Friday, June 27, 2008

Pilipino versus English: A continuing debate

The debate on the use of English and Pilipino as medium of instruction is a hot topic among the middle class in the Philippines. Lately, I found myself engaging in a nice discussions with learned persons online. Excerpts (unedited):

GERONIMO SY (Lawyer and columnist. Manila Times): It is equally true that speaking English cannot be the end all and be all of our education system, that not to churn out good English speakers condemns the entire learning apparatus to hell and hence the fate of our nation. If it were so, then how do we explain the ascendancy of Japan, the rise of China, the emergence of Korea and the fast coming Vietnam—all with kindergarten English?

Studies now point to the use of the vernacular as a medium of instruction in the early years to facilitate teaching and learning. Media has long embraced Filipino as our lingua franca that sends the message home. It is acceptable and downright fashionable to speak deep and high Tagalog in political circles. It is time we take English what it is - a tool to communicate. Stop the circular arguments on which language comes first.

TESSY ANG-SEE (famous civic leader): Master our own first languages first and we can master the second language better!! In our case, we mastered Tagalog first, then learned Hokkien (our local dialect, lingua franca of the Tsinoys here), then learned English and then learned Mandarin!! We are able to master the first three, mandarin is something else because there was no speech community to support it and it is more alien to us, being a language of the north while Hokkien and Tagalog belong to the austronesian linguistics group.... [i managed to pick up mandarin much later in life while doing research]

DAVE LLORITO (journalist, researcher): Would anybody hire a graduate for her/his "mastery" of Tagalog? (I dont call it "Filipino" because its really is Tagalog.) as English-Tagalog translator maybe, or a Tabloid reporter, but not much else. Should we master Tagalog so that in the real world, in the world of jobs, entrepreneurship and business we are going to use English as the medium of communication? But that's my dilemma. But maybe there is no conflict here. but how do we translate that to policy? Maybe we should learn the basic dialects/language from the first and third grade then shift to English later until college. so we will have Visayans or Tagalogs, or Ilocanos using their languages first in early elementary before they eventually shift to English as medium of instruction. Sounds good to me. But Tagalog should never be imposed. But hey, isn’t English also part of our Filipino heritage as a nation? I'm just sharing my random thoughts here, actually.

ADDIE SUZARA (Finance expert, technopreneur and computer geek): I was born in a large family where Tagalog, Bicolano, English and some Spanish were spoken. I then went to schools where English was the medium of instruction but where Pilipino was taught as a subject and I learned grammar and read literature. I also took up formal Spanish in college.
I can now speak and write English well, speak Tagalog well but write with a little difficulty only due to lack of practice, speak Bicolano with a little difficulty because of lack of practice, haven't tried writing in Bicolano, and can't do much oral and written Spanish. I think it worked out OK for me.

DAVE: Addie, You are a very good case study. The fact is you enrolled in schools using English as medium of instruction and where Pilipino is taught as a subject and it worked well for you. Pilipino only as one of the subjects, and not as medium of instruction! I like that. And I guess no one could question Addie's nationalism, identity and patriotism.

ADDIE: Thank you Dave but let me hasten to add that, until I went to Kindergarten at age 6, Tagalog with a Bicolano flavor was my primary spoken language.

TESSIE: [We are] missing the point entirely when we insist that to find jobs we should know English. We miss to consider the fundamental role of language in establishing identity and ethnicity…

DAVE: I was raising a practical, real world perspective. The job market, the world of entrepreneurship and business, are using English and in that world mastery of this language, plus skills in the math and science are what really matters. I know because I have lots of friends who are nationalistic but who actually enroll their kids in exclusive schools that are teaching purely English. Most of those who actually argue for Tagalog, ehe Filipino, are doing their finest points in English. And they use English extensively at home.

TESSIE: For people from educated families, lower middle class and above, there's no problem using English as a medium of instruction. These are people who have access to other media, books, newspapers, adult conversation etc. Being a nationalist Filipino or not has nothing to do with it. No one becomes less Filipino just because he learns English or another dialect first and not Filipino as a first language.

However we are speaking of 60 percent of our population who live below the poverty line who should have a good grasp of a national language before a second language is forced on them. If you go to Malaysia and Indonesia, what welcomes you at the airport are all Malay greetings and Malay music ..It is a language that binds the nation. Contrast that with what greets us and our kababayan at our airport!

ADDIE: While I do come from the 40% of the population who live above the poverty line, I would not say that those from the 60% did not have all the opportunities available to me in terms of learning other languages.Let us not forget that most of us grew up in at least a two language environment - the local dialect and Tagalog. I spoke Tagalog and Bicolano because my mother was from Taagalog soeaking Labo while my father came from Bicolano speaking Daet. Both these towns are in Camarines Norte. I agree with Dave that the gut issue is when to use English as a medium of instruction. I say "a" instead of "the" because I think we can have more than one medium of instruction. I think our kids wherever they may be can easily absorb a third language. The areas of improvement are in the school system.

