Wednesday, July 21, 2004

English as the Medium of Instruction

I am a member of a mailing list called Defenders of the Indigenous Languages of the Archipelago or for short, DILA. The group was founded by Oregon-based Ernesto "Ernie" Turla, a native speaker of Kapampangan. I respect Ernie highly and am grateful for his work and help on the Kapampangan language.

On Monday, Ernie forwarded to the group an article titled [Department of Education] promoting English as medium of instruction.

Ernie prefaced his e-mail with "this is good news." For the life of me, I am having trouble seeing this.

I find this well-intentioned idea detrimental.

As it stands, English is reserved for certain subjects such as math and science and Tagalog for social studies. The DepEd wants to increase the use of English.

I would like to make clear beforehand that I am not anti-English, which would be a silly concept since this is the primary language of my blog and the primary language of my everyday life.

English is not the first language of the vast majority of Filipinos. Hence, it is a foreign language. And as such, it should be treated as a foreign language. There is a world of difference between treating something as a foreign language and having a language used as a medium of instruction in schools.

Here's an example. Whenever I set out to learn something new, I want to make sure the subject at hand has my full comprehension. If not, then why bother? I speak Spanish and French with a decent amount of fluency. Given the option of learning a new concept in English, Spanish, or French, I'd overwhelmingly choose to learn it in English. Why? English is by far my strongest language, thus ensuring that I'll understand the subject thoroughly.

Similarly, if I were teaching a class of Tagalog-speaking children math - a subject some find difficult - I'd do it in Tagalog rather than in English. Why? My answer is very simple. I want them to learn without unnecessary obstacles such as the language barrier. I want them to understand. I want them to succeed.

Unfortunately, my opinion is not very popular.

I've debated this issue at length with people who disagree with me. They point out that it's neither Tagalog nor Cebuano that puts food on the table, but English. They point out that it's English that has benefited millions of Filipino families overseas such as mine.

This gives me the impression that these people care only about fluency in English but very little about other academic subjects. I hope this isn't true.

Now, I said above that I am not anti-English. But where do I feel is English's place in the Philippine education system? As I said, it's a foreign language. So, treat it as a subject that one learns about and not a vehicle for learning new things.

The Japanese learn in their language. So do the Finns, French, Spaniards, Catalans, Indonesians, Chinese, Turks, and even the Icelanders! So why not Filipinos?

I support the use of English as a subject as early as possible. In kindergarten, perhaps. I teach Spanish to children. I have also taught them math and handwriting. I dare not use Spanish to teach those subjects or else they won't fully understand. And that is the point.

Yes, providing the path to fluency in English at a young age is a step in the right direction. But doing it correctly is an important step.

Using English as the medium of instruction, however, is not. Using Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilokano, Maranao, et. al. is.

12 comments:

Kalani said...

I was just told by my cousin that on Maripipi, and in other parts of Bisaya, the educational school system schools their children in the Bisaya language, not English. Unlike near the Manila area where it's in English for most part.

Joseph said...

Hi Chris.

English has been the medium of instruction in most schools in the Philippines ever since I entered the world of learning. Filipinos nowadays can hardly speak both English and Tagalog (Filipino) fluently because of the mixture of the two languages in homes, media and schools. I also wondered why we sort of laugh when somebody says something deep in Tagalog? I later found out to myself that we are not accostumed to hearing and using those words and thus they go into oblivion. A fact that someday we will encounter with the Tagalog language if we continue giving priorities to other languages.

Joseph said...

Hi Chris.

English has been the medium of instruction in most schools in the Philippines ever since I entered the world of learning. Filipinos nowadays can hardly speak both English and Tagalog (Filipino) fluently because of the mixture of the two languages in homes, media and schools. I also wondered why we sort of laugh when somebody says something deep in Tagalog? I later found out to myself that we are not accustomed to hearing and using those words and thus they go into oblivion. A fact that someday we will encounter with the Tagalog language if we continue giving priorities to other languages.

unknown said...

We got 80 languages and English should have been the language taught so all the ethno-linguistic groups can communicate with each other. English is the world language and even your Japanese, Finns, French, Spaniards, Catalans, Indonesians, etc. are learning English now.

What I object to is the teaching of Tagalog in non-Tagalog speaking provinces. Our situation is closer to Indonesia than any country. But in Indonesia, they created a language from scratch. They amalgated a lot of elements from Indo's 300 or so languages to create Bahasa Indonesia. In the Philippines, they just took Tagalog and slapped it with the "Pilipino" label and called it national language. Bahasa Indonesia is not even close to Javanese, which is the language of the largest group in Indonesia.

Granted it's too late to create a language and everybody now has a rudimentary grasp of Tagalog. But the downside to this is that you have to learn three languages-English, Tagalog, and Native. Another downside is the use of Tagalog is stunting the vocabulary of none-Tagalog speakers (see my blog).

So the best solution I think is to teach English and only the Native language in our schools and stop shoving Tagalog down our throats.

Christopher Sundita said...

Got your comment in my blog. Will respond here.

Thanks for making a comment.

We got 80 languages and English should have been the language taughtI don't object at all to teaching English in the schools. What I do object to is treating at as if it were the native languages of all Filipinos because what this does is hampers abilities to learn other subjects. I do believe English should be taught as early as possible but within the contexts of a foreign language.

