MERANAW language teachers today have started realizing how difficult it is to teach the Department of Education (DepEd) required mother-tongue subject for primary graders. This means that all learners like the Meranaws in Lanao will have to go through mother-tongue subjects from kindergarten to Grade 3.
This challenge is seen as one of the most controversial language issues as far as language teachers in this part of the country is concerned. Why? This is because some Meranaws, even if they grew up in Lanao, may not have the ability to speak Meranaw very well. Or worse, they have not known the language at all.
Meranaws are called the people of Lanao and at the same time the speakers of the Meranaw language. However, even if the country declared Meranaw as one of the 12 major mother tongues, Meranaws have not really prepared so much for the challenge.
Meranaw as a language is an oral language. Meaning, we have grown up using the language without the preconceived idea of orthography. This means that we speak Meranaw but we seldom spell the words the way other languages have. We do not even have a clear representation of some sounds produced in most Meranaw words, both vowels and consonants alike.
Most of the tribes in this country have the same indigenous languages which have sounds that are difficult to transcribe. In fact, Bautista and Bolton (2008) affirmed that if unprepared foreign visitor would come to the Philippines, he/she will be amazed by the immediate encounter with this “tropical society... multi-tongued people in a nation with more than a hundred recognized indigenous languages.”
Hence, we are really multi-tongued for so many reasons including our geographical condition. Personally, I have experienced teaching a class with four or more languages used by my students.
In Marawi alone, a Meranaw acquires many languages at the same time at a very young age due to the languages spoken at home by her parents and relatives, on the television and in primary schools. One child will definitely have more than one language before going to school and may even have acquired a language that is not Meranaw.
Interestingly, many Meranaw parents would still see English as a very important language to acquire. Parents must have seen the effect of English to our linguistic landscape. Most of the words children would see on bulletin boards, billboard ads, and tarpaulins about events and achievements are all written in English.
This is the reason why some mothers would speak English to their children and not Meranaw. Now, the problem begins when the child goes to school and Meranaw is the idea of a school for mother-tongue subject and mode of instruction. Will the Meranaw child have the Meranaw language as his/her first language then? Whose mother tongue are we considering in this case?
Many scholars of this country these days may have forgotten some of these issues, if not neglected. Being part of this culture, I cannot help but be worried about the implementation of this subject.
At present, some experts from the DepEd have started publishing books written in Meranaw. However, there are still so many inconsistencies in orthographies and cultural integration lessons.
Are we really teaching our children their mother tongue or will they be learning a second language that has no clear structure? Are we really teaching them to value our culture or appreciate other cultures using the Meranaw language?
Teachers of today will have to be aware enough that we are having a multi-tongued society. But, whether we like it or not, this system has already started. We can only hope for the best.