Saturday, April 28, 2007

Manolo Quezon's Language Wars: On Teaching Science and Math

Over at Manolo's blog, a lively and substantive discussion on whether to use English or Pilipino as a medium of instruction . As of this writing *, especially interesting are the comments by 'Blackshama' and 'Iniduro ni Emilie'.

Blackshama commented on teaching and learning science in the vernacular.

First, he makes a good point on aiming for the right level of English proficiency based on one's professional goals and requirements.

"I agree that if one would like to go into a science career one has to master English. But not all citizens would want to become scientists. The level of English competency should match their career needs. Service workers should at least master to a level equivalent to IELTS band of 5-6. Academics at 8.0. Those who feel English is not for them at least should have studied basic English. Now since a lot of people believe English will make them more competitive, many would try to attain a band 6-7, like many nurses do."

As a practicing scientist, he gives the following tips on how to teach science in Filipino:

"Also for science teaching in Filipino, scientific terms in English with Filipino counterparts may be used. Velocity = bilis, acceleration = arangkada. Latin and Greek terms should remain as is to preserve their exact meaning. While some of the Latin terms have counterparts in Spanish, our linguists should be able to offer advice if we would adopt the Spanish terms. During a period of transition it may be permissible to use the English words per se." (I strongly agree with the last sentence. He then cited a passage teaching Evolution which i found very readable.)

Indiuro ni Emilie, for his part, provided excellent insights (complete with illustrations) on improper and oftentimes unnecessary translations of math into natural language (whether in English or Filipino) which is worth quoting in full [all emphasis mine]:

"there goes the errors in translation.

multiplication: pagpaparami?
subtraction: pagpababawas?

in the everyday languge context, yes! but in the language of mathematics: not necessarily!

example 1.
consider: what is 1/2 of 12?
answer: 6.
equation: 1/2 x 12.
operation used: multiplication
question: dumami ba yung twelve?

example 2.
consider: 1 - -3 = 1 + 3
answer: 4
operation used: subtraction, which turned into addition
question: nabawasan nga ba ang 1?

my point: math has its own language. the natural language is often used only to help build our understanding of the concepts made intricate by the mathematical language. often it is the natural language that impedes the understanding of the language of math. but we can’t help the use of it because that’s how our learning processes are governed. but certainly there are natural languages that make for better support in concept building.

consider example 1. often the danger among filipino math teachers is to use the word “times”, as in 1/2 times 12, when in fact, it should be read one half of 12. in plain filipino: ano ang kalahati nang 12? in the language of math, 1/2 x 12 is the semoitic representation, not the semantic reading of the problem. that’s how complicated the language of math is to begin with. and this has to be explained in english? “of”? that that preposition come natural to us?

as to djb’s exercise: “Three and three fourths divided by six point two equals?”

am sure what you have in mind in the natural language translation. what you’re missing out is that it can be translated pure and simple in the semiotic language of math as: 3¾ / 6.2 = ?

Oo nga naman.

Update (04-28-2007 11:51pm): Big Mango believes the whole issue is a waste of time. I indicated my disagreement in his comments section. While he may be comfortable with learning Math and Science in English, studies by our educators have shown that majority of students are not in the same position.

Update (04-30-2007 7:50pm): It turns out that Blackshama has a blog where he has posted his take on this issue. (Hat tip: Manolo)

* April 28, at 2:04PM, Philippine time


mschumey07 said...

Why not use Taglish in these subjects instead? One seldom recite the solutions anyway.

cvj said...

To the extent that it fits everyday conversation patterns, i would agree. I think that's the message Blackshama above is conveying when it comes to scientific terms.

For everyday words, the use of conversational-style Pilipino (e.g. 'upuan','silya') instead of contrived ones (e.g.'salumpuwit') would be preferred.

Arbet said...

My reason for agreeing with Blackshama and others is simple: it works (teaching the basics in vernacular or combination of vernacular and English).

What should be investigated is that why are our students failing in the crucial subjects? I think it is not language used.

anthony scalia said...

I think Dr. Isagani Cruz, columnist at the Philippine Star, has it right - students should learn in the vernacular.

He even advocates that English should only be used in English subjects

Please read his column every Thursday at the Philippine Star.

cvj said...

Hi Arbet, many reasons i suppose, but i have a hunch it has a lot to do with the quality of the textbooks. I think it needs to be a revamp of the DECS' procurement process with strict quality control. Maybe we can subject the textbooks to wikipedia style collaborative improvement. That's one area where improvement will have a lot of bang for the buck.

Hi Anthony, thanks for the pointer to Isagani Cruz.

Mocking said...

vernacular = Taglish? Admit it or not, most Filipinos could hardly speak straight Tagalog or Straight English.

Hindi kita ineexpect ha? instead of Hindi kita inaasahan?

I don't believe the reason why many Filipinos tudents don;t perform good is because of language issues. It has something to do more with the method of teaching, materials and study habits. In the University I attend to, there a a good number of Koreans but they seem to be doing well. Classes are conducted in English spattered with FILIPINO. Despite that, how come they perform well, at times, they perform better than Filipino students? It has something to do with their training in Korea and their study habits.

It's easy to say use regional/national language rather than English. But the implementation will be far more difficult and inconvenient with this. You see, not all people have a good grasp of Tagalog/Filipino as not all Filipinos are Tagalogs. If you teach using Tagalog to them, it would give them a hard time. Use the regional langauges? Have you people forgotten about the internal migration? Take for example Baguio and Pangasinan. Bagui's indigenous language is Ibaloi. But if you will use Ibaloi as the medium of instruction, then that would put the non Ibaloi speakers of the city in the unprivileged. Ilocano is a common tongue but NOT all people in the city(particularly of the recent immigrants) can understand or even speak Ilocano. GO to SLU, UC, UPB, UB, you'll meet many students from the lowlands(dorms, apartments) who can't even grasp Ilocano jokes but some profs. Tagalog? What about our foreign students? They pay a high price(for education) but will get a nothing of it? Using Tagalog might just deprive the people of their native language?

As far as I know, most institutions in Singapore use English(proper English, not Singlish) as the medium of instruction but alongside with that, they don't neglect Chinese, Malay and Indian languages.

It is a BIG hypocrisy not to make English as the country's second language. As DJB pointed out, our constitution and laws are written in English. If we will only use English in English subjects then we are not making Filipinos as near-native level speakers. Many of our unprivileged will bee more disadvantage and the middle class might be dragged along. We will be a pathetic country who can't understand our constitution. And mind you, our laws are not written in simple English. Delay and Accessories are interpreted differently. Imagine this: a Filipino student who has been familiar with Tagalog/local language all his school years but when he gets to college,takes up Business, he is confronted by Business laws(required) in a rather tedious English. He might be able to understand it.Learning English is not easy, it takes time and acculturation to the language. At a young age, Filipinos should be acculturated to the language. of course, local languages should not be neglected. There's should be a subject that will foster our local languages. But for practicality's sake, let's make English as the SECOND language of the Filipino people. I would also agree if the government will make Spanish a a THIRD language. Filipinos NEED to read Noli and El Fili in their original context