Taking pride in local languages

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/07 August) — It’s easy to take Philippine regional languages for granted. If you speak Cebuano on a daily basis, it would take meta-discussions to bring up how you use this language.

And with the overwhelming media that many of us take in regularly—from book and Hollywood movies to social media posts and Internet memes—it’s easy to dismiss regional Filipino languages as forms of communication when everything else is in English.

This Buwan ng Wika, pause to reflect and write about the importance the language(s) native to us. The irony, of course, is that this story is in English.

Take pride in your mother tongue

“Regional languages remain important and this is highlighted in our constitution,” said Milagros Villas, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences of the University of Southeastern Philippines (USEP).

The national language of the country, according to Sections 6 and 7 of Article XIV of the 1987 Constitution is Filipino. “As it evolves, it shall be further developed and enriched on the basis of existing Philippine and other languages,” it says.

Section 7 adds that, “For purposes of communication and instruction, the official languages of the Philippines are Filipino and, until otherwise provided by law, English.”

Villas said that the use of regional languages—whether in the workplace or in daily living—helps us preserve an integral component of our culture as Filipinos.

These regional languages—which the Department of Education (DepEd) has included as media for instruction for classes in certain levels since 2012 as part of the Mother-Tongue-Based Multi-Lingual Education (MTB-MLE)—identify us as Filipinos.

Other than how these languages—like Tagalog, Kapampangan, Pangasinense, Iloko, Bikol, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Waray, Tausug, Maguindanaoan, Maranao and Chabacano—are being used in the classroom, Villas said that it’s second nature for Filipinos to think with their own mother tongue.

It is through education using these languages that teachers are also able to inculcate Filipino values to students in a way that English can’t.

Speakers from various regions still meet halfway and communicate well amid tolerable language nuances that proliferate in various forms. For example, some people in Davao find it almost verbose to have to add “po” to sentences speaking in Cebuano.

Although the use of “po” and “opo” in Cebuano may appear as a Tagalog imposition, Villas said that there are still certain words in Cebuano that can help convey respect and good manners.

Nevertheless, Villas encouraged the youth to take pride in their own mother tongue no matter what.

English, meanwhile, remains equally strong of a language in the Filipino culture and speaking this language is seen as a reflection of how progressive certain communities have become in terms of going “global.”

This resulted in the mushrooming of workplaces (like call centers and BPOs) fueled by language and communication skills. Some of these even require Filipino speakers to put on a strong American accent (although this becomes a pet peeve by many, especially when speakers take their American “twang” to the streets even when this is not required).

Rommel Real, assistant professor at UP Mindanao’s College of Science and Mathematics, said that regional languages remain important in workplaces.

“[These languages] are important in the workplace because they are what people have in common if they come from the same region. People understand each other better when you speak their mother tongue. In a way, that’s what makes us united, he said.”

It is important to note that not all workplaces are the same. Not every office—indoor or outdoor—would require workers to speak in English.

“We need to speak the language that our people understand,” said Glorypearl Dy, CEO of social enterprise Switotwins Inc.

Dy and her team regularly hold digital storytelling workshops in barangays around Mindanao to empower communities—especially women and the youth.

“If I speak in English, I make it difficult for my constituents to understand instructions and even feelings!” she said. “I create a gap if I continue to speak in a language that makes it difficult for them to understand. I also advocate for context-based stories—stories which have visuals and content that refers to the lives and environment of the writer and illustrator. We should not take regional languages like Cebuano/Bisaya for granted because it is the language that we speak. Without it, we cannot communicate well.”

John Bengan, chairperson of UP Mindanao’s Humanities Department said that speaking a community’s local language—especially for work—makes a person (a social worker, for instance) more acquainted with specific groups of people.

A good command of regional languages likewise helps us to become sensitive to the nuances of others’ experiences. For instance, Cebuano perfectly captures the experiences of people in Central and Southern Philippines.

By stressing the importance of regional languages, Bengan said that we are able to assert our regional identity as we go further in developing our national identity as Filipinos.

“We can’t forget about where we come from,” he said. “Regional languages help us understand what it means to be truly Filipino.”

In learning

The role of regional languages in learning processes has long been recognized by DepEd with their MTB-MLE programs; 18 languages have been used as medium of instruction from Kinder to Grade 3 (except for Filipino and English subjects): Tagalog, Kapampangan, Pangasinense, Iloko, Bikol, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Waray, Tausug, Maguindanaoan, Maranao, Chabacano, Ybanag, Ivatan, Aklanon, Kinaray-a, Yakan, and Surigaonon.

Juse Lyn Hiponia, associate dean of the College of Education of USEP said that the use of mother tongue as medium for learning is supported by many researches.

She pointed out that this helps a kid cognitively, psychologically, and culturally.

Cognitive benefits of learning through mother tongue include aiding a child when taking in complex ideas. “Difficult subjects become easier to learn,” Hiponia said.

It also helps a child avoid anxieties involved in learning. Hiponia said that kids become anxious when they are having a hard time learning things. This even resulted in dropouts, she said.

The use of mother tongue for learning also makes education as a whole inclusive—especially to indigenous peoples. It emphasizes cultural connections and regional identities. “When we use these regional languages, we boost the self-esteem and learning process of the native speakers even when they cannot fluently speak in English.”

Hiponia stressed that in some classrooms, learners who can’t speak English well are often bullied. That goes against the idea of learning environments that are open to diversity. (Jesse Pizarro Boga/MindaNews)