Monday, April 30, 2007

Which Language To Emphasize And How To Teach It?

I have been hearing the phrase, teaching English as a second or secondary language, since I finished high school in the Philippines, and since I have been here in the US way back in 1980.

The only part of the methodology of teaching English as a second language that I have been exposed to and therefore familiar with has been that whereas before English had been taught primarily through the total immersion process with very neglectful regard to the native dialects of the learners, it is now being taught on top of and with deferential regard for the primary languages that migrant or foreign students are born with.

Using a poor analogy for the latter, it is much like using and learning Windows on top of DOS, which was the situation prior to Windows XP. (Though many would still contend that WInXP continues to have remnants of DOS.)

Tracing then my contemporaries’ journey in learning English, we can vouch that the old ways were “imposed” on us in earnest and with obvious noble intentions. While we had Filipino English teachers in grade school, most if not all of our English teachers in high school were young American Jesuits who spoke no other languages, both foreign and local. Additionally, since the school administrators were also American Jesuits, all English teachers starting from the primary grades had strict instructions to follow total immersion “techniques” in teaching English. (And I believe the concept or art of teaching English as a second language had not germinated then. At least not in that milieu that we were exposed to.) A quite tangible, and not easily forgettable, imposition was the draconian rule that only English could be spoken within campus. And sanctions were strictly imposed on violations, which for us was a possible unwanted trip to the office of the Dean of Discipline for a “jug” sign-up.

It should be noted that an all-girls college across town, run and operated by an all Filipino complement of nuns, also followed this total immersion process, complete with pecuniary sanctions on violations to the English-only rule. As I recall, each violation divested the violator of 10 centavos, quite a fortune during those idyllic times.

Then on the way to the forum, certain things changed. English would be taught as a second language. New books, still in English as were all the other textbooks in school, were published and given adequate promotion incorporating this new methodology, mode, or approach. I can’t really recall what brought this wind of change. It just happened. There were no pious or remorseful admissions that we, the prior recipients of the older method of teaching English, were incorrectly taught.

We in no way considered ourselves deprived, under-taught, or any such thing in our learned English. I suppose this whole thing was pretty much like the onset of the new Math (remember that?) which came about the same time. Was that then considered a period of Renaissance or Enlightenment in the education process?

Who knows? But whatever happened to new Math, anyway? Consigned to the dustbin of best-forgotten history?

Anyway, when we arrived in California in 1980 with school-age children, we unerringly got exposed to bi-lingual education in the public school system, with focus on teaching English as a second or secondary language. At that point, we had what they called education centers for the major minorities, such as Chinese and Filipinos, and of course, Hispanics, whose numbers had outstripped all others. New immigrant schoolchildren went through these centers prior to being sent to “mainstream” schools, ostensibly to get a better grasp of English before being diluted with the rest of the student population.

It all sounded good on paper. But when overall student scores started falling, specifically in English proficiency and in the sciences, questions about bi-lingual education started being asked. And relevantly so, when California students compared negatively with the rest of the country.

Nowadays, bi-lingual education has lost a good portion of its luster, and its once-avid proponents in the education field appear to have cooled off.

Imagine callers to San Francisco city hall complaining that they could hardly understand the English of staff members answering phones. Or that newly-hired airport screeners had to undergo intensive re-training in English prior to being deployed to their respective assignments, most requiring interaction with the riding public. And US citizenship is required for the position. Or that call center operators in the Philippines, India, or maybe, China, are being hired at a premium based on their English proficiency.

But those described above and much more are the realities, not only in the US but arguably for the rest of the globalized world.

So how are the various authorities responsible for general education responding to the situation?

World countries, states, and provinces where English is the official language are dark blue; countries, states, and provinces where it is an official, but not a primary language are light blue.
English as a global language

Because English is so widely spoken, it has often been referred to as a "global language", the lingua franca of the modern era. While English is not an official language in many countries, it is currently the language most often taught as a second language around the world. It is also, by international treaty, the official language for aircraft/airport and maritime communication, as well as being one of the official languages of both the European Union and the United Nations, and of most international athletic organizations, including the Olympic Committee. Books, magazines, and newspapers written in English are available in many countries around the world. English is also the most commonly used language in the sciences. In 1997, the Science Citation Index reported that 95% of its articles were written in English, even though only half of them came from authors in English-speaking countries.
From Manchester Central School of English

Saturday, April 21, 2007

When The End is Not The End

On the 25th of the current month, we are re-confirmed for our flight back to the place which we now call home – for us, our married children, and the grandkids. The temperate haven that is Northern California.

The two-month trip is nearing its end, though it seemed only yesterday that our connecting domestic flight brought us back to the big island of Mindanao, to a place in its northern section called Cagayan de Oro, which is just a little over an hour’s flight from the capital region called Metro Manila.

