Mother Tongue-based learning makes lessons more interactive and easier for students

PASIG CITY, October 10, 2016 – Learners begin their education in the language they understand best—their mother tongue—and need to develop a strong foundation in their mother language before effectively learning additional languages.

This is where the Department of Education (DepEd) gets inspiration in its inclusion of Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) as a feature of the Enhanced Basic Education Program. It mandates the use of the language that students are familiar with (their first language) as medium of instruction to allow them to grasp basic concepts more easily.

Currently, DepEd uses 19 languages in MTB-MLE: Tagalog, Kapampangan, Pangasinan, Iloko, Bikol, Ybanag, Sinugbuanong Binisaya, Hiligaynon, Waray, Bahasa Sug, Maguindanaoan, Maranao, Chavacano, Ivatan, Sambal, Akianon, Kinaray-a, Yakan, and Sinurigaonon. The MTB-MLE is implemented in two modules: 1) as a learning/subject area and 2) as medium of instruction.

Developmentally appropriate

As a subject, mother tongue education focuses on the development of speaking, reading, and writing from Grades 1 to 3 in the mother tongue. As a medium of instruction, the mother tongue is used in all learning areas from Kinder to Grade 3 except in teaching Filipino and English subjects.

Filipino is introduced in the second quarter of Grade 1 for oral fluency (speaking). For reading and writing purposes, it will be taught beginning in the third quarter of Grade 1. The four other macro skills which are listening, speaking, reading, and writing in Filipino will continuously be developed from Grades 2 to 6.

The purpose of a multilingual education program is to develop appropriate cognitive and reasoning skills, enabling children to operate equally in different languages – starting with the first language of the child.

“Researchers have proven even during our education with the Thomasites that the child’s first language really facilitates learning, as emphasized by Dr. Monroe, that we should be educated in our mother tongue. This gave birth to the Iloilo experiment and the result of that study was very remarkable,” said Ms. Rosalina Villaneza, Chief of Teaching and Learning Division of DepEd.

Major Findings of the Three Language-Teaching Experiments

The results of first Iloilo Experiment (1948-1954) along with the experiments in Rizal (1960-1966) and Iloilo (1961-1964) reflected the value of holistic approach to language in combination with other languages.

In the first Iloilo Experiment, experimental group of Grades 1 and 2 pupils were taught subject matter using Hiligaynon as the medium of instruction, while the control group received English instruction. Results showed that pupils in the experimental group were significantly superior in proficiency (language and reading tests) and subject matter (arithmetic and social studies tests) than their counterparts in the control group.

In the Rizal Experiment, the teacher training was concentrated in English and Tagalog; the teaching materials for the Tagalog-based lessons were anchored on the English materials. After completing Grade 6, the all-English group showed higher levels of proficiency in English, social studies, health and science, and arithmetic—significantly greater than the achievement of the groups that used the Tagalog medium.

However, despite under the limitations of training and materials, tests at the end of Grade 4 showed native-language teaching to possess significant strength. Receiving instruction in English, the all-English group attained the highest score in language, reading, social studies, health and science, and arithmetic computation. However, for arithmetic problems, the all-Tagalog group (Tagalog medium in Grades 1-4) obtained the highest level of achievement. In the Tagalog version of the tests, the three groups showed about the same proficiency levels in the reading test, but it was the all-Tagalog group that obtained the highest achievement levels in social studies, health and science, and arithmetic problems.

The part played by the factors of training and materials were further shown by the Iloilo Experiment II. The literacy rate of the experimental classes in Hiligaynon that the Bureau of Public Schools obtained in 1965 was 75.99%, showing a holding strength within the 1961 level of 53.28% for the country’s vernaculars.

The Iloilo Experiment II showed that the best medium of instruction to introduce Tagalog and English simultaneously in Grade 1 is Hiligaynon. There is reason to believe that, especially at an early age, using the mothertongue helps the learning process by introducing concepts to students in the language they are most used to.

Four Aspects of Development

The MTB-MLE strengthens the development of the appropriate cognitive and reasoning skills enabling children to operate equally in different languages—starting with the mother tongue.

Language Development. Students will establish a strong educational foundation in the language they know best; they will build a good “bridge” to the school language(s), and they will be prepared to use both/all of their languages for success in school and for life-long learning.

Cognitive Development. School activities will engage learners to move well beyond the basic questions of who, what, when, and where to cover all higher order thinking skills in the learners’ language of thought.

These higher order thinking skills will: (1) transfer to the other languages once enough Filipino or English has been acquired to use these skills in thinking and articulating thought; and (2) be used in the process of acquiring English and Filipino more effectively.

Academic Development. Students will achieve the necessary competencies in each subject area and, at the end of the program, they will be prepared to enter and achieve well in the mainstream education system.

Socio-Cultural Development. Students will be proud of their heritage language and culture, and respect the languages and cultures of others; they will be prepared to contribute productively to their own community and to the larger society.

Teachers’ testimonies

At first, Teacher Regina of Pasig Elementary School, who has been teaching Grade 3 Mathematics for 17 years, was apprehensive to use the mother tongue. She was mainly worried about how mathematical concepts and terminologies could be translated to the mother tongue.

However, this concern was negated by the more active participation of the children when they started using the mother tongue in her classes. She noticed that the children became more confident in conceiving and explaining content, and more articulate in expressing their ideas. She saw how using the mother tongue enables her learners to immediately construct ideas, explain without fear of making mistakes, and add new concepts to those they already know.

Teacher Nemia, a Grade 3 Science teacher of 12 years, had the same apprehensions. “It was a very unwelcome idea to use the mother tongue in teaching Science. It seemed difficult. I also thought of the extra effort I might need to exert in using terms that would match the exact translation of scientific terms in the mother tongue,” she said.

“However, when we started teaching in the mother tongue, we were surprised by how effective it was. The pupils were more attentive in class discussion. They are also able to explain their answers well when responding to questions. Furthermore, it makes them more confident to converse,” added Teacher Nemia.