June 10, 2006

A Discarded Language

By Isagani Cruz

WHEN English was the medium of instruction in all our public and private schools, it was understood even in the remotest barrios of our country. It served as an effective communication tool and a unifier of our people with their separate customs and dialects in the different regions of the archipelago. (Originally published in Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 10, 2006)

I totally agree with Mr. Cruz's column. I am a product of the bilingual education system and I consider myself lucky that it was adopted when I was already in High School. The only subjects taught in Filipino, was Pilipino (then still with a "P"), Iskawting (transliterated from "Scouting"), and Araling Panlipunan (Social Studies) which is now commonly known as Hekasi (as in Hekasi Babae?). Thank God this system wrought very little havoc on my already well-formed English thought process.

If all my subjects in grade school had been taught in Filipino, I doubt that I would have been a journalist and be able to meet and converse with the highest and mightiest powers of the land as well as important people from other nations. And I doubt that I would be able to find work with international publications as I have. Speaking and writing English well has given me the competitive edge over my peers and I truly am thankful that I was taught English at a very early age.

It is clear that the bilingual education system has been successful in promoting the widespread use of Filipino, that even in Cebu, although the Cebuanos don't like to admit it, they do understand the official language of the country. However, this system has also clearly eroded our country's advantage in English over other developing nations. And so as we spend millions of pesos for marketing programs to bring in foreign businesses and tourists, we make fools of ourselves by being unable to actually communicate with these foreigners.

Even for our growing call center industry, many companies have to send their accepted applicants to English-training programs because their diction is all off, they don't understand simple idiomatic expressions, and they get their F's and P's mixed up! I would laugh but it hurts too much to realize how far we have dropped in English fluency. It's sad really.

We can no longer delude ourselves with the wrong notion that making all our citizens speak Filipino would make them more patriotic towards the country. I know many Filipinos who hardly speak the native language and have contributed more to building the nation than many native Filipino speakers. If we truly want our country to progress, let's bring English back to our schools!

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