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This is what I truly believe—that there are more good people than bad, but that small percentage of bad folks causes a lot of the problems.  It’s a universal occurrence, whatever the race, nationality, or profession.  I’d like to believe that majority of the PNP and military personnel are decent individuals, but the actions of a few scalawags cast a shadow on these institutions.

For me, the biggest problem lies in the system of language teaching that has stayed stagnant throughout the years. Several colleagues have vented their frustration on how their hands are tied following a curriculum that is rigid and old-fashioned. Not a few teachers have shared with me that, upon seeing faces looking blankly at them, they decided to translate into English, and were promptly reprimanded by their supervisors. Some people would have me believe that there are more kids successfully learning Mandarin in the Philippine setting than those who are struggling. I beg to differ.

The letters below do not come from any single child, but are a composite of voices that have reached my ears over the past seven years. Included is my own voice because during my time; I was made to feel dumb, too. What we have is an outdated system of Chinese language teaching not based on sound theories that support practice in consonance with the changing times.  I think it’s about time we listened to our children.

*****

Dear Mommy,

I’m really sorry for making you sad.  I tried my best, I really did. I am still having problems with grasping the pencil and making straight lines. Also, the Chinese drawings (I think lao shi said they’re called characters) look a bit confusing. They do not really mean anything to me just yet, other than lines crisscrossing the paper.  It’s hard for me to figure out where each line starts and ends. Some of my classmates do well, I know, but some, like me, don’t. I don’t like it that lao shi is putting so many red marks and minus signs with numbers on my paper because when you see them, you get so upset. My classmates and I just turned 5.  Can’t lao shi please give us a bit more time to develop our fine motor skills?  Do we really have to be graded during this developmental stage of our life?  Lao shi says you need to get me a tutor. But isn’t she supposed to be the one to teach me? Did you and Daddy also have a tutor when you were five years old?  Maybe something is wrong with me. I’m just not smart.

*****

Dear Mommy,

I know how terribly disappointed you are. I am so sorry I didn’t choose Mandarin as my foreign subject, but I really can’t stand the teacher. I heard that all she does is give a handout, and under the guise of “collaborative learning,” she puts us in groups and tells us to read by ourselves.  She just sits in front of her computer, and that’s not teaching—or is it?  She said she’ll allow students to use Google Translate, but that is no substitute for the guidance we need from her.  The “in: word now is “facilitator,” but she doesn’t do that, either. Let me show you what happened when I used Google Translate. I typed 要是你不喜欢,我就把它丢掉了 , and the translation was “If you do not like it, I put it lost.”  I had to ask a Chinese-speaking friend, and apparently this line means “If you don’t like it, I’ll throw it away.” Here’s another translation I got: “Connotation is an abstract sense but definitely exists, is a cognitive sense of someone or something in a person.” Our topic was about something called 内涵 (nei han). Oh boy.  My classmate’s tutor says this describes a person who is cultured, has a lot of depth and substance. Well, why didn’t I think of that, duh.

Mom, I know how important Mandarin is for my future and that you and Dad really want me to excel in it. I want the same thing, but maybe I’m not cut out for it. Maybe my brain isn’t wired to learn Mandarin. The US State Department has classified Mandarin as one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn. Yes, we are ethnic Chinese, but I was born in the Philippines and I speak English. I don’t know how Mark Zuckerberg did it, but that’s because he’s smart and I’m not…

*****

Dear Mama,

I don’t want to go to school anymore. You said the school won’t allow me to study there if I don’t take Chinese, but stop na lang ako rather than give you failing grades sa Chinese. I don’t understand what the teacher is saying. If I ask, she gets mad and shouts at me. I copy everything but I don’t understand. I write and write. ’Di ako magaling sa Chinese, lagi ako sinisigawan kasi di ko naiintindihan. Ayoko na, Mama. When I ask, uulitin lang n’ya sinasabi n’ya, eh ’di ko nga naiintindihan. Pinapahiya n’ya ako sa harap ng classmates ko. It also makes me feel bad my high scores in English class are dragged down by my Chinese grade. It’s not fair.

******

The last letter is a real one from a real boy—a GRADE 1 kid enrolled in a local Chinese school.  He had no Chinese background whatsoever, and the school was informed. He was accepted and put in a special class, but this happened. The boy is a teenager now, and he hates Chinese with a passion even though he is Chinoy. Language skills are transferrable, and if one is doing well in the mother tongue, there is no reason why he or she can’t be taught a second, third, or fourth language.

It’s unfair to judge, since I only have his side of the story. However, I have been informed by highly reliable sources that it seems many teachers teaching Chinese in this country have very little training in language education and classroom management. Their only claim to fame is they can speak the language. Sorry, but that’s not good enough.

My heart goes out to the children left behind by a system that does not understand language education in depth. Mandarin Chinese is a foreign language in the Philippines, and must be taught as such. Why are institutions like Ateneo and the Confucius Institute bringing in experts on TCFL (Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language)?

I am a messenger.  I carry with me information from experts like Sir Ted Robinson, Stephen Krashen, Lev Vygotsky, Vivian Cook, Jack Richards, Dianne Larsen-Freeman, M. Celce-Murcia, David Nunan, Renate and Geoffrey Caine, Professors Yamin Ma and Xinping Li, Dr. Cynthia Ning, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), and many more. The teaching profession makes every other profession possible. Let us please do it right.

Illustration by Paul Fabila

Read more letters on the confronting truth behind language education Asian Dragon’s October-November 2016 issue, available for download on Magzter.

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