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On Multilingual Education
On Multilingual Education

– Paper submitted to and presented at the Philippine Normal University’s College of Language, Linguistics and Literature on July 3, 2010


Head of Save the Children UK, Katy Webley said, “education is power and language is the key to accessing that power.” This statement is parallel to what Ricardo Nolasco (2008) presented in “The Prospects of Multilingual Education (MLE) and Literacy in the Philippines.” He stated that through MLE, Filipino learners can develop proficiency, not just in content-area subjects, but also in 2nd language learning. Providing instruction using the national language or the learner’s own dialect can provide meaningful and comprehensible learning experiences.Linguists and other business organizations have conducted studies and concluded claims of its effect to early learners’ comprehension and self-esteem. However, academic institutions, lawmakers and even parents are taking sometime to shift from a system where a second language is used as the medium of instruction (MOI).


Studies on MLE support Nolasco’s arguments, some of which are even cited in “Prospects.” Common findings are (1) that children need at least 12 years to learn the first language (Tucker, 1994), (2) that premature use of the second language can lead to low achievement in literacy, mathematics and science (Alidou, 2006), and (3) that this form of linguistic engagement motivates students and will make them more likely to succeed academically and is better to learn additional languages (Webley, 2006).


Further, MLE can promote higher self-esteem and a sense of nationalism among learners. Through classroom interactions and activities done in the native language, learners can receive comprehensible instruction and provide meaningful and appropriate feedback through a medium they are most comfortable with. In addition, by using the mother-tongue, students become aware of the significance of their language and culture, as the community demonstrates its worth through high-status activities such as schooling (Benson, 2005).


It is a sad note, however, that in the past years, our lawmakers have denied the conclusive arguments of these studies. Representative Del Mar’s claim that English proficiency as being the key to better opportunities here and abroad, does not agree to what I believe as an educator. Proficiency in the second language is not, and will not be, sufficient to make a worker globally competitive. Other technical knowledge and skills, work-related behaviors and values are also extremely important qualities of global-competitiveness (Bernardo, 2009).


Based on my observations, it is also alarming to note that schools and Filipino parents are choosing education through a dominant, if not a commercial language. Parents and teachers regard their children and students who can effectively express themselves in English, rather than in their own native language. Though it is undeniable that in our present sociological status, where a post-colonial language is deemed superior, and a large chunk of media and jobs gear towards the use of such language, young and old fluent second language speakers are tagged as competitive. However, this mindset eventually pushes our schools to promote the second language as their primary MOI, thus ignoring the importance of MLE to promote a more proactive approach to learning, language development and self-esteem among the minorities.


Cheris Kramarae’s Muted-Group Theory, though gender-based, can still occur in a classroom where a second language is used as a MOI. When students choose not to participate despite their wide range of schema on the subject-matter as brought about by the MOI, they hinder successful interaction and communication in a learning environment.


 Moreover, teaching students in a language they do not understand is a clear violation of Article 30 of United Nation’s Rights of a Child to education in a language they use with their families and communities. Apart from denying the child the right to comprehensible education, this, according to Skuntnabb-Kangas (2006), will further lead to what she calls as Linguistic Genocide. According to her, in other parts of the country, and in the world, most indigenous dialects are spoken. With the claim that most indigenous languages cannot adapt to a post-modern technological world, learning institutions deny the effectiveness of MLE in sustaining and nourishing the learner’s own language/dialect. This post-colonial mindset among our parents and educational institutions are unconsciously “killing” their own dialects and native languages (Skuntnabb-Kangas, 2006). Unless these languages are strengthened through other means of linguistic preservation like education, they will disappear.


 As someone from the BPO industry, it is alarming to note that recruitment teams generally hire only 2 out of 20 applicants a day, due to poor written and/or spoken English skills. Since 2005, recruiting enough staff to fill the seats for new and existing businesses has been an ongoing problem for HR departments in Manila call centers (Lockwood, 2009). From 2006 to 2009, recruitment rates in Manila call centers dropped from 1.5 to 3.73%, with lack of English language competence being cited as the main reason for staff shortages (Greenleaf and Ferrer, 2006; Lockwood, 2009). The BPO Training unit of the Business Process Outsourcing of the Philippines (BPAP) has identified the 1987 Bilingual Policy as the plaintiff for the poor English proficiency of present job seekers and employees (Agawin and Bonaobra, 2008). However, noting that MLE is being regarded as an alternative approach in teaching content-area subjects and a ladderized method in second language learning and acquisition as Webley and Tucker claimed, it is recommended that we explore its efficiency in preparing our future job-seekers for the world of work.


Nolasco’s “Prospects” and other MLE related studies present an argument worthy of our attention. As language, culture, self-identity and self-esteem are inter-connected; we should proactively start promoting multilingual Filipino classrooms that will assist our learners’ comprehension and preserve our native language.






Agawin, O. and Bonaobra, Y. (2008, February 6). Rekindling Old Flames (The University Linkages Program: PeopleSupport’s Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative). PeopleSupport Post, page 8.


Bernardo, A. (2007). Language in Philippine Education:Rethinking old fallacies, exploring new alternatives amidst globalization. In Language and Globalization – The Politics of Language in the Philippines. Edited by Tupas, R. Quezon City: University of the Philippine Press.


Dumagpi, R. and Gonzales, M. (1997). Reding in the Content-areas. Quezon City, University of the Philippines Press.


Dumatog, R. and Dekker, D. (2003). First Language Education in Lubuagan, Northern Philippines. Retrived from


Greenleaf, R. and Ferrer, J. (2006). English language acquisition and assessment in call center environment. Paper presented at Talking Across the World: English Communication Skills for the ITES Industry Inaugural Conference, Asian Institute of Management, Makati, Philippines, February, 25-26, 2006.


Griffin, E. (2005). A First Look at Communication Theory, New York: McGraw-Hill.


Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino. (2000). The Prospects of Multilingual Education and Literacy in the Philippines. Manila:Nolasco, R. M.


Lockwood, J., Forey, G., and Price, H. (2009). Engish in Philippine call centers and BPO operations: Issues, opportunities and research. In Philippine English – Linguistics and Literary Perspectives. Edited by Bautista, M.L., and Bolton, K. Pasig, Anvil Publishing.


Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. (1989). Convention on the Rights of the Child.Retrieved from


Skuntnabb-Kangas, T. (2006). Linguistic Genocide? Children’s right to education in their own language. id21 Insights, 5, page 3.


Thomas, C. (2009) A positively plurilingual world: promoting mother tongue education. Retrieved from


Webley, K. (2006). Mother Tongue First – Children’s right to learn in their own language. id21 Insights, 5, page 1.


Tags : bilingual educationmlemulti lingual educationmultilingualismrandom
Orly S. Agawin

The author Orly S. Agawin

Orly has been writing for The Jellicle Blog since 2008. He is a training and development consultant by day and an art enthusiast by night. He lives in Parañaque with his mom.

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