Reflections on Multilingual Environments

Magangdang Araw, Mayad ng Adlaw, y Mayon Adlawan. Three ways to greet someone in the Philippines yet three different languages. The Philippines is an archipelago comprised of 7000 islands and just as many languages. In reality, this nation has more than 100 languages. The official language of the Philippines is English and Tagalog with more than a dozen recognized regional languages. As a volunteer, we were told how complex the language learning in this country is. The Peace Corps Philippines have tried many models of teaching language competency that would adequately prepare volunteers for their service in the country. While preparing for my study abroad to Senegal, I found the readings that referenced models of education, critical analysis of English, and policy issues around language. All of these references brought back these memories. In this reflection of multilingual environments, I will discuss my experience with multiple languages in the Philippines as an American volunteer.

The method my cohort used for learning language was Tagalog first then our local language. The first two months of training was dedicated to the entire cohort learning Tagalog and once we learned our permanent site placements we would separate by local language and have a one week language intensive before traveling to our site assignments. This proved problematic for a few reasons. There was more priority given to the official language despite whatever the dominate language is in the specific region a volunteer was placed. For example I learned Tagalog and only spoke it when traveling to Manila, the nations capital. However, I spoke Kinaray-a, a language local to the province of Antique but a variation of the Bisayan language specific to the Visayan region. I use the term variation to distinguish a meaning similar to Benson and Kosonen (2013) which involves “mutual intelligibility” (p.7). They describe it as speakers of different varieties of one language being able to communicate and understand one another with ease. This was frequent with employees of the Department of Social Welfare of Development. These workers would speak Hiligaynon to the beneficiaries in which they serve and beneficiaries would respond in Kinaray-a and there was no difficulty in understanding the others dialect since they both derive from the Bisayas.

The term dialect was something that also caught my attention while reading Language Issues in Comparative Education (Benson and Kosonen, 2013). The term seems to be disregarded in this context. A loose definition was provided, however, since it is not applied universally it seems to be discredited. This allows me to reflect on a course from the fall semester that questioned the authenticity of knowledge based on origin. The reading by Sawadogo (1995) argues that  western forms of thought are dominant over everyone else and because other knowledge is not universal, published, or even understood then it is discredited. I had the same thought about the word dialect. I am curious to see what research has been done on the term and what cultures use the term dialect. Many people would express they were so surprised that I speak their dialect. It wasn’t until I started explore issues of language that this was perceived as post-colonial jargon. Perhaps this is outside the scope of the curriculum for this field course but something to note nonetheless as it caught my attention.

In the Philippines, I was assigned to the children, youth, and family sector. I was not an education volunteer so I did not work directly in the school but I did collaborate frequently with the high school and university to support the youth for which I provided services. Ouane and Glanz (2011) cites conditions for effective language training to surround the emphasis of the first language as medium of instruction. This is where the Philippines falls short. The Department of Education just recently made mother-tongue classes required in school but it is not the medium of instruction and it is not in every grade level. Mother tongue offering may be limited because, I noticed limited resources for learning the local language. Even as volunteers, learning Kinaray-a was challenging because materials provided were different than what we learned from our community. There were about seven volunteers in our local language group and there were variations of the Kinarya-a from the northern part of the province to the southern part. When we exchanged notes. There were many differences. The same applies to Tagalog, they have many resources for learning the language but there seems to be a greater confidence and usage of the language with the presence of a television or radio where they are exposed to the language outside of the school. However, the Philippines does meet the condition that a second language takes up to eight years to learn before being used as a medium of instruction. Filipino start learning English from grade one well into college and the amount of English used for instruction increases with time.

Since, researching languages in Senegal and noticing French as a dominate language I have been able to draw parallels with English. According to Benson and Kosonen (2013), these dominate languages are determined by prestige, popularity, and persuasion from the government. English seems to be held to a higher standard. I have witnessed students make fun of other students whose English was not as developed, and teachers are strict with students on being grammatically correct when they speak, which in turn, discourages the students from speaking. Ngugi (1993) explains English in Scandinavia used as a means to an end, mostly for commercial use and trade, not to carry national culture or oppress another group. Historically, we have seen English in the Philippines used to oppress Filipinos and now its culture is deeply embedded in the language. What I saw frequently, was English used to demonstrate status. Either jokingly or intentionally, some Filipinos spoke English to show off that they were better than others. This was a micro aggressive technique used to marginalize those that did not speak English as fluently or were not as confident.

This experience in the Philippines was a crash course on the complexities of multilingual environments before I was able to identify those challenges. In preparing for this study of languages in Senegal, I better understand terminology to distinguish the hierarchy of languages, I understand the educational context of language in Senegal provided by Diallo (2011). Language and culture is being oppressed in nations around the world and education plays an crucial role in preserving the language and culture which has prompted me to end with this beautiful quote. “A world of many languages should be like a field of flowers of different colours. There is no flower which becomes more of a flower on account of its colour or its shape. All such flowers express their common `floralness’ in their diverse colours and shapes” (Ngugi, 1993, p.39).

– Javonni McGlaurin

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