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On English Proficiency: A Letter

Dear Sir

The critics are right. There is a decline in English proficiency among Filipinos. However, I disagree that it is not only at UP but also in "exclusive" schools like Ateneo or La Salle. Like what the critics believe, I believe students don't write and speak good English because they don't read.

But what should trouble us is our confused language policy that mixes nationalist and globalist orientations. Unfortunately there are still people that believe English must be taught as a foreign language. However, while it was a foreign language imposed by the Americans, it became a medium to express our nationhood. In time, the language became our own. It is now not a foreign language but a second language. By appropriating their language, we both thank and damn our colonisers. According to Frankie Sionil Jose, that may yet be the best revenge!

Our confused language policy promotes English language use only as a means of economic advancement. An example: Those who can speak good English will make it as nurses etc in the UK and USA. We don't promote it as a means of acquiring learning and defining our national identity. So the advocates of this language policy still maintain our subservience.

Hopefully, a better language policy is at hand. Requiring students at PLM or Makati police officers to speak English is a good start. But if not followed by concrete efforts to make English language learning effective and most importantly fun, these efforts are mere cosmetic.

But the tragedy is our incomplete sense of nationhood that equates insularity with patriotism. Since we have an incomplete sense of nationhood, we will always think of English as American (the British won't like that!) while the rest of the world thinks of it as global.



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