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From Quadrilingual to Bilingual: On the Multilingual Teaching in the Chinese Schools in the Philippines (从四语人到双语人:论菲律宾华校的多语教学)




Year Published:

Dory Poa

Minzu Chubanshe

Book Chapter









education, language, Chinese


This paper is an analysis of changes in language use within the ethnic Chinese community in the Philippines and their socio-political causes.

Currently within the Chinese community one finds a sharp contrast between different generations among the ethnic Chinese Filipinos in terms of language ability and use: the oldest generation often knows only Southern Min Chinese 1 well, with some ability in Tagalog; the middle aged are fluent in Tagalog, English, Mandarin and Southern Min Chinese; while the young are only bilingual in Tagalog and English.

The official Tagalog/English bilingual educational system in the Philippines and the discriminatory policies aimed at the Chinese in the Philippine enabled the Chinese growing up in the Philippines in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s to have a quadrilingual education in English, Tagalog, Mandarin and Southern Min Chinese. The lingua franca of the community is Southern Min, and this was used as the initial medium of instruction, however, for political reasons, the Chinese schools in the Philippines (then under the supervision of the Taiwan government) had put more and more emphasis on the teaching of Mandarin, and speaking the ethnic language of Southern Min was discouraged within school premises. The teaching of ‘Chinese’ then was mainly and is still mainly the teaching of Mandarin. Yet Mandarin is not the lingua franca in the Philippine Chinese community, and so the ‘Chinese’ being taught in the ‘Chinese’ schools is not the ‘Chinese’ being spoken in the Chinese community. The ‘Chinese’ being learned in the schools has little or no use within the Philippines outside of the schools.

Over the last thirty years the social and cultural environment of the younger generation Chinese has been changing: the third, fourth, and fifth generation Chinese in the Philippines are no longer brought up by their first generation parents or grandparents, but are often brought up by Filipina nursemaids, and so learn Tagalog rather than Southern Min as their first language. The schools then do not begin studies with Southern Min, and so the ‘Chinese’ which is actually spoken in the Chinese community (Southern Min) doesn’t get any reinforcement or support in the school, and so the children end up not speaking it at all.

With the ‘Filipinization’ of the schools after the change in recognition from Taiwan to Mainland China on the part of the Philippine government, the amount of Mandarin taught in the schools dropped from half a day to one or two hours, and this, combined with the fact that there is little or no use for Mandarin in the Chinese community, means that the children no longer learn that language either. The result then is that rather than being quadrilingual like their parents, they are now only bilingual in Tagalog and English.

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