Having taken this same trip route for many times over the over quarter century that we left the old homeland, this latest one seemed no different from a reflex act, one not requiring much focus and thought.

It just happened. And nearly two months later, it will be ending.

The very hectic weeks can be blamed for the rather hasty flight of time, which did not allow for much slack time for reflection and careful introspection. They just happened and things were done. And looking around and back, my wearied eyes survey the visible results of the works done – a few renovations in the residence, more time-consuming sprucing up in the commercial building, charitable endeavors planned and executed for proper discharge when we are gone, and various odds and ends not worthy of mention.

Reading this so far one may be predisposed to think that I must not only be self-satisfied with what has been done, but must welcome the winding-down phase to happily make way for pleasant thoughts about home, family, and the familiarity of place and routine.

But my cross mind will have none of that. It seems to work on the premise that there are still a lot of sticky loose ends to attend to before one can truly write finis to this episode. And my acutely critical self would seem to confirm this.

There appears still a myriad of little chores to be done, the kind that requires time for its germination and resolution. They cannot be hurried if one desires proper resolution. My trusty little yellow-pad note still has pages of uncrossed-out hand-printed notes that cry for attention.

Thus, when the 25th day of the current month comes, the end will not be ushered in. Rather, it will simply provide the temporal and causal link to yet another planned return trip precisely to attend to still unfinished business.

The over 14-hour return trip notwithstanding, the next few months promise to be yet another long drawn-out episode in this continuing saga to cram as much of life in a solitary lifetime as possible.

So, life, here I go again. Be swift and be kind.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Beyond Quirky, Maybe . . .

Maybe bordering on delusional misperception? Or to an outsider, maybe just flagrant displays of puerile behavior.

The Filipinos hold senatorial elections this coming May. The shortened campaign period appears to have galvanized eager politicians and their paid minions to almost frenzied escalation of campaign activities, believing that more is always better. More sorties into all corners where the electorate is massed in considerable numbers. More boring campaign speeches and noisy motorcades around the already traffic jam-burdened narrow city streets.

And then, there are the campaign posters pasted in every and all conceivable outdoor locations where any flat surface is expansive enough to be lathered with goo, glue, rugby, or whatever it is that they are now using to plaster and paste these election posters, so those self-indulgent, self-serving, cosmetically-enhanced images and text messages of various candidates are allowed to assault the already much harangued consciousness of the public.

As a kid growing up in this same milieu, it titillated me to no end how the property fences and building walls exposed to the streets almost always carried a prominently located and oft-repeated warning sign, Post No Bill.

In a place where property fences, typically made of hollow blocks and built as high as 6, 10, and even 15 feet and laced at the top with embedded broken glass or sharp barbs depending on one’s social status, are viewed as a crucial part of the security measures for the precious domicile of residents, one does not have to stretch one’s imagination to realize the abundance and ubiquity of this type of enclosure around the city.

Definitely, very fertile grounds for savvy political campaigns to attach their election posters to. Typically done in the stealth of night, these miscreants are able to do their deplorable deeds almost with impunity. And I suspect, most times with the silent and tacit tolerance, or pesky annoyance, of city officials.

Ironically, while the practice of high fences is still the norm, the warning sign however is somehow on its death throes. One hardly sees them around. I surmise the reason is that property owners may have thrown their hands up and given up the fight to keep their fences and walls free from these ugly and unwanted finishings, whether during elections or not.

The practice of indiscriminately pasting these election materials where any flat surface may reveal itself, whether in public or private areas, is so ingrained in the local psyche and so rampantly done that the fight against it was a lost cause right from the get-go.

But during this particular election cycle, I feel a new height, or rather a new low, has been reached.

Again, where any flat, or not so flat, surface reveals itself – electric posts, street signs, traffic signs, or any standing post, etc. Most are trashily blanketed with this paper ugliness, which prominently deliver their equally “trashy” messages and images.

As shown in the pictures, the once beautiful unimpeded view of a nice and neatly maintained park beside the city’s historic cathedral has been usurped by the repetitious ugliness that has covered it like a dark and foreboding fog. That appears to announce the impending demise of what stands for beauty, probity, and even reason and logic.

The other one appears even more prophetic, because it covers the imposing physical symbol and presence of the people’s government. The provincial capitol grounds has literally been rained on by the locust swarm-like monstrosity that appears to have landed and got stuck on the trees.

And these posters show the smiling countenances of the politicians who in theory are supposed to be tasked with honorably and respectfully serving the lowly constituents and their interests. But quess what, even prior to their elections, they are already showing the crass mettle that they are made of. They can’t even respect the symbol of that noble task and power.

Oh, well.

