English, yes, but not as medium of instruction
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-06-10
There is nothing wrong with cultivating English proficiency but everything is wrong when you impose English as the medium of instruction. Many people are confused by the current debate centering on the petition submitted to the Supreme Court to stop the implementation of EO 210, series 2003, which re-imposes English as medium of instruction.

Re-imposing English as a medium of instruction will have disastrous consequences on our learning process in a way that will lead to the widening of our wealth gap. Even former Education secretary Butch Abad objected against re-imposing English as a medium of instruction — citing that about 70% of our teachers cannot even communicate in that language.

Like other debates that involve other national issues, the running debate on the use of English as medium of instruction is being conducted under the wrong premises and assumptions. Many think that the main reason of those resisting English as medium of instruction is “nationalist narrow-mindedness” — as if nationalism is a bad word or the source of inferior ideas.

The following are hardly considered by those who advocate the return of English as the medium of instruction:

1. The Japanese did not need English to achieve economic excellence. On the contrary, Japan is a great nation because its people had one language, one mind and one heart. In contrast, our language debate is a counterproductive exercise that only reflects a deep division in our sick society. Countries that are on the march to progress did not have to engage in this embarrassing debate.

2. A country’s native tongue does not have to be sacrificed in order to be proficient in English. Technical terms that may not be in the Filipino language are easily adopted. Most technologies were not developed by English speakers and were simply adopted by the English language.

In fact, the more technical subjects are easier to learn if taught in Filipino. A UP engineering professor confirmed this. Algebra, for example, is harder to learn if taught in English than in Filipino.

Rolando Tinio, the late National Artist for literature and one of the greatest minds of our race, proved in his translations of the classic works of Shakespeare, Shaw, Ibsen, Sophocles and Chekhov that Filipino is a great language and can easily incorporate the great ideas found in literary works originally written in another language.

I’ve seen Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” staged here in English and in Filipino, the Filipino as translated and directed by Rolando Tinio when he was still producing plays at the CCP’s (Cultural Center of the Philippines) Teatro Pilipino.

Performed in English before an upscale audience, the Shakespeare classic was hardly appreciated. Performed in Filipino, it met animated responses from local mixed audiences. Comic lines that never flew in the original English staging were simply bringing the house down.

3. Both Filipino and English can be learned and this need not be at the expense of losing the language of our Filipino soul. The products of the Ateneo and La Salle are the living proof of this. They get the best jobs but they have not lost their national identity and their Filipino proficiency.

4. We will be lucky to have 5% of Filipinos who can think in English. Many who claim to be proficient in English actually think in Filipino. A nation whose people think in Filipino but use English to compete only ends up a poor second to one who thinks and speaks in English. The Thais, Chinese, Singaporeans, Malaysians had all overtaken us even if they had never been as good in English as we had been in the 1950s and the 1960s. English did not get them to where they are.

5. The nation pays a greater price for the loss of its identity when we allow another foreign language to replace what is the very soul of Filipino communication — its native tongue. The Chinese, once behind us economically, pushed for a national language — Mandarin. They knew the need for a national language to weld a national aspiration. Today, people are scrambling to learn Chinese (Mandarin) to be able to ride the Chinese economic gravy train.

If the objective is to generate jobs and achieve progress, then it is Mandarin that we must adopt because China is the new economic superpower. Don’t you see how ridiculous this English proposal is?

English as a medium of instruction is an illusory solution to our economic problems. The Chinese and Thais are studying English to simply improve their economic gains. Efficient productivity brought about by education in the language they are most comfortable is what delivered their economic miracles.

The shift to Filipino was one of Marcos’s best moves. Note how our Muslim brothers who are interviewed on television are now also speaking good Filipino. Note how English newscasts, once the norm, are now relegated to cable channel newscasts. Newscasts in television leaders ABS-CBN and GMA Network are all in Filipino.

More Filipinos can achieve levels of excellence when taught in the tongue they are most familiar with. The worst scenario is to have Filipinos studying engineering, for example, under teachers who speak faulty English. In such a case, neither learning English nor learning engineering is facilitated. Using English as medium of instruction merely adds another impediment to learning and progress.

We are like a basketball team who keeps blaming our losing streak to inferior rubber shoes. The truth is we are losing because we’re not playing as a team. There is one of us trying to take on five of them.

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