DURING a graduation rite in one of the elementary schools in the city a student got an honor ribbon that said most inquisitive.
The student approached me and asked me: Sir, what does that mean, most inquisitive? I had to check my English dictionary to explain to her what that means. It said: unduly curious. Then I checked my English-Bisayan dictionary and this said: makihutan-on or masukuton. Bisaya is still a foreign language for me, although I speak it fluently after my 50-years stay in the Philippines. Then I checked my Dutch-English dictionary, but this didn’t give the word inquisitive, only the word inquisition.
This only shows how important our native language, our mother tongue, is especially for children. You are born with that tongue from the mother womb, and you start speaking it some time after your birth.
During my stay in the Philippines, I have experienced also that my native language expresses much of my own culture which is different from the Bisayan culture. Every culture has its positive and negative aspects. The positive aspects you can appreciate, for instance, is the innate friendliness of the Filipino people.
The medium of instruction in our schools in the Philippines is English. I think this is due to our history of colonialism. Before, there were many Spanish words adopted in our native language. When the Americans took over it was the English language that started to dominate over our native language. In the Philippines we have also many what, you call, dialects. I don’t believe these are just dialects, they are native languages.
I believe it is high time that our Department of Education changes this policy in our schools. Many subjects are explained to the students in a foreign language. That is why they will never grasp the subject as good as if it were explained in the native language.
Of course, English can be taught in our schools as a foreign language, but then the grammar of the native language must be taught also in our schools. It would be good also if the teachers will bring about in the children a greater appreciation for their mother tongue. The native language is often looked down upon by many people. English is the language used by lawyers and other important people. It gives you a kind of status. People should not feel ashamed when using their mother tongue.
The Second Vatican Council allowed the priests to celebrate the Mass in the vernacular, that means using the native language instead of Latin. Latin is a foreign language and nobody understood that language except the priests who had studied Latin before they were ordained. The intention of the Church was, of course, to use the mother tongue because in that way the faithful could better understand what was said in the liturgy.
What happened in the Philippines was that they started to use either the vernacular or the English language. But English is a foreign language for the Filipino. I remember, when I came to the Philippines, my first assignment was in the parish of Old Escalante, Negros Occidental. I always excused myself for the English I spoke, but the secretary in the parish office, whose name was Pastora, always told me: Oh no Father, you speak very good English, you speak it just as we do. That means Filipino English.
This shows again, how important it is to use the mother tongue also in the church. It is the best way to make the faithful understand the Word of God as it is written in our Bisayan Bible.