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Teaching Filipino to Filipinos in the 21st century

By Angelica Flores Morales, M. Ed.


I still get surprised looks from people whenever they learn that I’m a Filipino teacher. Some are amazed that I teach a subject that deals with a language, which not a few of them find so difficult to use or learn. Some simply pause and exclaim “wow!” which I hope is said in sincere admiration.

GOING NATIVE Angelica Flores Morales (in yellow top) and her students in a Filipino Creative Writing class

GOING NATIVE Angelica Flores Morales (in yellow top) and her students in a Filipino Creative Writing class

In the age of globalization, with English being perceived by many as a language of empowerment and barometer for success and intelligence, alongside government’s initial decision of excluding Filipino subjects in the general education curriculum of the K-12-based higher education courses and programs, I’ve also begun to ask myself what’s in store for me.  I also can’t help but sometimes question myself regarding my decision to stick to teaching Filipino. Is teaching Filipino to this generation still an important part of their learning? Do they still need to develop this skill for them to become competent individuals and well-rounded professionals?

I’ve been teaching the subject for more than 12 years now. I started teaching Grade 7 girls and later college students under the outgoing general education curriculum. I’ve met various types of students inside the classroom: those who are either unmotivated or don’t put much effort in studying Filipino (or any other subject, for that matter); those who find it hard to learn and use the language because they’ve grown up using English and other languages at home and with their friends; finally, those who are truly into learning the subject based on how they’ve grown in using Filipino either orally or in written form. These kids, I noticed, are also willing to immerse themselves in the subject matter even without much motivation. While the third type brings me joy and a sense of purpose, the first two keep me up on my toes thinking of ways to make the subject more interesting for them.

Rewards of teaching Filipino

Teaching Filipino hasn’t been all that bad, even though it may seem harder to do in an environment where students come from more affluent and supposedly English-speaking families. During my first years of teaching, one of my main challenges, apart from connecting with my students, was how to motivate and make them see why learning and using Filipino in communications and research would serve them and the Filipino people well. I still do reiterate these things to my students, but through the years, I’ve also taken a stand that I should go beyond that challenge and start my Filipino classes with the goal of enhancing and leveling up my students’ skills. That means also going beyond the goal of simply letting them appreciate the Filipino subject.

One issue I want to focus on is related to the digital age, specifically to the new generation of writers and readers. I encounter this most especially in my creative writing classes where I’m faced with what I call the “Wattpad phenomenon.” For those of you who don’t know what Wattpad is, it’s an application or website where any member who registers have a chance to read another person’s written work, write his/her own creative piece, and publish it through the app to reach a wider audience. Although not all my students are Wattpad readers, many admit that they read stories and novels from Wattpad. Many, based on their submitted works, have also been influenced by what they’ve read in Wattpad.

I know most established writers have qualms about this phenomenon, but I choose to stand in between: in the reading/writing context where my students are exposed to (and have found pleasure in reading and probably writing) and also within the writing standards set by the traditional creative writing processes I’ve been trained and accustomed to.

In terms of planning my classes and the curriculum I follow during a semester, I always bear in mind that my main goal in teaching Creative Writing in Filipino is for my students to be able to read and appreciate written works in Filipino and hopefully become writers themselves.  I’ve learned to adjust to my students’ interests yet I make it a point to inject tried-and-tested techniques in my teaching so that they still get acquainted with structure and writing traditions. I’m not a Wattpad reader and writer so I’m in no position to judge people who appreciate and write in it. My job as a teacher is to teach and set standards. At the same time, I have to be open as well to new trends.

Common challenges of students taking up Filipino

Other common concerns, questions and challenges of students taking Filipino subjects vary: the challenge in translating English sources to Filipino (which is a required skill, especially for research classes since a researcher-writer also needs to present the review of related literature in Filipino); the “pressure” to sound malalim or deep, which is also a common stereotype, when using the language; and their notion about the relevance of taking up the subject in this day and age where almost everyone aims to achieve mastery of English.

My major task then throughout the entire semester or school year is: to remind, convince, and reinstate to my students that the value of learning to use Filipino as they speak, listen, read, write, research, watch, perform, and express themselves in various forms is for their own country, so that they get to communicate their ideas, breakthroughs, and discoveries to our own Filipino-speaking and -thinking citizens. I always reiterate to them that with the onset of more and more creative works like films, shows, and books being translated to Filipino, the language as a medium is still alive and evolving up to now, and that if they want more Filipinos to learn and benefit from whatever work or career path they would delve in, they ought to practice and learn to take reading and writing in Filipino a very important skill to develop and enhance.

I also continue to uphold my view about using Filipino in interdisciplinary studies—meaning, seeing Filipino as a tool to communicate ideas and concepts that are usually written and available only for the English-speaking and -reading market to Filipinos who are still comfortable in reading, speaking and “thinking” in Filipino. As an educator, I don’t force my students to write, research, or work on anything in my class within a certain set of topics under the “Filipino subject or discipline” only. I make it a point that my students get to write about their own interests and work on researches within their chosen areas of discipline. In this way, taking up Filipino classes would be more meaningful and “professional” since students get to link their experience to a more academic one, which is, of course, aligned to their own areas of interests and discipline.

Through the years, my conviction in what I do has become stronger, which has served me and my students well. When students see this in their teacher, they would feel that the work they do in class is something of value and definitely non-negotiable. Of course, there would still be times when I feel that certain students tend to make me feel that what I’m teaching isn’t important. Instead of being emotional about it, I just continue with my work. I continue to channel my emotions and passion to the goal of producing more graduates who adhere to the value and principle that Filipino is a significant language and discipline, and partner in achieving our collective goal of nation-building and learning.

Giving credit where credit is due

I always try my best to commend my students whenever there’s an opportunity, say, by praising a group presentation they did well or giving written affirmation on a well-written term paper. Apart from boosting their confidence, these measures give them an idea on how far they can go in using Filipino as a means of expression. I always make it a point to also balance these with criticisms so that my students still get to meet the standards I expect of them.

If I may recommend some things to the Commission on Higher Education, I would like to suggest that colleges and universities have higher Filipino research and writing classes that can also lead students in using the language to write their research work or theses. Giving Filipino the same priority as English could motivate more Filipino students to finish their studies because they have this option to write in their first language.

I continue to believe and maintain my position that Filipino is not a dying language. I encourage fellow Filipino teachers to continue to have an open mind while remaining passionate and attuned with current context and needs of the Filipino society. May more leaders and future generation of Filipinos see the need for us to elevate the Filipino language as part of the academic and professional scenes, and not just view it as the language of the masa. Filipino has evolved so much through the years that there’s no other way for it to go but up.

Angelica Flores-Morales or Gel, as friends and colleagues call her, has taught Filipino classes in Miriam College since 2004. She has taught Grade 6 and 7 Filipino classes, Komunikasyon sa Filipino (Communications in Filipino), Pagbasa at Pagsulat tungo sa Pananaliksik (Reading and Writing for Research in Filipino) and Masining na Pagpapahayag (Creative Writing in Filipino) in the college. She’s a graduate of B.A. Malikhaing Pagsulat sa Filipino from UP Diliman and Masters in Education major in Special Education from Miriam College. She’s currently working on her PhD in Family Studies, also in Miriam College.