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English Speaking

About three weeks ago, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and now Representative of the Third District of Pampanga, filed a bill mandating the use of English as the medium of instruction in our schools. 

This is the fourth such bill filed in the House of Representatives about the subject. House bills 230, 305, and 406 have been languishing in the House all these years without any action. Hopefully with the stature of Representative Arroyo as a former president this bill will get the needed attention. 

As president, Mrs. Arroyo issued an executive order sometime in 2003 about the same subject matter. Not surprisingly, it was challenged in the Supreme Court. It would appear therefore that she still feels very strongly about the importance and necessity of enhancing the ability of Filipinos to be able to communicate in English. Surprisingly, there has been no reaction so far from Filipino language advocates questioning the necessity of the bill as they did with Executive Order No. 210 that Rep. Arroyo issued as president. 

Has the world changed? It used to be that the matter of which language to use in school was a hotly debated issue. The objections will probably come later especially if the bill gains traction in Congress. It could also be that everyone has come to the realization that in order to be able to compete in the global job market, proficiency in English is definitely a decided advantage. 

Ever since the introduction of the bilingual education program in 1974, there is this belief that the quality of English taught in our schools have deteriorated especially in public schools. In recent years, however, necessity has forced the nation to go back to English because of our burgeoning outsourcing industry. This is perhaps the reason why the number of Filipinos speaking English have started to go up.  Although only over 1.2 billion people out of the estimated 2017 world population of 7.5 billion are considered English speakers, English is the predominant medium of communication in the business world. 

So, if we Filipinos want to be in the thick of things, we have to upgrade our proficiency in English. If this bill filed by Rep. Arroyo becomes a law, it will go a long in improving the quality of English among our people. It will not happen right away of course but at least the process can start at the earliest possible time. There will be those who will again object vigorously about this but hopefully, the debate will be objective, civil and reasonable. A look at the current state of English as a spoken language does not reveal up to date and credible data. For instance, I stumbled into one saying that 92 percent of people can communicate in English in this country which seems a bit high. There is also a 2010 data which is the latest I found saying that between 70 percent to 80 percent can communicate in English— which is a little more believable. 

There are also some publications saying that the Philippines is the third or fifth English-speaking country in the world. India has about 125 million English speakers which is more than our entire population but as a percentage of population, we certainly have more. In India, the English speakers are mostly found in their urban centers but outside of these urban centers, very few are able to speak English. About 1 in 10 people in India speak English. In the Philippines, seven in 10 do. And even if one goes out of the cities to some remote areas, one can find people able to communicate in English. Not in the Queen’s English perhaps but enough to be understood. This is after all what is needed in communications. That the person at the receiving end can understand the subject to be communicated. The so-called Taglish which is a mixture of English and Filipino has become prevalent in recent years. This is perhaps because if we teach in Filipino and English in our schools at the same time, the natural consequence is that we will come out with a medium that mixes the two. We even see this on TV and hear radio announcers speak Taglish and in a way, this has become an accepted norm and is not necessarily bad. 

Language after all must be dynamic and as long as people are comfortable with it, there should be nothing wrong with the practice. There are of course many language purists out there who are scornful of such a practice but clearly, these people are being drowned by the big number of people speaking Taglish and this practice will certainly continue into the future.

Although this may be the case, the bill of Rep. Arroyo wants to upgrade the quality of English among Filipinos so that in addition to being able to speak proper English, they will also be able to think English. Understanding, reading, speaking, and thinking in English are after all, best learned in school. We all know of the work ethic of Filipinos who are working abroad. Among the many countries that export their citizens to work overseas, the Filipinos are the most preferred. This is not only because of our industriousness but also because of our ability to communicate in English. Even with the current quality of English that we speak, we are already ahead of the curve compared to many countries but we have to upgrade if we want to target higher paying jobs in the international job market.

Yes, there are other ways to enhance English. A new law, however, will ensure that the benefits trickle down to everyone who goes to school. 

Topics: Florencio Fianza , English Speaking , Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo , House of Representatives , House bills 230 , 305 , 406
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