Ano Raw? (Say What?) Bilingualism in the Classroom

For my online class this past two weeks, we studied about teaching skills. These included instructional planning skills, classroom management skills, interpersonal skills, and working with diverse learners.  As I read through the resources, I felt most drawn to the topic on working with diverse learners.  For one, my brother became part of a culturally diverse classroom when he migrated with my parents to the US ten years ago.  The struggles described in The Act of Teaching (Cruickshank, Metcalf, & Jenkins, 2009) were very real for they echoed my brother’s experiences as he told us.

One more thing that drew me to the resource was a chapter section on bilingualism and how it affects the cognitive processes of students.

A few years ago, I had worked for about two months as a substitute teacher for Filipino. It was in an all-girls school – the same school where I teach now.  Back then, I had already noticed how many of the students in my Filipino class had difficulty conjugating verbs.  We studied about Filipino short stories for which “Ang Kalupi” stood out: my students did not even understand the synonym “pitaka” until I had to translate the title in English (“wallet” or “small purse”).   Sending messages via text was still quite a new phenomenon then but I had already begun to notice that students also had spelling difficulties in English, often truncating words or spelling words in text speech.

Fast forward to the present and I notice that aside from increasing spelling errors and a limited Filipino vocabulary, it seems that my students are becoming strangers to their own language – mga banyaga sa sariling wika. They are more comfortable conversing in English with their friends,some even with impeccable accent.  On the other hand, they talk less in class during Linggo ng Wika when they are expected to talk in Filipino.  They hardly understand me when I start conversing with them in Tagalog, some with open surprise that I could actually speak in straight Tagalog.  They would get confused at the use of even the simplest Filipino words like labis (excess), pataan (allowance), or makipot (narrow).

This week, I found out what term to call this phenomenon: language loss.  According to Cruickshank, Metcalf, and Jenkins (2009), it is a kind of unbalanced bilingualism where children become better at writing and speaking a second language (in this case, English) and eventually become unable to use their first language – aptly called the heritage language (in this case, Filipino).

Cruikshank et al also said that language loss can limit students’ ability to learn English as well or as quickly as they otherwise can do. What is interesting to note here is that the phenomenon on language loss was observed in students from immigrant families living in the United States.  I actually felt sorry for my students who are demonstrating language loss while living here in their own country!  What is worse is that when I listen to them talk more comfortably in a language not their own, I somehow get the feeling that some of them do not even have the slightest idea what their words mean.  Many of them seem to parrot lines heard in a movie or song, or use expressions they learn from TV shows or movies.  Most of them compose English essays peppered with dead words.

As a Filipino, I am concerned with the deteriorating status of the Filipino language in today’s generation.  Part of our identity as a people is our language. As a teacher, I am concerned at how limited their vocabulary is. The more limited their vocabulary becomes, the harder it is for them to understand simple instructions – be it in Filipino OR English!

It is for this reason that I commend the Department of Education’s (DepEd) decision to use a Mother Tongue-based framework in teaching basic education which is also in line with the department’s aim of developing a “culture-sensitive” curriculum (Sec 5, RA 10533).

The idea of using mother tongue as medium of instruction is for basic education to be delivered to learners through their first language, that is, a language they understand. There are 12 mother languages (Official Gazette, n.d.) that have been identified based on the number of speakers of the approximately 150 dialects spoken in the country (Headland, 2014).  I am only hoping that as we proceed to implement these new standards of the K-12 curriculum, we will be able to truly enrich and equip our students.  As Hansen, Umeda, & Kinney (as mentioned in Cruickshank et al, 2009) found out, “having a large vocabulary in a first language has been shown to save time in learning vocabulary in a second language.”

It is time we help our students brush up on their mother tongue. It is time to go back to our roots.



Cruickshank, D. R., Metcalf, K. K., & Jenkins, D. B. (2009). Teaching diverse students (Chapter 3, pp 64 – 79). In The act of teaching. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. Available from

Dead Words (n.d.). Available form

Headland, T (2014). Thirty Endangered Languages in the Philippines.  Dallas, Texas:  Summer Institute of Linguistics.  Available from

Official Gazette (2013). Republic Act No. 10533,

Official Gazette. The K to 12 Basic Education Program,


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