English Proficiency

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ENGLISH PROFICIENCY: HOW MUCH OF A PROBLEM IS IT?

For many of us, the state of education in a country speaks volumes. Where English is spoken and taught as a second language, fluency is deemed a basic requirement for proper communication and propagation of ideas and connotes success. Does this fluency actually translate to a country's economic success and overall standing in the world of nations?

Back when American influence on teachers was still strong in the 1950s, I recall instances where all of us, pupils then, were required to speak English in English class or be fined five centavos per instance of speaking in Ilocano, a major dialect of northern Philippines. Five centavos then was a hefty sum. Tagalog, now Filipino, was not commonly in use at the time. Each one of us would try to catch anyone who committed the "sin" and report it to a classmate assigned to collect the fines who, in turn, would submit the list of offenders to the teacher. We never asked where those collections went. Teachers were the bosses and their word was law. No one questioned them. They stood on pedestals and we looked up to them with much respect. Teaching was a very respectable profession.

Looking back, I now realize that our teachers in elementary and high school, then spoke or at least taught us proper English and with much enthusiasm. Perhaps my siblings and I had the added advantage of being raised by parents who happened to be teachers. Several of their brothers and sisters were graduates of the Philippine Normal School. Books we used were brought in by the American teachers and ministers--from readers, to hymnals, to almanacs. There were practically no Filipino authors that we knew of. American influence gave us a decided advantage over our Asian neighbors. The country enjoyed a privileged status in the region as a consequence of this.

In Silliman University in Dumaguete city, a school founded by the Americans in 1901, English was the lingua franca on campus and...
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