COMMENT: Mac, Congress disagrees

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.

Sound

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 one’s 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.

Problem

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?

Reality

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 don’t 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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