It’s better to learn good English skills from a good English language course than from core courses where English is the MOI

eslOn Mon, Aug 26, 2013 at 7:00 PM, I emailed Firth McEachern:
Dear Firth,

Re your proposed extended use of the mother tongue (MT) as medium of instruction (MOI) beyond third grade, you shouldn’t be surprised that I am all for the late MT-exit which most parents are understandably against on account of their mistaken belief that the earlier their children are taught anything with English as the MOI, the better. These parents, especially those who do not foresee their children going to college or whose children may be forced to drop out of high school for financial reasons are thinking that the English skills of their children will help them qualify for jobs, any job, and it’s difficult to argue against that given that most domestic and global employers require some level of skill in English. And the Philippine educational system is remarkably slow to realize that the solution to this particular issue is to strengthen English language courses with teachers who are adequately trained to handle teaching English language courses.

My personal experience was that I had two excellent teachers in English back in high school and another excellent teacher in English in college. The English skills I learned from these better-than-average teachers in English were certainly adequate to carry me over in learning most other courses — like math or science — no matter what the MOI would have been. What I’m saying is, math and science could have been taught to me in Ilocano or any other language but English and I would still have adequate English language skills on account of the rich experiences I had in learning English through a few excellent teachers in English way back in high school and college. (Now, if you find the emphases/repetitious use of words in the immediately preceding sentences kind of contrary to good English construction, I employed them for a reason.) Bear in mind, however, that nowhere did I give you the impression that I speak or write well in English in the context of Professor Henry Higgins as a consequence of my having excellent teachers in English — but, looking back, I was able to get by.

Joe Padre


Manong Joe,

Good point about your experience. It is certainly possible to graduate with good English skills without having to learn all your content courses through English. Think of the Scandinavians. They are consistently rated among the best non-native English speakers in the world yet their basic education systems are mostly in Scandinavian languages, with English taught as a second language.

Early English and extensive English (many subjects) is no guarantee for better English. A system that imposes so much English means that many more teachers have to be proficient at English, requiring great expense on trainings that rarely make an impact anyway. So you end up with a lot of mediocre English speakers trying to cope in teaching complicated subjects, while students struggle to understand the content and pick up poor speaking habits along the way. Also, when a pupil only encounters English in the English language subject, he is motivated to learn it. He is willing to put on his thinking cap and give it a shot. After all, the content of  a language course should be easy — only the language is unfamiliar; thus the pupil knows that he has a realistic shot in excelling in the subject. He will soon associate positively with the language, which is key to second language acquisition.

But when he encounters the language in all subjects before having properly learned it, he is more likely to tune out. He will associate English with his struggle to understand Science, Math, and other subjects….when it comes time for the English subject, it’s more of the same. English fatigue. Confusion fatigue. And he knows he’ll have many more years of English, in many more subjects—why bother exerting effort if he can tell himself, with naive hope, that eventually he’ll absorb it after so many years? It’s similar to how English-speaking Irish students are forced to learn Irish from the first day of school to the last. Since it is a pervasive subject, they don’t feel motivated to invest effort, and subsequently never master it. Whereas children who are introduced to a second language at a
later stage have already overcome the initial hurdles of schooling, and, having been withheld from the 2nd language for a long period, are eager to start learning it. They are at an age when they metacognitively understand the importance of learning additional languages and WANT to learn them, as opposed to just viewing them as an intractable, unjustified cross to bear from a young age.



The lesson essentially is that, say, you’re thirsty and you’re standing next to a bucket of potable water, you can effectively satisfy your thirst quickly by getting a cupful of the water and drinking it, INSTEAD of looking for some clothings, dipping/soaking them in the bucket, and squeezing and sucking the water out of the wet clothes.

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