DAVE: Again, the question here is translating this to policy. If you are in the Visayas, you certainly will feel that Tagalog or Pilipino is being "forced" on you. If "promotion" of the national language is the Tagalogization of the entire country, that will surely fail and it has failed since Marcos.

The promotion of the local Bahasa language was done under authoritarian regime. It was imposed on them. Example: During the days of Suharto, the Chinese were barred from learning the Chinese language/dialects; they were not allowed to open up Chinese schools in the name of national unity. It's only after the fall of Suharto that the Chinese started putting up Chinese schools. This is what my Indonesian friend told me. Well, it seemed to have worked well for them, given their historical circumstances.

Marcos actually tried the same approach through the imposition of Tagalog, and we called it Filipino, and that policy failed. Maybe Marcos was not ruthless enough? Not really. I think one reason is that English is also part of our national heritage. And it's no brainer why we cling to that language despite the Marcos policy: it has become a ticket out of poverty for many Filipinos. It has become a ticket for many to escape through the claws of the monopolists and the vampire elite of this country. That 15 billion dollars that buttress the economy, that prevents the economy from total disintegration, that has become a safety valve against a Marxist socialist revolution, is the offshoot of our capability to speak and use the English language.


missingpoints said...

It's not about which language kids should learn, the debate about the "medium of instruction" is about which language to use when teaching kids. Studies have found out that teaching children in their native language works best. Heck, I teach in college and I know that explaining some concepts in Filipino makes for better understanding.

Dave, no one is saying that we should not teach english. The policy on the medium of instruction is that the native language be used as the medium of instruction for the early grades.

Being practical, you'd know that this is the best way to go especially since a lot of public school teachers HAVEN'T MASTERED ENGLISH EITHER.

Dave Llorito said...

we share the same view. the question really is at what grade should the native language be taught? And what "native language"? Tagalog? How about the other vernaculars? And what level should we start using English? Grade 4? Grade 5? High School? Certainly, the decision to reimphasize English starting at a certain level would mean more training for teachers, more incentives for English language teachers, among many other policies.

missingpoints said...

Students are supposed to be taught in the vernacular from grades 1-3. That's what the DepEd curriculum says.

Anonymous said...


Is Filipino -aka tagalog - the native and FIRST language of Northern Luzon and Cebu/Visayas?

Don't get your panties tied up in a bunch, I know Tagalog is the national language...In in 1936, what was the percentage of the populace that VOTED tagalog/filipino to be the national language.

Please DO NOT assume that all Filipino -worldwide- embrace Tagalog as their NATIVE tongue.

You are nothing more than a home-grown imperialists. Instead use Tagalog, instead of Spanish or English, as your bargaining chip.

Give me a break...

Anonymous said...

Lets call a spade a spade. Tagalog elitists from Manila are nothing more than 21st century imperialists who are unlikely to learn a "provincial" dialect. Thus, they need only to master two, whereas someone born in the province would likely need to master THREE just to survive in the Philippines. English would be the neutral vernacular, while preserving the many native dialects on an EQUAL footing.

Is Tagalog eventually to eliminate Cebuano, Ilokano, Bikol, Kampampangan, and other dialects under the guise of Tagalog be the "native" language for all?

Please, what was the lingua-franca of the Islands during the "pre-hispanic" era?

What was the dominant "island" vernacular that served as a lingua-franca during the Spanish era?

Seems to me that Tagalog is nothing more than a "johnny come lately" lingua franca advocated by Manila elitists.

WAKE UP and see what is happening to the world!!!! It's called globalization.

Ask yourself, how many people WORLDWIDE are clamoring to learn Tagalog? English? Spanish? Now do the damn math...HELLO?

It's not even a first language to an approximate 60% of people who LIVE in the Philippines.

Gees Louise, great balls of fire!!!

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Anonymous said...

I believe that today is the perfect time for Spanish to replace Tagalog as one of the languages taught in schools. If I am not mistaken, the current system teaches the following:

For Tagalogs: "Filipino", English
For Provincials: Local "Dialect", "Filipino", and English

This, I believe is unfair for the provincials, that they have to study 3 languages while people from Manila only needed to study 2. Adding Spanish, gives fairness to the current system as people from Manila also needed to study 3 languages. In addition, it opens us up to 2 trillion dollar economies (Mexico and Spain), smaller Hispanic nations, and Lusophones (whose Portuguese is partially mutually intelligible with Spanish).

Anonymous said...

In our town in the Philippines, we speak Cebuano or Bisaya. Even when I'm already here abroad teaching English to foreign students, I still love speaking my dialect. Not all Filipinos love speaking Tagalog.