May they with the most numbers of ugly posters crammed in the tiniest or most unlikely places be the declared winners. Give them “A” for effort, at least.

After all, more is always better, regardless. Or is it?


Speaking of the devil, a news item excerpted below highlights the issue on campaign posters, which calamity has plagued the entire country since it started holding “free” elections:

SIX men belonging to militant partylists (Anakpawis, Bayan Muna, and Kabataan Party) were charged in court for violating election laws after they were caught posting campaign materials outside the authorized poster area in downtown Barangay 21, Cagayan de Oro City.

The filing of charges was the first time in Cagayan de Oro that legal action was taken against campaign posting violators since the 2007 election season opened, said lawyer Stalin Baguio, the city’s Commission on Elections registrar.

Posting of campaign materials outside the common poster area is a violation of Section 11 of Comelec Resolution 7767 or the Rules and Regulations Implementing the Fair Elections Act.

The suspects were caught posting campaign posters of leftist partylists such as that of the Anakpawis, Bayan Muna, and Kabataan Party at around 3 a.m. last Thursday, said SPO1 Penil Ramas, Macabalan police precinct investigator.By Danilo V. Adorador III

Needless to state, this rather superficial attempt at law and order is both too little and too late, if I may be allowed to bloviate.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Typical Day At FICCO?

Ever wondered what awaits your average bank client in Cagayan de Oro, on a typical banking day, but most especially after the hiatus of a long weekend? Which the previous Holy Week weekend was.

Lines and crowds galore, whether it be in the elegant premises of the big commercial banks with strategic branches scattered around the city, or in the tiny modest lobbies of the biggest multi-purpose credit union in the entire country, FICCO.

Granted that FICCO also has 19 branches and 5 satellite offices scattered throughout the province of Misamis Oriental and in some contiguous neighbors, the scene at its main office yesterday noon could be characterized as representative of the other branches smartly positioned thereabouts. Clients huddled and milled about, awaiting their numbered turns to do their specific transactions and thus be freed and able to get on with other mundane businesses. Serious dads and moms, some with petulant or antsy kids in tow, clutching either their share capital passbook, or deposit passbook, or the bright yellow passbook for loans which in my estimation outnumbered the rest.

The entire multi-storey concrete building of the main office is adequately air-conditioned, but when you crowd in an unusually large number of people, the temperature starts to rise, not only with regard to that in the room. But also in the mind of each individual member when his or her wait starts to heatedly exceed an almost interminable hour or so. Though by and large the mood was that of quiet patience and resignation, it was not difficult to feel the growing impatience, as one saw a kid slouched in one of the comfy couches, slumped and dead to the world in her deep sleep, and the mom dotingly doing her level best under the circumstances to make her feel comfortable.

I had purposely chosen to experience what it was like being part of the crowd under those trying and stressful conditions. We came in almost 30 minutes past noon and did not see daylight again till almost 2 p.m. And I can surmise that the rest also suffered the same fate, in a manner of speaking. Though I definitely have noticed in Cagayan de Oro that that would be equal opportunity suffering because in every bank office one goes, milling crowds are the daily fare, and the “take a number” process is the inevitable bullet to bite.

That long arduous wait gave us sufficient time to reflect on several things, aside from and over and above what one could read on the bulletin boards and pasted-on communications on the walls. BTW, I was mildly taken aback reading a letter from Xavier U president, Fr. Villarin, exonerating one Mr. Isagani Daba from any claims of fraud perpetrated on a certain university fund. Then I realized that Gani, who I know personally from way back, is or was an officer of the university and is also currently a director of FICCO.

Anyway, back to the serious stuff. Now that I have gratingly made my point about the daily crowds in bank offices and have mentally translated that to countless man-hours lost for those who sit and wait for long periods, unable to do any productive work. Unfortunately, I did not see any in the crowds I have seen reading textbooks, doing home or house work, or even clipping nails. Yes, many fiddled, toyed, and played with their cell phones, which is quite ubiquitous even in these unlikely gatherings. Thus, the dire prognostication. Though a sobering thought would have been that at this point in time, the over 10,000 members, or even half of them, of this main office did not collectively decide to converge as one.

Cannot any thing be done to greatly curb or even eliminate these tiresome but more importantly, economically disastrous, losses in man-hours which a beleaguered country such as the Philippines can ill afford?

Especially from motivated groups such as these whom we may impute regard highly value-laden and productive activities?

They obviously value banking services, don’t they?

Aside from giving ear to traditional time and motion studies that have earned great kudos from business past, credit union management may well serve to look at how to marshal the services of other staff members when crowds start to swell out of hand. In this particular instance, one could easily see that other staff members in the building, easily recognizable by their neat uniforms, were leisurely sauntering about among the waiting horde, obviously attending to their own duties, though unrelated to tellering and cash operations and thus, with not much or none at all impact on the gathering crowd that was not subsiding in number.

