[V10001] The Language Situation in the Philippines: Facts and Prospects


When administrative support in training was equally given the home and the second language so that teachers covered as much material as pupils were capable of learning in each language, the pupils with a two-year background in the native language did better, in the main, than those who did not have it.

Dr. Jose Aguilar’s published works on language included Education for the Forgotten Masses, Significance of Bilingual Education, Native Approach to Education, Influence of Language in Community Life, and Articles on the Case for the Vernacular. Aguilar wrote detailed reports on the Iloilo Experiments on the Vernacular, the Development of the Santa Barbara Community Schools Project, and a monograph entitled This is Our Community School... On the use of the vernacular — in this case, Hiligaynon — the report said that the students were “more dominant, extrovert, soundly mature and more interested in their schools,” and that the teachers were relieved of the “traditional drudgeries of teaching for they could speak heart to heart with adults and young.”

Two Decades of Research and Experimentation

DURING the bigger part of one generation that straddled mid-twentieth century and moved through the 1960’s, Philippine research in language teaching has produced a body of theory and practice useful to instruction, curriculum designing, and cultural reorientation.  The facts have brought out what was not thoroughly understood before:  designing a combination of languages in schools.  Readiness is preceded by research as generator of ideas and as background for the preparation of newly-conceived materials and for the training of teachers in their use.  These facts have previously been obscured by the inevitable pressure for action, as has marked educational movements from 1900 until almost the middle of the twentieth century.  In the recent past, the persistence of pressure has once again threatened with deterioration an otherwise valid language program.

THE FIRST half of this recent past began after the end of the Second World War and extended to 1957.  This period was marked by the first attempt of the Bureau of Public Schools in 1948 to find some answers to its language problems, in experimentation.  This was the period also that drew attention toward developing greater self-reliance, a goal that focused thinking on a rediscovery of indigenous values as bases for understanding incoming cultural influences.  This purpose prompted the community school to examine whether the first and second languages might interact to help achieve social ends simultaneously for the masses, the middle class, and the elite.  The first controlled six-year experiment pointed to a major home language as educationally usable, with initial competence superior to English, a later language.  It turned out also that instead of an obstruction the first language assisted in learning English.  Taken in conjunction with the community-school idea the experiment further showed that elementary concepts obtained in the second language from classrooms could operate at home, using the first language.

But the general application in 1957, like the sudden introduction of English in 1900 or of Tagalog in 1946, was not accompanied by training and materials, nor by a consideration of the problems involved, which had formed a vital part of the experimental procedure.  There had not been any attempt, for instance, to first determine the viability of the major native languages appropriate for school use.  This lack of preparation led to almost any local decision on what language to use in the lower grades.  It made a workable program of teacher training and materials production, vaguely understood in the first place, practically impossible to carry out.

This first half of the period was bare of the sophistication of the second half in organization, research, training, and materials production, including controlled experiments in which these four factors were integrated.  This second half of the period began in 1957 primarily to promote the teaching of English as a second language, to some extent of Pilipino as a corollary, but leaving the problems of teaching the home languages, including Tagalog, practically untouched.

We must now look to academic research in institutions of higher learning to motivate a continuous study of the linguistics not only of the second but also of the first languages.  Such study should include administrative decisions, based on certain criteria, on what native languages may be used for lower-grade instruction.  It should also include writing in depth of teaching materials in the native languages, which research shows to be capable of wide and workable use, in all subjects of the lower grades to ensure mutual transfer of training between first and second languages.  Findings obtained from three controlled experiments show that for these activities to succeed there must be effective backstopping from an administrative leadership imbued with research orientation.

