The ‘first language’ bridge to Filipino and English
By Greg and Diane Dekker
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: February 02, 2008
Steve Walter, a multilingual education consultant for SIL International, observed that worldwide, even in countries considered “developed,” any proposal for an educational program in which children begin their education with their “first language” -- or mother tongue -- as the medium of instruction is greeted with public concern. Much of this concern focuses on the supposition that such an approach will surely compromise a child’s learning of the language of higher education and career opportunity.
The mandated languages of instruction in the Philippines -- English and Filipino -- are foreign to the majority of Filipino students. This predetermines a lack of understanding of the lessons.
On the other hand, using the language the child understands not only affirms the value of the child and his cultural heritage but also enables the child to immediately master the lessons while facilitating the acquisition of Filipino and English. Additionally, when the mother tongue is used in the classroom, the critical thinking skills that are developed transfer to other languages when those languages become functional.
The Lubuagan Kalinga First Language Component (FLC) multilingual education (MLE) program has been featured as a case study in a newly released UNESCO DVD, which highlights multilingual education programs that prepare students from minority language communities to successfully retain their home language and culture while achieving well in national education programs.
Initiated in 1998, the Lubuagan MLE program is currently used in nine primary classrooms. In early 2007, Lubuagan District Grade 3 students ranked No. 1 in the Kalinga Division in the 2006 NAT Grade 3 Reading Test, scoring in the English and Filipino reading tests 15-25 percent higher than all other Kalinga Division districts.
In a memo to Education Secretary Jesli Lapus, Kalinga Schools Division Superintendent Emilia P. Bayubay (now retired) strongly attributed the Lubuagan scores to the effective implementation of the multilingual education program, saying that Lubuagan’s top ranking “shows the effectiveness of the program and the genuine commitment of the teachers concerned.”
Latitudinal research is still being conducted to determine the effectiveness of the MLE program on students not only while they are in the innovative classroom, but also when they return to the regular Filipino/English-only classrooms -- that is, when they go to Grade 4 onward.
With the MLE program now in its third year, test results are showing that children in the MLE classrooms are outperforming other students. The tests -- developed and administered in English at Grade 3 -- sought to measure knowledge and skill in English, Filipino and Math. The content of the tests were drawn from curriculum common to all schools and classes.
Initial results show that children taught in their first language are learning more from their educational experience than those who are primarily being taught in English and Filipino.
The early results in a long-term study, however, matter less than the later results due to several factors, including the fact that long-term results show better how a student will benefit over time from the educational experience.
Walter adds that in the Philippines, [better higher education and career opportunities are] typically expressed in terms of learning English. “There is, after all, a lot of intuitive logic to the assumption that the more a child is exposed to English in school, the better he or she will learn English. This may be another form of the conventional wisdom that if some of something is good, more of that something has to be better.”
Educators and researchers are continuing to compile evidence that this popular wisdom is not valid in the case of language development in basic education. Large-scale research carried out both in the United States and in Canada during the last 30 years has provided compelling evidence that the critical variable in second language development in children is not the amount of exposure, but the timing and the manner of exposure [to the language of instruction].
For example, in 1997, researchers Thomas and Collier tracked 42,000 children in the United States who entered school not speaking English. These children had been placed into one of several programs which varied extensively in how much children were exposed to English language instruction and when they were exposed.
In one of these programs, non-English speaking children were put directly in English-medium classrooms thereby receiving all of their education in English. In other programs, children received three years of initial instruction via their first language (with preparatory English language instruction) before moving on to an English-medium classroom.
In the most extreme (and innovative) type of program, children received up to six years of instruction in their first language while receiving, at the same time, six years of preparatory instruction in English before being inserted into English-only classrooms for middle schooling.
To the surprise and consternation of many educators (and parents), the children who received all of their education in English learned the least amount of English and scored the most poorly in nationally normed and standardized tests of academic achievement -- finishing, as a group, at the bottom 10 percent.
(Conclusion next week)
The ‘first language’ bridge to Filipino and English
By Greg and Diane Dekker
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:23:00 02/09/2008
Large-scale research carried out both in the United States and in Canada in the past 30 years has provided compelling evidence that the critical variable in second language development in children is not the amount of exposure, but the timing and the manner of exposure [to the language of instruction].