What I object to is the teaching of Tagalog in non-Tagalog speaking provinces. Our situation is closer to Indonesia than any country. But in Indonesia, they created a language from scratch. They amalgated a lot of elements from Indo's 300 or so languages to create Bahasa Indonesia.Bahasa Indonesia isn't a language that was created from scratch. The base of Bahasa Indonesia is Malay. Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Melayu are essentially the same save for some dialectal differences. They both have borrowed heavily from other languages.

In the Philippines, they just took Tagalog and slapped it with the "Pilipino" label and called it national language. Bahasa Indonesia is not even close to Javanese, which is the language of the largest group in Indonesia.I agree with you on these two statements.

Granted it's too late to create a language and everybody now has a rudimentary grasp of Tagalog.It's never too late. It'll be exceedingly difficult, but not impossible.

Another downside is the use of Tagalog is stunting the vocabulary of none-Tagalog speakers (see my blog).Is it really stunting? Kapampangan and Tagalog have borrowed heavily from each other for centuries. This is nothing new. Tagalog is a language that is more closely related to the languages of the Visayas and Bicol, but yet it has a large amount of borrowed vocabulary from Kapampangan, Ilokano, Pangasinan and other languages spoken in Luzon. Tagalog vocabulary isn't at all stunted. It's growing.

It is the speakers' fault if their vocabulary is "stunted." It is they who choose, for whatever reason, to import foreign words and use them in their daily life. Language is dynamic and is always changing. It is the natural evolution. The Kapampangan spoken today is certainly not the Kapampangan spoken 60 years ago. And neither is the Kapampangan spoken years ago the same as the Kapampangan spoken 200 years ago. And there really is nothing wrong with that.

So the best solution I think is to teach English and only the Native language in our schools and stop shoving Tagalog down our throatsAs for me, I think that that Tagalog should still be taught to non-Tagalogs in their schools. However, I do think that Tagalogs should be forced to learn either Ilokano and Cebuano as well.

unknown said...

Hey men thanks for the Ernie Turla Dictionary. I'll go check it out. It says $19.95 US, which should amount to something like $50.00 Australian. That's not too bad I hope its worth it. Anyway I'll make a review of it in my blog once I get it.

About English though I guess you do have a point. I read some other articles on the subject and the one that changed my mind was the one about how our grade schoolers and high schoolers are faring so bad in Math and Science compared to other students in Asia. The reason for the poor performance apparently is that THEY DON'T UNDERSTAND WHAT THEIR TEACHERS ARE SAYING (because the teachers are speaking in English). I was kinda shocked! I was fairly good and had an interest in speaking and writing in English early on since 1st grade so it helped me a lot in learning Maths and Science. I just always thought that my classmates who were doing bad in Math and Science were bobo or mahina ang ulo or had Attention Deficit Disorder or something. It turns out they didn't understand a single word othe teachers were saying! So yeah it completely changed my opinion and I'm with you when you say that Tagalog or the Native Language should be used to teach Maths and Science.

About the dynamism of language I guess Tagalog and English will continue to have it good while some will continue to be stunted. There's this forum posting that really nails it in the head about the "Tagalogization" of Kapampangan: http://www.pampanga-online.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=825
I'll cut and paste his finer points:

"According Anicia del Corro, PhD of the UP department of linguistics, Kapampangan is not a dying language, that the introduction of Tagalog and English loan words into our vocabulary is not tantamount to replacement but rather to enrichment. She cites in comparison the enrichment of the English Language with the introduction of a lot of French, German, Native American and Hindi loan words into her vocabulary. My opposition to her pronouncement however is her using the enrichment of the English Language as a point of comparison. The English Language is a dominant language in global affairs."

I guess you can say the same about Tagalog being a dominant language in our national affairs. He then proceeded to explain why this doesn't apply to the Kapampangan (and ergo to other ethno-languages of the Philippines)

"The Kapampangan Language does not even enjoy a social dominance in the Kapampangan homeland. Any word introduced from the surrounding dominant Languages, namely Tagalog and English, into our language's vocabulary therefore is TANTAMOUNT TO REPLACEMENT NOT ENRICHMENT."

Actually I'm not really sure if other languages in our country are being "Taglicized". Hey you know other languages in our country right? So yeah maybe you can tell me if they're (Cebuano and Ilokano, etc.) being
"Tagalog-and-English-Replaced" (not enriched) as Kapampangan is.

I do read some English books from about a hundred years ago, and they're still pretty close to the present day English. Still very understandable and comprehendible. And not that archaic at all. Whereas if you read a Kapampangan work from the same period it's a bit foreign to me, especially with some of the deep vocabulary. It's the replacement-not-enrichment theory above that I think is the culprit. That is why I think only the native language and English (and maybe you're right optional Tagalog for Maths and Science but only in a rudimentary form) should be taught in schools.

Anyway thanks for the dictionary suggestion I hope it helps.

Norzen said...

Hi chris,

i definitely agree to what you said. not all knows how important learning using the native tongue is. they tend to say that English would help a lot in learnin, but never have they thought that English would still be foreign to us Filipinos in the sense that the first language we learn is Filipino (vernaculars for some). The schema for such language is limited and would not be sufficient enough to cater the needs in learning especially in the primary years.

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