And I could have brought this urgent matter up to the sitting general manager, who is also a personal friend. Unfortunately, he was out on his lunch break and would not be back until 2 p.m.

And as a final general observation, one can readily recognize this great economic waste in many other areas of city life, such as in unnecessary congestion in traffic, where the losses extend beyond to just man-hours but leap into losses in precious scarce resources – unnecessary wear and tear of vehicles and unproductive use of expensive gas and oil.

Hopefully, some things positive ensue from this whiny piece.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Anything Goes: On The Last Phases Of A Two-month Trip

I hate it when people obligatorily inquire what I have been doing on my extended vacation to the old homeland. For one thing, it has been everything but a vacation; it never was planned as one and all those trips back over these many years never were nor did they develop into anything other than harried working trips.

I am no workaholic, neither am I obsessed with work. But simply because of pressing realities, I have been constrained to take those trips, including this one, to attend to business that required my presence and decisions.

Still, without meaning to random incidents and activities manage to insert themselves unobtrusively into the trip timeline, to spice up a bit what otherwise would be a very serious, somber, and boring succession of business activities that had to be attended to and resolved.

Thus, related hereunder under no specific chronological and/or priorities order, are certain interesting recorded trivia during this trip, enlivened with some pictures.

18th Century Residence

This plaque is prominently and permanently plastered close to the corner side of the building which fronts our old home site in Cagayan de Oro, which family dwelling was earlier demolished to make way for an awkwardly towering three-storey concrete commercial building, made taller by a mezzanine and a partly-roofed roof deck. This historical landmark plaque recognizes and details the importance of this ancient building built in the late 1800s by a local Chinese resident who used imported stone masonry from his old hometown in mainland China, Shipped in the dark and damp hulls of trading ships plying between China and the Philippines, cut stones made of coralline served as the main component of the Chinaman’s residence in what was then a very remote part of the archipelago, in the island of Mindanao. The present building reveals very little traces of the original building since it has over time been plastered over with new materials and has been resourcefully incorporated into a larger and more modern multi-storey commercial building.

The text on the plaque is in the Pilipino language, which I assume does not sit well with the local residents who speak a different dialect, Bisayan. And much like dredging old wounds, it speaks about the heroic deeds of some “revolutionaryos” who fought against the foreign invaders in the early 1900s, and the latter would be the Americans who occupied the entire archipelago after imperial Spain lost the Spanish American War. And morosely reveals that many of these unfortunate “revolutionaryos”, hapless casualties of the resultant war, were buried in the back of this old house on supposedly unmarked graves.

Mountain Grandeur

Pictured here is the tallest crest on the Kitanglad range which sits majestically on the plateau of a province called Bukidnon, which in the dialect means, mountainous. At over 9,000 feet it is proudly ranked as among the top tallest mountain ranges in the entire country, maybe overhauled only by Mount Apo, another tall monument in Davao, way further south in the same island. When the US armed forces still held sway locally, it had maintained a sophisticated tracking system on its peak, euphemistically referred to as a weather station. But now the peak is dotted and punctuated with many commercial pylon structures, though its sublime heights continue to exhibit an almost surreal atmosphere. Nature’s way of obliquely providing cover for many of its grandeur?

We have been quite fortunate that we bought some farmlands that lie just below the foot of this awesome natural wonder. Atop 1100 meters, we are blessed with the cool climate of a temperate country and yet it is no more than an hour away from the jungle-like city bustle toward the north.

Mountain Retreat

And tucked in a cozy ridge liberally planted with green cool pines is the story-book actualization of a mountain retreat – a new subdivision quite unlike many urban development. It has big lot cuts ideal for truck gardening on the side. Aptly named Mountain Pines, its big clubhouse from nowhere is pictured above. And we share our dream images of the stately Kitanglad range with its prospective residents.

A Timely Reminder and A Cause For Hope

Now, what the heck are gravestones, locally referred to as lapidas, doing in this entry?

When one has been away from a place for too long, it is not unusual for stray thoughts to wander into the distant past – of close relatives dead and gone. A quick visit to the local cemetery, or what are now called memorial parks, helps to soothe these aching thoughts. A timely and apt reminder also of one’s oncoming mortality.

But on a more hopeful note, a helpful revelation about how one generation has improved much in terms of lifespan, both expected and actual, does elevate one’s time-worn pulse a bit. My paternal grandfather died at age 54, my father at 57, his younger brother at 55, an older sister at 48, and a cousin died at childbirth.

But my generation has not only set the bar of life higher but many have hurdled way past above it. Hooray!