For example, in 1997, researchers Thomas and Collier tracked 42,000 children in the United States, who entered school. These children had been placed under one of several programs that varied extensively in how much children were exposed to English language instruction and when they were exposed.
In one of these programs, non-English speaking children were placed directly into English-medium classrooms thereby receiving all of their education in English. In other programs, children received three years of initial instruction via their first language (with preparatory English language instruction) before moving on to an English-medium classroom.
In the most extreme (and innovative) type of program, children received up to six years of instruction in their first language while receiving, at the same time, six years of preparatory instruction in English before they were inserted into English-only classrooms for middle school.
To the surprise and consternation of many educators (and parents), the children who received all of their education in English learned the least amount of English and scored the most poorly on nationally normed and standardized tests of academic achievement, finishing, as a group, at the bottom 10 percent.
They were also the most likely to drop out of school before finishing. Conversely, children participating in one of the six-year programs actually completed their secondary education scoring well above the national norm for their native English-speaking peers.
Because of the sharp contrast between “popular belief” and the findings or predictions of educational researchers, we tested Grade 3 children participating in the Lubuagan First Language Experiment to measure their English language development.
Three components of English language learning were tested -- English listening, English grammar, and English reading.
In the Lubuagan experiment, there are three schools in each program with approximately 120 children per program.
The test results for English language development show a small but consistent advantage for those children in the First Language Component (FLC) program (in which most initial instruction in reading is in the mother tongue). In technical terms, none of the differences is statistically significant.
The test results clearly run contrary to the fear and concern of many parents (and educators) that children beginning in the first language are going to suffer educationally as a result. Not only are these children learning to read in their own language, they are actually learning more English than their peers who are receiving all of their instruction in English.
A Math test was also administered to both students receiving instruction in their first language, as well as those receiving instruction primarily in English and Filipino (i.e., the Control Group).
Steve Walter notes that Math is of theoretical interest to researchers on the Language of Instruction question. Thomas and Collier have suggested that one of the fundamental virtues of first language instruction lies precisely in its superiority as a vehicle for teaching and learning more complex and subtle concepts. Math is one such example. The logic is simple. Grappling with subtle, nuanced, or complex material requires well-developed language skills for communicating shades of meaning as well as new concepts and models that often have to be introduced by means of analogy.
Unlike the English test above, the results of the Math test are statistically significant. Walter notes, “The content of the Math test was taken directly from the Grade 3 curriculum. No effort was made to test the reasoning skills about Math concepts beyond the knowledge and skills taught in the national curriculum. The Math test was not subdivided by domain and so it is presented as a single score. The mean score for the control group was 8.7 (SD = 3.67) while that of the control children was 11.0 (SD = 6.98). The difference is statistically significant (T = 2.26; p = .026) though the level of significance is relatively modest.
This test result for Math coincides nicely with the predictions of research on mother tongue education. Children cope better with the introduction of a cognitively complex material when it is presented in their first language. Therefore, they are likely to do better on a test of Math skills, as Math gets more and more cognitively demanding as a child progresses in school.
SIL researchers will continue with the Lubuagan study for seven more years to show the long-term advantage of students educated in their mother tongue first. SIL invites educators and interested parties to interact with them on these education questions as we all seek together to extend education opportunities among ethnolinguistically diverse societies.
By Michael Tan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:06:00 02/20/2008
MANILA, Philippines -- I learned, only two weeks ago, that there’s an International Mother Language Day (IMLD), celebrated on Feb. 21. Initiated by UNESCO in 2000, IMLD commemorates an event back in 1952. At that time people were still reeling from the partition of India and Pakistan. The main language in Pakistan was Urdu but there were also many people, in what was then East Pakistan and now Bangladesh, who spoke Bangla. There was a demonstration on Feb. 21, 1952, in support of the right to speak and use Bangla. The police fired on the crowd and three people were killed, martyrs for a mother language.
A mother language is different from a national language. In the Philippines, we have a national language called Filipino, which is supposed to draw from different languages in the country but which is still largely Tagalog-based. Tagalog is the mother language of many Filipinos, mainly those living in Central and Southern Luzon. But for many other Filipinos, the mother language is Cebuano (probably outnumbering Tagalogs), Ilokano, Ilonggo and more than a hundred others. Even the Tsinoy (Chinese-Filipino) can say that Filipino is our national language, but Minnan (or Hokkien) is their mother tongue.