Major Findings of the Three Language-Teaching Experiments

The experiments in Rizal (1960-1966) and Iloilo (1961-1964), together with the first Iloilo Experiment (1948-1954), resulted in findings that reflect the value of research, training, and materials to a language in combination with other languages.  For instance, in the Iloilo Experiment I, teachers were motivated to teach Hiligaynon as effectively as English, and were supplied with maximum materials that the experimental group using the Hiligaynon medium and the control group using the English medium could each learn in Grades 1 and 2.  Under these conditions, the experimental group was significantly superior in proficiency (language and reading tests) and subject matter (arithmetic and social studies tests) in Hiligaynon than the control group in English.  In the main, from Grade 3 to Grade 6 (English medium for both groups), the experimental group obtained higher proficiency in reading, although not in language, and higher achievement levels in arithmetic and social studies than the control group that learned English beginning in Grade 1.

The Rizal Experiment differed from the Iloilo Experiment I:  teacher training was concentrated in English and ignored in the home language, Tagalog, and Tagalog teaching materials were anchored and made equivalent in quantity to the English materials.  Under these differing conditions, the all-English group (English medium in Grades 1-6) showed at the end of Grade 6 achievement in English proficiency and in social studies, health and science, and arithmetic (regardless of the language used for measuring achievement) significantly greater than the achievement of the groups that used the Tagalog medium in Grades 1-2 or in Grades 1-4.  On the other hand, defaulting in training and placing limitations on materials for Tagalog teaching caused pupils to be about equally literate in Tagalog whether they had it as medium of instruction for 0 year, 2 years, or 4 years.

But, even with lack of research and under the limitations of training and materials, tests at the end of Grade 4 showed native-language teaching to possess some strength.  Tested in English, the all-English group was highest in language, reading, social studies, health and science, and arithmetic computation.  However, for arithmetic problems, the all-Tagalog group (Tagalog medium in grades 1-4) obtained the highest level of achievement.  In the Tagalog version of the tests, the three groups showed about the same proficiency levels (reading test), but the all-Tagalog group obtained the highest achievement levels in social studies, health and science, and arithmetic problems.  However for arithmetic computation, the highest level of achievement was in the all-English group.

The part played by the factors of training and materials is further shown by the Iloilo Experiment II.  As in Rizal, the emphasis was in second-language teaching, in this case of English and Tagalog.  Both teacher training and modern materials were concentrated in these two language areas.  Supervisory attention given to the home language, Hiligaynon, was non-existent.  From gains achieved with the first experiment in 1948-1954, teachers had coasted along with what they already know from old, worn-out teaching materials.  Yet the literacy rate of the experimental classes in Hiligaynon that the Bureau of Public Schools obtained in 1965 was 75.99%, showing a holding strength within the 1961 level of 53.28% for the country’s vernaculars.  It seemed that this achievement in the native language forecast the unexpected levels of achievement, under similarly unfavorable conditions in the Rizal Experiment, of the all-Tagalog group in the Tagalog version of subject-matter tests at the end of Grade 4.

The Iloilo Experiment II showed that with Hiligaynon as the medium of instruction it is best to introduce Tagalog and English simultaneously in Grade 1 rather than delay one or the other by a year.  But this is premised on the application of the theory of second-language teaching, which means adherence to the structure and sound system of a language, the basic use of repetition drill, and building on it the skill of free expression, all of which reject overt and covert translation so common in the old teaching procedures.  There is reason to believe that, especially at an early age, three languages independently learned from each other tend to produce a unified personality that is quick to react in any of them.

From another standpoint in personality development, we should refer to results obtained by the Bureau of Public Schools with the use of the Philippine Personality Inventory in Grades 4, 5, and 6 of the Iloilo Experiment I.  With the Hiligaynon-English combination winning in four of the five desirable aspects of personal and social adjustment in each of these grades, the Director of Public Schools reported in 1955:  “The trend on the whole… was strikingly in favor of the experimental group.”  Personal and social adjustment, we are bound to assume, is closely related to scholastic achievement.

