National Language Month: Highlighting the importance of native languages in nation building

This year's National Language Month focuses on the further development of the country's other native languages. This is attuned to this year's celebration of the International Year of the Indigenous Languages.

National Language Month is commemorated annually during the month of August with the intent of further enriching the country's identity, culture and heritage, as well as to celebrate the different languages in other parts of the archipelago. The country is rich with hundreds of languages and dialects. Currently, there are more or less 170 native languages in the Philippines. This is not surprising as the Philippines is an archipelago with over 7,100 islands.

Traditionally, various activities are conducted by relevant government agencies, schools, non-profit organizations and community-based groups all over the country based on yearly themes developed by the ‘Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino’ (Commission on the Filipino Language).

This year's theme focuses on the further development of the country's other native languages. This is attuned to this year's celebration of the International Year of the Indigenous Languages.

There have been efforts in previous years to promote the use of native languages during the formative years of schooling.

In 2009, the Department of Education introduced the use of Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTB MLE) in the education system, which focused on Tagalog, Kapampangan, Pangasinense, Iloko, Bikol, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Waray, Tausug, Maguindanaoan, Maranao, Chabacano, Ivatan, Sambal, Akianon, Kinaray-a, Yakan, and Sinurigaonon as major languages of instruction. 

Two years after, the Kindergarten Education Act of 2011 was passed wherein use of the mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTBMLE) method was adopted. Section 5 of R.A. 10157 states that the "mother tongue of the learner shall be the primary medium of instruction for teaching and learning in the kindergarten level."

Beyond the four walls of the classroom, there is no real effort to preserve the use of native languages. In fact, there are stigmas often associated with its use in public places. Everyone should work towards removing those stigmas and creating an atmosphere where the use of native languages should be encouraged.

We should remove our biases against peers, friends or relatives who speak with each other in their native tongues. Instead, we should encourage them to frequently use their native languages, especially as they feel as a sense of home and identity in its use.

We should also encourage writers and authors to write in their native tongues as a way of promoting the use of native languages and to further enrich our literature. There will always be an audience for stories reflecting the history, traditions and cultures of our ethnic and tribal communities, especially if these are written in the native language.

While being well-versed in the English and Filipino languages are important, it is imperative for all of us to preserve and continuously use our native languages in our homes and communities. Native languages are central to the identity of all groups of people in the country. In recognition of our origins and heritage, we must all work together for the preservation and development of our native languages. They reflect who we are and what we can be as a nation.

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About the Author
Mr. Aaron Benedict De Leon is currently a Business Development Practitioner in a private consulting firm. He has more than six years of professional experience in leading and managing political and non-government organizations, specializing in organizational management, policy development and program management. He has had stints with notable political/socio-civic organizations, serving in various capacities as: Secretary-General of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines (CDP) [2013-2015], Founding Chairperson of the Centrist Democratic Youth Association of the Philippines (CDYAP) [2012-2014], Philippine Representative to the International Young Democrat Union (IYDU) [2011-2012], Chairperson of the Christian Democratic Youth [2011-2012], Secretary-General of YOUTH Philippines [2010-2011], and Spokesperson/Communications Director of the GT2010 Gilbert Teodoro Presidential Campaign [2009-2010].
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