The idea of a mother language is purely cultural, a way of marking our identity. A mother language can be powerful, which is why governments sometimes try to suppress, even eradicate, the use of minority languages. Often, this is done because of the mistaken notion that national identity depends on having only one language throughout the country.
Today, we know that multilingualism can contribute to nation-building. When people are allowed to nurture their mother language, at home and in schools, they learn to appreciate not just their own local culture but also that of the nation.
Compare a national TV or radio broadcast, in English or Tagalog-based Filipino, with a regional or provincial station where the discussions are in the local language and you’ll find the latter is much more animated, the analysis more in-depth. There’s much more interaction, with more nuances captured, and national issues become more real to the local population.
During the last two weeks, the Inquirer has published several articles on another aspect of the use of mother language, this time for education. There was the two-part article by Diane and Greg Dekker of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, and another article by UP linguistics professor Ricardo Nolasco, all pushing for the use of the local language (sometimes called L1, or first language) in schools, citing research to support the contention that classroom instruction in an L1 makes it easier to learn other languages (in the Philippine context, Filipino and English) as well as science and mathematics.
All this is not new. Even in the past, without conducting elaborate experimental research, educators noted how the use of a local or mother language could facilitate learning. Let me share an account from “The Lanao System of Teaching Illiterates,” written by Frank Laubach and which appeared in “Tales of the American Teachers in the Philippines,” edited by Geronima Pecson and Maria Racelis.
The Americans were recruiting teachers to handle public schools in Lanao but found only a small percentage of the population was literate. Those who could read and write were using Arabic and the Americans realized that the local language, Maranaw, was only spoken, without any written system. So they devised a writing system for Maranaw and began to transcribe local songs, prose and poetry. There was certainly no lack of local oral traditions waiting to be transformed into print. Laubach noted that there were “at least 35 long epic poems that would range from 20 to a hundred printed pages in length,” “many prose stories resembling those of the Arabian nights,” “kisas,” or stories from ancient prophets, and thousands of lyric poems “about the harvest, the rain, the clouds, the sunset, love, despair ... everything in their lives.”
Using these printed texts of Maranaw folk literature facilitated the literacy campaign, because people were intrigued by the idea of being able to read
their own literature. In the first four months of 1931, when the Americans first launched their program, they were able to teach 3,000 new individuals each month to read and write. Eventually, the Americans gained as well, by translating English materials on “health, government, history, geography, business, morals and religion” as well as Philippine laws into Maranaw.
We don’t seem to have learned from that experience in Lanao. English remains the preferred medium of instruction, using English textbooks, and we like to imagine a time when, supposedly, Filipinos spoke proper English. We forget fluent English was a function of class, of people who could use English both in schools and at home, and with their social circles. For the majority of Filipinos, English and, later, Filipino was, and still is, distant.
If Laubach returned to Lanao today, he’d be shocked to find that literacy levels have plummeted again, even as the schools struggle with new requirements to promote English. Everywhere in the country, our textbooks, vital public documents and, generally, books on science are often produced only in English. Many Filipinos are deprived of access to important information needed to participate in civil life.
Reading Laubach’s account about the Maranaw also reminded me that our preference for English and now, a skewing toward Tagalog-based Filipino, has contributed to the stunting of regional languages and cultures. Some years back, in one of my graduate classes, a student noted how thrilled he was when he first saw Kapampangan printed literature. Suddenly, the folk tales, the riddles, proverbs that he heard as a child became more real, and more certain of being preserved for future generations.
He is lucky that there is printed Kapampangan literature. For many of our other languages, we only have oral traditions, many of which are in danger of dying out because no one is passing them on.
At the University of the Philippines, the Department of Filipino sees the importance of exposing students to all these languages, and their literature, offering courses that deal with literature from all over the country. Similarly, the Department of Linguistics is beginning to offer classes in Cebuano.
We need a national language, no doubt, but the current policy is worrisome because it promotes English first, Filipino second -- both at the expense of other mother languages. We should allow Filipinos to nurture their own mother language and share this with other Filipinos or even the world. As we begin to appreciate the rhythms and cadences, the humor and the wisdom, in each of our many languages, we just might be able to overcome our parochialism and regionalism and build a nation strong in its multicultural foundations.
‘Sayang’ – 2/15/08
The Church – 2/13/08
We owe them (2) – 2/07/08
We owe them (1) – 2/06/08
‘Cordi’ – 2/01/08
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