Andrew Gonzalez on Language13 April 2007 at 4:49 AM | Posted in News | 12 Comments
Since I am editing two of the late Brother Andrew Gonzalez’s unpublished books, as well as writing the history of De La Salle University while he was its president, I have become even more familiar with his work than I was when we were regularly dining out.
Some articles by the former Philippine Education Secretary on language planning are relevant today, when several linguists, language teachers, educators, and parents are working on a legal way to challenge the Department of Education’s misguided and unlawful drive to increase the number of hours English is used as a medium of instruction in our public schools.
One of the objections against Filipino as a medium of instruction is its alleged inability to handle highly technical subjects. Among linguists, this is known as the issue of intellectualization (spelled intellectualisation in British English). In a 2002 issue of the British journal Current Issues in Language Planning, Gonzalez had an article entitled “Language Planning and Intellectualisation.” The full article is available on the journal’s website (multilingual-matters.net).
Here is the abstract or summary of the article: “The development of the national language of the Philippines is sketched from the initial selection of Tagalog to its standardisation and propagation as Wikang Pambansa (national language), and its renaming as Pilipino, subsequently Filipino.
“The last phase of language development is the phase of cultivation which has many aspects. Usually the national language is cultivated as a language of imaginative literature, the mass media, a medium of instruction in the basic educational system, as the language of governance, and as a language of academic discourse.
“The last phase can be considered as a process of modernisation (through its use to thematise current realities) and as a process of intellectualisation (as a medium of oral and written academic discourse).
“The intellectualisation phase consists not only of lexical expansion (through modern terminologies for the disciplines) but likewise of stylistic differentiation (using syntactic devices for different types of prose discourse). Intellectualisation is examined as process and product and according to its inner (psychological) and outer (sociological) dimensions.
“Some theoretical insights from the Philippine experience are discussed; the intellectualisation of Filipino is unprecedented because it is an ongoing process that can be documented in detail through the corpus being generated and should enrich the scholarly literature on this topic.”
There was no doubt in the mind of Gonzalez that Filipino was well on its way to becoming a fully intellectualized language, were it not for miseducated government officials eager to transform Filipinos from being highly intelligent thinkers to mere telephone operators.
Gonzalez tried to practice what he preached while he was Education Secretary. He changed the medium of instruction of the first three grades to vernacular or regional languages and started the process to change the medium of instruction to conform to what the Constitution mandates, namely, Filipino as the main language of instruction for all subjects at all grade levels, with the other vernacular languages as auxiliary or second languages of instruction and English only as a third or minor language of instruction.
Why did he do that? The answer can be found in another article available on the Web.
In a 2004 conference of the Summer Institute of Linguistics and UNESCO held in Thailand, Gonzalez read a paper on “Language Planning in Multilingual Countries: The Case of the Philippines” (sil.org/asia). In that paper, the world-renowned linguist explained why, based on his experience as Education Secretary and on his expertise as a language scholar, Filipinos were being badly educated due to the use of English as a medium of instruction.
He said, “For [the Filipino] language to be cultivated intellectually, it must be used and not just studied. If school policy makers choose not to use the national language in certain academic domains, the language will not be cultivated for higher cognitive activities in that field of specialization. It is, of course, easier to reach a stage of critical thinking in one’s native language or mother tongue and it takes special tutoring and practice to cultivate a second language for purposes of higher order thinking. In the Philippines, because of the lack of financial resources, the national language has not been sufficiently developed as a language of intellectual discourse. English competence, once attained, becomes a highly effective tool of intellectual discourse and learning of the world’s knowledge. However, the number of those in the system who reach such an advanced stage in a second language such as English is bound to be small and elitist.
“The advice based on investigations and experience of literacy experts is that the best way to teach a second language is by enabling the students to master the first language to the point of critical thinking; these skills can then be transferred to the second language. In spite of this evidence, Philippine decision makers and parents continue to insist on English as early as possible, even though that hinders children’s ability to think critically in the mother tongue or at least in the national language which is structurally similar to the mother tongue. This partially explains the problems of language and quality in Philippine education today.
“In brief, language planning presumes rationality on the part of the language planners in drafting action plans, but these action plans likewise presume rationality on the part of the political decision-makers and would-be beneficiaries (parents and their children) of these rational policies. Unfortunately, in a world not quite fully rational, rational means to realize plans do not always obtain and results are often mixed, which they are in the Philippines!”
This summer break is a good time for DepEd officials to think seriously about acting according to what they know. Since all educational research says that students learn best in their home language and that learning a second language is much easier once the first language is mastered, why does DepEd insist on using English as a medium of instruction?
With English as the medium of instruction, children learn neither English nor the various subject areas. If Filipino were the medium of instruction, children would learn English much more quickly and more effectively.
Since the current Education Secretary refuses to listen to educators, Gonzalez must be turning in his grave or more precisely (since he was cremated, his ashes divided and buried in two places), glowing. (First published in The Philippine Star, 12 April 2007)