Problems Presented by the Experiments

The three controlled, long-term experiments are helping to focus attention on issues in classroom instruction and curriculum organization.  The Iloilo Experiment I differed from the Rizal Experiment and the Iloilo Experiment II in methods of teaching later languages.  The difference points up the greater effectiveness of methods based on the theory of second-language teaching.  These methods and the theory behind them went through almost a decade of consistent research accompanied by limited, knowledgeable application.  The initial gains achieved for English and Tagalog present a tremendous challenge to spreading similar abilities throughout the educational system.  The problem of generalization brings the more serious one of continuity, for it is evident that continuity hinges on new ideas which, to be valid, must be derived from higher-level study and research.

In a significant area, the Iloilo Experiment I differed from the Rizal Experiment and the Iloilo Experiment II.  This was in respect to the attitude held toward the languages and the means for achieving educational ends.  In the first, as much training for teaching in Hiligaynon as in English represents an equalitarian view of languages, and can be expected to achieve educational ends differing from the subordination, in training, of the home to the second languages, as in the Rizal Experiment and the Iloilo Experiment II.  To be of equal level, teacher training would now require research in the structure and sound system of the home language and the use of obtained knowledge in developing its own methods and constructing its special materials.  If the equalitarian view of languages as a starting point for replication in the development of culture is accepted, both the home and second languages should use the best methods and materials.  Each of them should also be permitted to advance learning at its own rate of speed.  This would encourage a freer flow of learning between languages, a phenomenon aptly called mutual transfer of training which was statistically recorded for the Iloilo Experiment I.

The problem of training and materials presented by the three experiments challenges imaginative thinking.  English is viewed as the most deserving of attention, since education in it extends through high school to college.  The Iloilo Experiment I showed the possibility of better English learning when it is based on a well-supported study in Hiligaynon for two years.  The use of modern methods in English teaching has probably made that fact of questionable value.  It seems necessary now to do research in the native languages as basis for methods and materials development in them.  The Iloilo Experiment II showed the second-language way to motivate the teaching of Tagalog as a subject in the lower grades, but training and materials in Tagalog in its home setting are much below what can be expected from the educational capability of the language.  A lesson learned from the Rizal Experiment is explicit:  research, training, and materials in a native language should be developed independently of English.

The present arrangement of a two-year vernacular base immediately requires two separate but related activities, if it is desired to make this beginning study helpful to the second languages.  The first is largely administrative.  What native languages merit use in schools from the standpoint of available literature and functioning communication media?  Would a policy of linguistic territoriality (minor groups joining a major one because of close geographic and trade contacts) and a common approach to Tagalog (in localities or areas where groupings from major languages are concentrated) be a solution to the unguided proliferation of languages in the first two grades?  The second is largely instructional and, research-oriented, would follow the first decision.  This is the development of effective methods and materials in the following subjects:  language and reading to develop proficiency; social studies, health and science, and arithmetic to promote subject-matter knowledges and skills.  This program alone will require some concentration of personnel and effort.

If the capability for a program of this type does not exist, an option would be to reinstitute English as the medium of instruction in the first two grades.  The theses that high-school and college education requires a continuity of the use of English as the medium of instruction from the very beginning and that children will be literate anyhow in their vernaculars are sound on the possibility that training skills and teaching materials in these vernaculars cannot, at any time now or in the future, be developed.

There is still another option:  Pilipino (Tagalog) as the medium of instruction in the first two grades.  The thesis that, taught Pilipino as in the case of English, children will be literate anyhow in their own vernaculars is sound on the assumption that making the policy of the Board of National Education apply to only the educationally usable vernaculars is inadvisable and on the further assumption that training and materials might be possible in Tagalog but not in three or four other native languages.  The serious intent of this proposal was meant to be illustrated by a recent transfer-of-training experiment but the results were vitiated by looseness in experimental designing and by the relative inadequacy of teaching materials in the other vernaculars.

Related Research Projects

Besides experiments in the pedagogical phases of education, research in the linguistics of English as it applies to the Philippine environment, has shown promise of resolving some of the ticklish issues of English speech.  For instance, the basic research conducted in the Philippine Normal College on Filipino pronunciation opens related areas to study, and their application to teaching in all levels can effect constantly growing improvements in English teaching.

