Jan. 19, the House of Representatives is
expected to be engulfed in a war of words—or languages—over the
passage of House Bill 5619, the proposed Act Strengthening and
Enhancing the Use of English as the Medium of Instruction. Authored by
Cebu Rep. Eduardo Gullas, the bill seeks to junk the bilingual policy
adopted by the old education department in 1974, during the Marcos
era. The policy sought to make the "nation competent in the use of
English and Filipino." Gullas' measure seeks "the reinstatement of
English as medium of instruction" in Philippine basic education.

It is easy to sympathize with Gullas; apparently, there are many who
are ruing the Filipinos' loss of English proficiency and they blame
this on the bilingual policy. But it is one thing to lament the loss
of our English proficiency, and another to dictate that it be made the
medium of instruction in our schools. To be sure, the state should be
in the business of looking for the best way to effectively transmit
knowledge in its education system. But studies across the board show
that the mother tongue is the best conveyor of instruction.

To some extent, the Gullas bill recognizes the above. It gives schools
the option to use English, Filipino or the regional language as the
teaching language from pre-school up to Grade 3. But from the
intermediate grades up to high school, English will be the teaching
language, except in Filipino as a course. Just the same, the bill's
"English myopia" is hegemonic, and overlooks scientific evidence
showing the mother tongue to be the best medium of instruction. For
example, a study showed that non-native American children who were
schooled for six years in their first language, before they were
taught completely in English, scored in their Science and
Mathematics—as well as English—tests higher than the average native
English pupil. In contrast, non-native English students who began
education completely in English learned the least English and scored
lowest in their academic subjects.

All these findings should show that no science or reason propels the
campaign for the reinstitution of English as instruction language in
our schools—except for that uniquely Filipino science-—hiya or loss of
face, the reverse of which is another uniquely Filipino science—yabang
or conceit. Perhaps confronted by Melanie Marquez and other Philippine
beauty queens and pretenders who, during question-and-answer portions,
add to the rich vocabulary of English by their unwitting and very
hilarious answers; and perhaps feeling guilty and embarrassed because
their children speak their yaya's "Barok" English, some lawmakers now
like to efface the atrocious English around them, including their own,
by mandating that everyone speak the King's English. But this gesture
is at best aristocratic pretension.

At the least, Gullas et al. are driven by other considerations in
seeking to restore English, but these considerations hardly have
anything to do with hastening learning or the absorption of lessons by
our students. They may have more to do with their distaste of the
Tagalog-based Filipino and their resistance to Manila imperialism.
(Filipino promoters may protest that Filipino is democratic and is
drawn from all the major regional languages, not just Tagalog, but
they should recognize that the suspicion against it by the provinces
remains widespread. In any case, even Filipino promoters quarrel among
themselves on which word or coinage to incorporate in the new
vocabulary, and their Babel-like quarrel may take another eon to

Gullas et al. also want English proficiency because of the global
scheme of things, such as the decided advantage of Filipino manpower
abroad due to their English know-how and the relative prestige
accorded to nations that speak English. But since Filipinos get the
lower end of skills in global manpower, what level of English
proficiency should they really have? To be sure, many Filipina maids
abroad can speak English even better than their masters. In the end,
even if Filipinos had indeed reached the nadir of English proficiency,
it has nothing to do with the bilingual policy or the rise of the
regional languages. It has more to do with the poor system of
instruction: defective textbooks, poor language instructionals, poor
(or total lack of) facilities, incompetent teachers and education
planners, corruption and mismanagement. We may have English as the
sole medium of instruction at all levels of education, but the
Filipinos will continue to speak and write the most dreadful English
as long as the system of instruction keeps submitting a hideous report

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