So where has this drive to institutionalise the national language gotten us so far? A fatter Filipino dictionary? Granted, a national language is a good thing (we just have to figure out why in practical terms) and there has been a significant increase in the number of Filipino-language publications and television shows. (Ok, let’s just use the word Tagalog for purposes of conciseness from here on that’s what Filipino essentially is, isn’t it)
But let’s analyse the quality of the information that reaches the majority of the people. Ask the average Filipino to name any Tagalog publication. What comes up? Abante. A Tagalog TV show? Palibhasa Lalaki (or whatever; they’re all the same). Tagalog books? You’ll get any one or two of hundreds of titles of those cheesy romance novelettes sold at every corner store. Tagalog material of an academic or literary quality above cheese and sleaze languishes in the dusty Filipinana sections of libraries and the low-customer-traffic areas of bookstores and on graveyard or early morning television timeslots.
The road taken by our education officials is “increasing Filipino youth’s exposure to and awareness of the national language”, i.e., force-feeding. Thus the thesis of this blurb, at least 50% of communication skills training classroom time spent on mastering Tagalog. Endless hours memorising talasalitaan words that average four syllables each to express concepts that one-syllable English words completely cover. There was also a massive and half-witted language re-engineering project to come up with Tagalog words like ‘salumpwit’ for ‘chair’ even if the equivalent ‘silya’ was already in wide use.
And for what? High-quality material Filipinos could use to advance commercially, technologically, socially, and politically are all written in English. So now we have a workforce with language skills at half the level of what they could have been (i.e. mediocre in both English and Tagalog). It explains why Philippine industry is staffed by workers who are timid during meetings and conferences and do not develop and maintain nor follow standard operating procedures manuals. Information is not transferred and passed on efficiently resulting in slow learning process that characterises the people as a whole.
Unlike our more prosperous neighbours, our islands are home to a huge population that our economy is unable to employ and feed. Still, we have no choice but to think of our vast pool of labour as a resource if we are to move forward. That is the road that India has unwittingly taken as large numbers of Indian engineers now churn out and export high-quality software and IT services to the world. After having all but squandered our land’s natural resources and inflated our salaries to uncompetitive levels (given our dismal productivity levels), we now have only our 80 million-strong people to show for. And information technology and knowledge work is their brightest hope.
But let’s face it. Tagalog is not a technical language. A search for the Tagalog translation of a simple word like ‘keyboard’ would leave most Filipinos scratching their heads. At best, Tagalog translations of technical words are hopelessly cumbersome. For example, the best translation of the word ‘torque’ would be ‘pampihitampuwersa’. At six syllables against one, isn’t the choice clear?
So if we think of education as an investment, then we should seriously consider the returns on this investment. Measured in terms of urgency and, yes, the potential to fill our pockets with dollars and pesos, the rationale behind the time we continue to invest in Tagalog training which (we presume) is to develop national identity and preserve our cultural heritage doesn’t quite stack up to the need to enhance the employability of our workers at the moment. In the first place, 50 years worth of efforts to develop a national identity hasn’t added up to much. Filipinos still leave in droves and don’t come back. And once out of the country, we fail to develop even the remotest semblance of true ethnic solidarity in our respective adopted countries. So what’s the point?
Make no mistake. Our bilingualism is definitely an advantage. We simply need to re-evaluate or re-define Tagalog’s place in our educational system so that it performs as a true asset.
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