"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Philippines and the English Language

The Philippines is markedly different from the other countries in Asia in terms of language. Its native languages use the Latin alphabet and English is taught in the early years of elementary education. It is also used as a medium of instruction in some schools especially in private elite colleges. Amy Chavez of The Japan Times noted in an article early this year how impressed she was with how fluent Filipinos are in English:

Above copied from Huffington Post
Unfortunately, Chavez, in the above article, is misusing test data. The Educational Testing Service (ETS) specifically mentions in its research reports not to use scores to rank countries:

Above copied from Test and Score Data Summary for TOEFL iBT Tests

First, it is important to take note of who takes the TOEFL test. These are students whose native language is not English. The TOEFL test is used for admission in high schools, colleges, and graduate schools in the United States, as well as licensing and immigration purposes. The fee to take the exam is not trivial. It is US$200, which is about half of a public school teacher's monthly salary. Thus, with the above in mind, those who took the TOEFL test are not representative of the country. In fact, these are mostly students who are applying for admission to a graduate school in the United States. These are college graduates who would like to pursue a doctorate degree. In the Department of Chemistry of Georgetown University, for instance, a score of 100 in TOEFL iBT is required to receive a teaching fellowship. Thus, it is very likely that TOEFL test takers from the Philippines are either among the brightest students or children from wealthy families in the country.

The data from the latest year is now available:



Test takers are given the following choices to pick for their native tongue:


Included in the above list are the Philippine languages: Bikol, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Iloko and Tagalog. There is no Filipino in the list as everyone knows that Filipino is really a dialect of Tagalog.

The following are the mean scores (using the native language of the test taker as classification):

Native Language Reading Listening Speaking Writing Total

Dutch

24

26

26

24

100
Konkani 24 25 25 25 99
Luxembourgish  24 25 25 25 99
Danish 23 25 26 24 98
Kashmiri 24 24 24 25 98
German 23 25 25 24 97
Malayalam 24 24 25 24 97
Assamese 24 24 24 25 96
Slovenian 23 25 24 24 96
Finnish 23 25 24 24 95
Galician 24 25 23 23 95
Hindi 23 24 24 24 95
Icelandic 22 25 24 23 95
Oriya 23 24 24 24 95
Tamil 23 24 24 24 95
Hebrew 22 25 24 22 94
Norwegian 21 24 25 23 94
Sindhi 22 23 24 24 94
Swedish 21 25 25 23 94
Estonian 22 24 24 23 93
Kannada 22 23 24 24 93
Marathi 22 23 23 24 93
Basque 24 24 22 23 92
Catalan 23 24 22 23 92
Hungarian 22 24 23 23 92
Bengali 22 23 23 23 91
Croatian 22 24 23 22 91
Czech 22 24 23 23 91
Greek 22 23 22 24 91
Italian 24 23 22 22 91
Latvian 21 23 24 23 90
Polish 22 23 23 22 90
Romanian 21 23 23 23 90
Slovak 21 23 23 23 90
Urdu 21 22 24 23 90
Bulgarian 21 23 22 22 89
Punjabi 21 22 24 22 89
Shona 20 22 24 23 89
Tagalog 21 22 24 23 89
Cebuano 20 21 24 22 88
Malay 21 22 21 23 88
Belarusian 21 22 22 21 87
Bikol 20 21 23 23 87
Iloko 20 21 22 22 87
Macedonian 20 22 23 22 87
French 21 22 22 22 86
Gujarati 20 21 23 22 86
Hiligaynon 20 20 24 23 86
Lithuanian 19 22 23 22 86
Serbian 20 22 23 21 86
Korean 22 21 21 22 85
Sinhalese 20 21 22 22 85
Spanish 21 22 22 21 85
Tatar 21 22 21 21 85
Bosnian 19 22 22 21 84
Russian 20 21 22 21 84
Zulu 16 20 25 22 84
Ga 19 20 21 22 83
Kikuyu 19 21 22 22 83
Nepali 20 20 21 21 83
Portuguese 21 21 20 20 83
Telugu 19 20 22 21 83
Farsi 20 20 21 21 82
Georgian 19 21 22 21 82
Indonesian 20 21 20 21 82
Ukrainian 19 21 22 20 82
Luo 18 19 22 21 80
Malagasy 19 19 21 21 80
Albanian 18 19 22 20 79
Efik 18 19 22 20 79
Ganda 18 18 23 21 79
Igbo 18 19 21 21 79
Swahili 18 19 22 21 79
Tibetan 18 19 21 21 79
Yoruba 19 19 21 21 79
Burmese 18 19 20 21 78
Chinese 20 18 19 20 78
Tigrinya 19 19 21 20 78
Twi 17 19 21 21 78
Vietnamese 19 19 19 21 78
Afrikaans 18 18 20 20 77
Akan 18 18 20 21 77
Armenian 18 19 21 20 77
Azerbaijani 18 19 20 20 77
Bemba 16 18 23 21 77
Pushtu 17 18 22 20 77
Kazakh 17 19 21 19 76
Kosraean 20 19 19 19 76
Thai 18 19 19 20 76
Turkish 18 19 19 20 76
Amharic 17 19 21 18 75
Somali 17 18 21 19 75
Chichewa 17 18 20 19 74
Ewe 17 17 20 19 74
Oromo 17 18 20 19 74
Uzbek 17 18 20 19 74
Berber 16 19 20 18 73
Uighur 18 18 19 18 73
Hausa 16 17 20 19 72
Kinyarwanda 15 17 20 19 71
Mongolian 16 18 19 18 71
Arabic 15 18 20 17 70
Japanese 18 17 17 18 70
Lao 15 16 21 19 70
Turkmen 16 17 20 18 70
Khmer 15 16 19 19 69
Lingala 16 16 19 18 69
Tajik 14 16 20 17 68
Wolof 14 16 19 17 66
Fulah 14 14 20 17 65
Mandingo 14 14 19 18 65
Javanese 17 15 16 17 64
Bambara 13 13 17 16 59
Mossi 14 13 16 16 59
Kurdish 12 13 17 15 56

The 2013 data are not really different from the 2010 data that Amy Chavez cited. Singapore continues to have an average score of 98. India has 91 while Pakistan has 90. Both Philippines and Malaysia score an average of 89. Again, these are average scores for each country. These should not be used for ranking. These numbers canot be used for comparison between countries.

It will be at least a decade before the effects of the new K+12 curriculum in the Philippines are seen in these TOEFL scores. Aside from children living in Manila, its suburbs, and nearby provinces, students in elementary schools are now studying three languages simultaneously. The imposition of a national language in Philippine schools adds considerable load to students whose native tongue is not Tagalog. There is obviously nothing wrong with aspiring to be multilingual. However, fluency in a language for academic purposes requires focus or concentration. We could only hope that TOEFL scores in 2028 (four years after the first class of students who have gone through the full K+12 curriculum) from students in the Philippines are not going to be much worse than the 2013 scores. That is 14 years from now. That is why it is really important that we are in fact doing what is right.


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