Filipino or English: A deluge of pros and cons
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo 2004-10-10
The INQ7.NET, now the most widely read Philippine-based media outfit, whips up 1.4 million pageviews daily from mostly Filipinos wherever in the world they may be. Thus, by having my email address posted below my opinion pieces, I get to witness the awesome magic of instant feedback each time any of my writings happens to touch a raw nerve.

One of the most discussion-provoking column I have every written proved to be September 27’s “Pilipino or English for all the wrong reasons”. A good 10 days after the column ran, I was still receiving a wide variety of reactions on the wisdom or folly of the use of “Filipino” as the medium of instruction. (Thanks to a reader – I was reminded that “Filipino”, not “Pilipino”, is now the official term used in reference to the national language. )

About 80% of the responses were from young people who generally agreed with the use of Filipino for education. In fact, students of a class in La Salle University wrote to me in flawless Filipino to tell me how that particular column sparked discussion on a subject very close to their hearts.

If you think our youth today are only interested in ‘chilling out’ and listening to ‘funky’ music, think again. My friend Raymond “Mong” Palatino, a one-time president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) and a recipient of an international award for leadership, was quick to remind us that there would not have been an EDSA II had there been no participation of the youth. Mong is right. We had no more than 20,000 attending the rallies pushing for Joseph Estrada to vacate Malacanang. But when the youth joined the clamor for change on the refusal of 11 senators to open the controversial Jose Velarde envelope, the EDSA Shrine rallies swelled to over half a million. The rest is history.

People who did not favor the use of Filipino in schools were mostly 50 years and older. Some Visayans agreed that teaching in the native tongue facilitates learning but registered their preference for their own dialect instead of Filipino, which came from one of the Luzon dialects, Tagalog.

A few still adhered to the “it’s English or bust” line of thinking, some of them narrowly perceiving only the advantage of finding jobs in call centers, not realizing that this new industry cannot even employ 3% of the Philippine work force and that a single terrorist bomb exploded in one of these outsource job factories would easily send that industry flying to the nearest off shore alternative.

Others said facility for the English language makes it easier to land jobs overseas – not even giving due credit to the fact that Filipinos do get those jobs because they are good at what they do as engineers, nurses, mechanics and so forth, and not because they speak English.

I wish to share three particularly incisive insights that were received in the hope of broadening the perspectives covered by this debate. I want to share the insights of a former UP professor who taught engineering, an inventor who was a past president of the Filipino Inventors Society and a professor in the Ateneo University’s Department of Mass Communications.

Neil Concibido, former UP engineering professor, now in Japan:

“I used to teach Engineering courses in University of the Philippines at Los Baños and was also part of the university’s Sentro ng Wikang Filipino [SWF, the Center for Filipino Language]. As part of our campaign to appreciate and spread the use of the Filipino language in the university, we encouraged faculty members to use it in teaching our courses.

I tried using Filipino in teaching basic engineering courses, not just because I was part of SWF, but because I found out that my students were hesitant to participate in classroom discussions because of their inability to express themselves fully in English and because they could understand the topics more clearly when I tried to explain them in Filipino. I also didn’t find it natural for me to be elaborating on a topic in English.

With the approval of my students, I did my lectures in Filipino. I did I did not use purist Filipino words for technical Engineering terms because that would mean additional work for me but more importantly that would only confuse my students more, since the books we were using were all in English. Our discussions became livelier and my students were not hesitant anymore to recite in class and clarify things they didn’t understand. I also allowed them to answer essay portions in exams in Filipino and with that they could write their ideas better. I didn’t have to spend as much time as before trying to figure out what they wrote in English meant.

Even if the University of the Philippines is our premier university, it is easy to find students who will make your head spin whenever they write essays in English.”

Gary Vazquez, Vazbuilt Housing Technology inventor:

“As far as I and my fellow Filipino inventors are concerned, we think in Filipino and it would be best if the medium of instruction here was in Filipino. The Filipino language is more than equipped to provide A-1 thinking and is best for communication among Filipinos.

Our being inventors have no relation whatsoever with the use of English. If I talked to my staff in Vazbuilt in English when I teach them the technology, I only end up putting a barrier between me and them. I will end up not being able to make them understand fully the Vazbuilt technology.

There is also no problem with technical terms because what is not available in Filipino can be adopted. I’m sure all languages do that. Pero ang importante ay naiintindihan ang tinuturo at nagkakaintindihan (But the important thing is that instructions are understood and there is good communication).”

Jan T. Co Chua, Ateneo Mass Communications professor:

“Filipino is dynamic. Keep in mind that a main characteristic of language is that it changes in accordance with the changes its speakers undergo – in their environment, in their way of life, etc. Language develops due to the needs of its speakers and the contact among speakers. The increased mobility among our people has resulted in proportionate development in Filipino. Linguistic adaptations continue to seep in due to modernization. Are we not grateful for the kompyuter, both for the technology and the language that comes with it?

According to Dr. Consuelo J. Paz, Professor of Linguistics of the University of the Philippines, being the language of oral communication, Filipino can stake the claim as the national language though it may still not be used as the official language, that is by government and as the medium of instruction at all levels. The unofficial status is a superficial shortcoming since Filipino is actually used in oral communication in government offices and in schools even if still not completely used in its written form. Dr. Paz maintains that it is difficult to understand why we would rather have a foreign language as the language of education and government – the language of power – rather than one of our own Philippine languages

Certainly, the importance of English as the international lingua franca cannot be dismissed. But if we are to be proficient in that language, many steps have to be taken that would need the coordination of the various sectors in our society. As has been written above, learning a language comes with the need for that language and to be able to equip ourselves with a standard form of that language, we need teachers equipped to teach it; we have to have books and materials prepared precisely to serve that function.

For noble intents and purposes, the majority of us Filipinos may learn English as a second or third language and this, only after we have achieved our priorities including basic literacy which is more practically obtained via language we have been brought up in.

Dr. Paz pointed out that the Constitution mandates both Filipino and English as official languages and wondered why there is impassioned resistance to Filipino being used as the language of government. On the other hand, we continue to use English for this purpose, a language hardly understood by the majority of Filipinos. Thus, our language doctor concludes, we have a democracy with only the educated elite participating in the governance of the people’s lives; only the fortunate few understanding what goes on in government planning, policy making or decision making.

I strongly agree with Dr. Paz that recognizing Filipino as the national language – the official language of government and education – can only hasten unity among our ethno-linguistic groups, allowing interaction among us and enabling authentic participation in what happens to our country.”

Neil Concibido, Gary Vazquez and Jan T. Co Chua are all for the use of Filipino as our medium of instruction and for all the right reasons. Although they are undeniably nationalists, their main argument has nothing to do with nationalism. Rather, they argue the case for improving productivity and economic advancement. Many of our Asian neighbors who have outpaced us did not need English to propel their economic gains. None of them have adopted or are planning to adopt English as their medium of instruction.

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