English as the big Filipino hang up
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2009-01-22

Whenever your Chair Wrecker writes about the issue of re-imposing English as the medium of instruction here, spirited responses are generated.

Many of those who support the view that English should be taught only as subjects but not imposed as the medium of instruction are from the academe. They understand the impact of language in the learning process. They know that a people will learn more when taught in the language they are most familiar with.

They know that what is important is that we produce world-class farmers, technicians, craftsmen, engineers, doctors, nurses, scientists, laborers and so forth who can compete with the best in the world. English to world-class workers is at best an added advantage. But what is essential is the core competence in the real task or service that they provide.

A physicist who speaks the Queen’s English but cannot put together the most basic of elements is useless and will likely land in a call center.

Also, among those who support that view are the nationalists who know only too well that a country cannot possibly internalize its full sense of nationhood when a foreign language is imposed on its people as the medium of instruction.

Don’t be surprised that many Filipinos still entertain the illusion that they are Americans. The pretense with the language allows the maintenance of this illusion in the Filipino colonial mentality. If you want to talk like a Yank, soon you’ll think that you’re a Yank.

In a Youth Study in 2001, an abnormally high number of our young people openly wished that they were Americans or British. This mindset is easily reflected in a lot of the advertising materials that are directed towards young people.

Many of those who oppose the view — in other words they are for imposing English as medium of instruction — do so for all the wrong reasons.

Some of them think that without English proficiency, Filipinos cannot land jobs here and overseas. They fail to see that the language is secondary to the job competence.

Some of them mistake the current efforts of the Chinese, South Koreans and other Asian nationals to learn English as the key to acquiring the competitive edge. They think that if we learn English ahead of the Chinese, South Koreans and other Asian nationals - then we will beat them. This is fallacious thinking that mistakes the cart for the horse.

How can you beat them when you don’t even have their level of job competence — something which they acquired by learning their skills in the language they are most familiar with? Can a Filipino speaking the Queen’s English be considered better than the Chinese who makes double the quantity of products that the Filipino makes in an hour?

Filipinos fail to understand that many Europeans are bilingual but none of the European countries ever adopted a foreign language as their medium of instruction. Go to Holland and you’ll be surprised that it’s easier to converse with the Dutch in English than you can converse with the Brits if you were in England. And it’s worse if you ever get as far as Bonnie Scotland.

Easily 60% of British variations of the English language cannot be understood by Filipinos and we are not alone. In Scotland, a MacGregor clansman of mine was speaking a variation of English that I mistook for what is called broad Scots.

As I was missing three of every five words that he said, I requested him: “Freddie, kindly speak to me in English.” He answered me: “Boot I’m spaykin tae ye in mae best English (that’s how it sounded).” And he has not even started to drink a wee dram yet!

The Dutch speak good English but they never imposed English as their medium of instruction. They simply taught English as a subject. We should do the same because imposing English as medium of instruction will further propagate the exclusive character of our society. It will further aggravate the disadvantage of the poor who cannot possibly be taught properly when this foreign language is imposed on them as the medium of instruction.

Instead of hastening their learning of technical skills that can land them good jobs, we will be imposing another learning impediment as we will force them to learn in a language that over 70% of our public school teachers cannot speak, much less teach with.

To improve proficiency in English, all we must do is teach our pupils in elementary and high school English composition and grammar subjects and possibly literature. But the medium of instruction must be the language they are most familiar with.

Some of those who oppose this express parochial mindsets, especially those in the Visayas. They resent being taught in Filipino which they continue to call Tagalog. They fail to learn from the Chinese who adopted Mandarin — the language of the capital — as their national language from among the 11 Sinitic languages, 64 dialects and 64 sub-dialects.

We have already made great strides with Filipino. Are we to retrograde just to accommodate the parochial views of some Filipinos who cannot seem to shed their tribal colors and don the national colors?

Over 30 years ago, there was a vibrant Visayan movie industry in the South. But you don’t see that now because Filipino is already spoken nationwide.

Even the MILF spokesmen speak good Filipino.

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