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.

 

References:

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 http://www.oercommons.org/courses/educational-psychology/view

Dead Words (n.d.). Available form http://ptfaculty.gordonstate.edu/msilverman/Dead%20Words%20Reference%20Sheet.pdf

Headland, T (2014). Thirty Endangered Languages in the Philippines.  Dallas, Texas:  Summer Institute of Linguistics.  Available from http://www.researchgate.net/publication/248078736_Thirty_endangered_languages_in_the_Philippines

Official Gazette (2013). Republic Act No. 10533, http://www.gov.ph/2013/05/15/republic-act-no-10533/

Official Gazette. The K to 12 Basic Education Program, http://www.gov.ph/k-12/

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On Piaget and Vygotsky

As a student, I was more familiar with Jean Piaget than Lev Vygotsky. I had subjects in Psych 101 and in Psychiatric Nursing that referenced Piaget’s work. It was only when I took EDS 103 that I was introduced to Vygotsky.

The stages identified by Piaget made sense to me especially when I was studying Mother and Child Nursing because his stages showed how development progresses in a child as s/he ages. It helped reinforce concepts I had already known or previously learned and observed. This, in Piagetian principles, is me assimilating and accommodating information to achieve equilibrium.

Vygotsky, on the other hand, took note of how culture and language influences knowledge acquisition. I agree with the statement that our language limits us to make sense of our world. We cannot experience things that we have no words for; nor can we understand them.

Case in point, the Eskimos, whose environment is dominated my snow year-round, have seven words for snowflakes. They had a word for newly falling snow, day-old snow, and the likes. For someone who lives in a tropical country (whose reality does not include snow), all those seven words will only mean one thing: ice. The best way to understand it is to understand the context in which the words were created or, if possible, experience it firsthand.

In the classroom, it is often difficult to teach abstract concepts to students. I remember a discussion on the scientific process I had with a previous class. Students, when asked to define what each step meant, usually gave textbook-definitions. When asked to define them in their own words, the same students were usually at a loss. It was also a challenge for most students to think of everyday applications of the scientific process until I gave them simple scenarios like picking out a dress to wear for a party.

I gave other simple yet everyday scenarios and had the students identify which process they use in resolving each situation. Once they had the hang of it, I then asked them to pair up and think of ways they apply the scientific method in their daily life. When they were able to see that the scientific method is not only applicable to science per se, they were able to define each process individually.

There are many other theories that aim to explain how learning occurs. I admit, I get confused when I try to analyze which theory is at work during each classroom activity. I think, though, that understanding the basic tenets of each can help me design my activities based on what will work best for my students.