The new development that is bound to produce a modern view of native-language teaching is illustrated by studies in Tagalog and Hiligaynon grammar.  However, research in Tagalog conducted at several institutions needs to be applied in schools, for purposes of testing and verifying findings and of feedback for further research.  The accumulating studies conducted at the Central Philippine University in the grammar of Hiligaynon should also find similar application to teaching in the area.  Between valuable university studies and public-school consumers of research, there seems to be a hiatus that will have to be bridged, if the native-language program is to be pursued successfully.

Perhaps in the future, the pedagogical implication of successful teaching in three languages that the Iloilo Experiment II had demonstrated can become a subject for psychological analysis.  Pedagogy with the support of linguistics has successfully invented a classroom procedure that promotes speech and grammar skills in each of three languages with little or no interference among them.  Statistical analysis of the most demanding type and a literacy survey found this to be true, and their finding is a verification of what close observation indicated might be true.  What makes it possible for the individual when his language reservoir is challenged to react promptly in the language needed at the moment?  What indications, if any, may be found to substantiate the hypothesis that the three-language situation helps in, or contradicts, the development of the personality?  It is evident that in this area of study psycholinguistics will find challenge to clarify certain abstruse problems.

In personal and social adjustment, psychology still is presented with a problem in the context of findings of pedagogy and statistical analysis.  At the end of Grades 4, 5, and 6 in the Iloilo Experiment I, experimental and control groups took the Philippine Personality Inventory consisting of five subtests with a total of 125 items on dominance-submission, introversion-extroversion, emotional stability, emotional maturity, and social maturity.  As previously stated, the statistical findings showed trends in personality adjustment very similar to those for achievement in reading, language, arithmetic, and social studies.  When administrative support in training was equally given the home and the second language so that teachers covered as much material as pupils were capable of learning in each language, the pupils with a two-year background in the native language did better, in the main, than those who did not have it.  Did this generally better scholastic achievement promote a “trend on the whole strikingly in favor of the experimental group” in personal and social adjustment, or was it the reverse?  Was it likely that scholastic achievement and adjustment within self and with others reacted complementarily with each other in a continuum of activity?  The problem intrigues reason and creates a situation that should be analyzed with profit to practitioners of pedagogy. #


When we talk of using the vernacular as medium of instruction do we mean the dialect of each particular locality?  Even if it be a sub-dialect?

Obviously this would be impracticable.

Would the answer be:  “the principal vernacular of the region?”  That may reduce the number of vernacular-media to at least ten.

Would ten vernaculars be manageable from the point of view of logistics—personnel, teacher training, classroom materials?

Should not the Elementary teacher be given courses in vernacular teaching?  The teacher is trained in English; he cannot be expected to make a proper transition to the vernacular by himself.  So far the practice has most often been that English teaching materials are merely translated into the vernacular.

In the early grades these materials are bound to be of the This is a boy/This is a girl variety designed to teach English as mere language.

The basic difference between using English and using the vernacular is this:  the teacher using English is like the builder who has first to make the tool that she needs; the teacher using the vernacular finds the tool already made and ready to use.  Where this basic difference is ignored the vernacular program is just a waste of time and a bore.– E.C.M.

*An interpretive recapitulation of facts brought out by the Iloilo Experiment (1948-1954), the Rizal Experiment (1960-1966), and the Iloilo Second-Language Experiment (1961-1964), presenting alternatives to the solution of language-curriculum designing for the lower grades.  For complete details, read Bulletin Nos. 9, 12, 14, 16. s. 1953, No. 6, s. 1954, and No. 9, s. 1955 of the Bureau of Public Schools; Philippine Language-Teaching Experiments (PCLS Monograph 5) by Frederick B. Davis; and The Determination and Implementation of Language Policy (PCLS Monograph 2) by Maximo Ramos, Jose V. Aguilar, and Bonifacio P. Sibayan.

Reprinted from the Philippine Journal of Education (1961), 46(6), 412-470.

Click here for Dr. Jose Aguilar’s brief bio.



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