Anguish as Mother Tongue: English in a Multilingual Context

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Until fairly recently, the Philippines was adopting a bilingual policy that utilized both English and Filipino as media of instruction in schools. The government’s recent shift in policy regarding the use of mother tongue instruction is indicative of its recognition of the positive and empowering benefits of using local languages to facilitate learner development. While this move may be beneficial and practical for many, the notion of mother tongue instruction can also be a problematic one given the multicultural context of the Philippines. The issue is complicated further when the idea of English as a possible mother tongue clashes against the dominant local language and its collocations of nationalism. In this paper, I wish to explore the assertion of English as a mother tongue in a postcolonial context. If English is already so widespread in the Philippines, why is there so much resistance in claiming it as a mother tongue? At what point does the use of English as a mother tongue become a tool for empowerment or disempowerment especially in terms of drawing up the boundaries that define our national identity? By discussing the issues underlying the politics of and attitudes toward language and identity in the Philippines, I hope to reflect more critically on how we may shift attitudes in order to better address these problems within our pedagogical practices.