Fetalvero: Surviving bilingualism

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By Noemi C. Fetalvero

Two empty bottles

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


THE Philippine government has launched several literacy and nutritional programs to increasing the country's literacy rate. And yet I believe we have only tapped the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Our country’s official languages are Filipino and English. We also have more than a dozen native languages: Cebuano, Ilokano, Hiligaynon, Waray-Waray, Kapampangan, Bikol, Albay Bikol, Pangasinan, Maranao, Maguindanao, Kinaray-a, Tausug and Zamboangueño Chavacano. Do you still wonder why we cannot be unified as a nation?

Blackwell, an online reference library, tackled the Impact of Bilingualism on Language and Literacy Development. The article said: “Children’s early development is learned through verbal experiences, knowledge is codified in linguistic form and communication defines every aspect of development.”

A study conducted by Ellen Bialystok of York University addresses the issue of how bilingual children become literate and as such, cannot isolate the contributions of bilingualism itself to the discussion of literacy acquisition for these children.

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Bialystok wrote: “The matter is complicated by the logical confound that being bilingual makes it inevitable that learning to read includes learning to read in a second language. However, if we isolate the role of bilingualism in acquiring this particular cognitive skill, then the concern must be with the reading not with the language in which literacy is acquired.”

Eleanor Roosevelt, who was the longest-serving First Lady of the United States, always emphasized the importance of reading when she said: “From Grade 1 to Grade 4, we learn to read; Grade 5 up, we read to learn.”

The research clearly gave me a direct answer as to why majority of Filipinos are not at all interested in reading as a pastime. As a matter of fact, some Filipino women would rather go to a neighbor’s yard and spend hours chatting while men would rather engage in a drinking spree.

Despite the implication that literacy rating is low—because of inherited low intelligence quotient and language barrier brought about by bilingualism in our country—there is the assertion that students can still succeed even if their parents did not.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 07, 2013.

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