English, et tu?

Last night, there was a debate on ANC about repealing Gloria Arroyo's presidential decree ordering the return of English as the medium of instruction in the academe. This topic has been subject to countless discussions since time immemorial. Personally, I don't see any contest. A waste of time and energy, if you ask me. Not to mention a waste of saliva, airtime, and newspaper space, too.

I say so because for one, I don't see any alternative to English. If not English, what then? Filipino/Tagalog? Can anyone explain to me the difference between a suspension and a colloid in Filipino? What is the Filipino term for currency depreciation? Having to translate all terms from various academic disciplines to Filipino is a colossal task, involving lots of time and effort amongst the country's linguists. In the very unlikely case that this could be done, DepEd would have to print and distribute gazillions of new books, creating a new bane in the already hole-filled pockets of the government. In any case, will the country's established institutions in, e.g. medicine or physics be receptive with a new Filipinized standard? It would take the Pollyanna in every Filipino to believe that any of these could be done.

Anyhow, we've already milked enough from our self-promoted English "proficiency". Aren't our undergraduates and new graduates reaping the benefits of the proliferation of call centers in the country? Ten years ago, the only options for people fresh out of college would be (1) to work overseas as factory workers and domestic helpers, (2) work overseas as nurses or teachers, or (3) work locally and scramble with the rest of the population for a few measly job openings and get paid lousy minimum wage. 

Nowadays, anyone with two years of tertiary education and good English skills can go to any building in Makati, pass resumes to the 20 call centers on that building, and get a job offer by the end of the day. No need to go abroad and get abused or raped to earn big bucks! An average call center agent earns around 16,000 pesos, more than twice the salary of an average office worker. These call centers have given rise to a breed of yuppies who can afford their Starbucks coffee and pay rent without having to go through nursing school. And to think that the American bosses of these firms are predicting unprecedented growth! Too bad they're also getting weary of the decreasing quality of English among Filipino graduates. 

And people are talking about re-replacing English as medium of instruction again. The pros and cons of the call center industry are different topics altogether, but the good some of its employees have gained, thanks to their proficiency in English, cannot be denied. Another generation of poor English speakers may end this industry and obviously, one less career option for the country's graduates, who are already grappling for jobs, even with call centers around.

The country has had a long history of English usage. By 1901, public education was institutionalized, with English serving as the medium of instruction. The 1935 Constitution added English as an official language alongside Spanish. Even as Tagalog was chosen as the national language by the National Language Institute in 1937. The present constitution, ratified in 1987, stated that Filipino and English are both the official languages of the country. 

Filipino is an official language of education, but less important than English. It is the major language of the broadcast media and cinema, but less important than English as a language of publication (except in some domains, like comic books, which are meant to speak directly to the Filipino psyche) and less important for academic-scientific-technology discourse. English and Filipino compete in the domains of business and government. Filipino is used as a lingua franca in all regions of the Philippines as well as overseas Filipino communities, and is the dominant language of the armed forces (except perhaps for the small part of the commissioned officer corps from wealthy or upper middle class families) and of a large part of the civil service, most of whom are non-Tagalogs.

I am not on English's side because I'm elitist or pro-American. English is a practical language that has been used in the country for quite some time now, and we have had a lot to gain because of this. English "proficiency" has been an advantage for us Filipinos and it would be a huge loss if we do not protect this advantage. I'm not even going into the regionalism argument, wherein most people from the provinces would rather speak in English than Filipino. As it is, Filipino is being spoken everywhere in the country, so why lessen the avenues where English is being practiced? If students don't hone their English skills in school, I'm afraid there wouldn't be anywhere else they could master the skill, as most of them prefer using their regional dialects at home or with their friends.

Could we move on to other (more significant) matters?

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