Wednesday, April 19, 2006

EDITORIAL - Lost asset

The Philippine Star

The results of a survey released yesterday by Social Weather Stations showed a considerable decline in Filipinos’ self-assessed proficiency in English over the past 12 years. The decline was noted in all aspects — reading, writing, speaking and understanding the English language. The percentage of people who said they have zero proficiency in English rose from seven percent in December 1993 and September 2000 to 14 percent in the latest SWS survey taken last month.

The results were not surprising. You don’t need surveys to see how much English proficiency has declined in this country. Foreign investors, who have long considered English proficiency a plus in hiring Filipino workers, have started complaining about the decline in this skill. Thousands of job vacancies in call centers cannot be filled because applicants lack the required proficiency in spoken English, prompting investors to take their business to other countries such as India.

Filipinos’ proficiency in English has been on a slow decline since native English speakers turned over the task of teaching the language to locals. But the slide in proficiency became precipitous after English was abolished as a medium of instruction in schools in an effort to promote the development of Tagalog-based Filipino as a national language.

The intent was commendable but the move failed to achieve its objective. The Filipino taught in schools was not conversational, and students struggled with the formal version of their own language. Residents of provinces where Tagalog is not the main dialect also resisted efforts to develop a national language.

The result: Filipinos have lost proficiency in both English and their national language. Instead of becoming truly bilingual, we have created Taglish, a mishmash of English and Tagalog words and phrases, with the English portions pronounced Pinoy style, that only Filipinos can understand.

Meanwhile, neighboring countries are moving quickly to improve the English proficiency of their workforces, knowing that it is the lingua franca of cyberspace and the Information Age. Unless we move quickly to deal with this problem, the Filipino workforce will lose a prized asset.

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