Attitudes of Student Teachers towards the use of English as Language of Instruction for Science and Mathematics in the Philippines

| November 8, 2006

November 2006. Volume 1 Issue 3.

Attitudes of Student Teachers towards the use of English as Language of Instruction for Science and Mathematics in the Philippines

Camilla J. Vizconde
Center for Educational Research and Development (CERD),
University of Santo Tomas, Manila, Philippines

Bio Data:
Camilla J. Vizconde is a faculty researcher in the Center for Educational Research and Development (CERD) and an English teacher in the College of Education of the University of Santo Tomas, Manila, Philippines. Any correspondence with the author may be made through the Center for Educational Research and Development, Room 201, Thomas Aquinas Research Center, University of Santo Tomas, España, Manila, Philippines 1015 with telefax number (0632) 3140852 or through e-mail address: or

Article: PDF version

This qualitative study aims to describe the attitudes of science and mathematics student teachers towards English, which is one medium of instruction together with Filipino, in the Philippines where a bilingual policy is being implemented. Through interviews conducted with sixteen student teachers from two leading teacher training institutions in the Philippines, the findings yield that student teachers have difficulty in adhering to the bilingual policy of education. Through the analysis of the interview transcriptions, the findings show that the majority of the student teachers prefer the alternate use of both Filipino and English inside their classrooms, which defy the actual designation of media of instruction. As science and mathematics teachers, English should be the only medium in their classrooms. Most argue that concepts and topics taught are not comprehensible to students when taught in English. Student teachers, though agreeing that English is necessary in teaching their subjects, suggest that Filipino be used as a support language in the science and mathematics classes. These results have great implications in the present implementation of the bilingual policy as science and mathematics teachers have determined through their shared experiences that the use of English only in their classrooms has not been effective and productive in the long term.

Keywords: bilingual education, attitudes, student teachers, medium of instruction

Human beings by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.
William James (1842-1910)

The need to be proficient in the use of English among non-native speakers has become a global phenomenon. Today, educators are faced with the challenge of addressing the needs of the growing number of students whose primary language is not English (Gibbons, 2003). While mastering other skills and content in other subject areas, there is the necessity for these learners to gain proficiency in English.

It is surprising to note that even in the United States of America where immigrants continue to increase in number, studies show that this is a predicament (Berriz, 2006; Spanos, 2006; Reyhner & Davison, 1992). Public schools in the U.S. have been developing instruction for their students learning English as a second language for the past 25 years and the challenge has remained. One such strategy for instruction identified by Blake and Van Sickle (2001) is code-switching from the local dialect to standard teaching, which seemed to work well as the students improved their academic achievement in science and mathematics. This may not be true, however, for other states which do not adhere to code-switching and find immersion or sheltered-approach as workable (Rossell, 2005). The quest for the “right” approach seems elusive as they continue to experiment with other formulas to meet the growing and changing needs of learners.

In South Africa, Miller, Bradbury and Pedley (1998) studied the academic performance of students in mathematics and English. Their findings show that the second language, which is English, rather than being the direct cause of under-preparedness of university students, serves to compound or exacerbate a more fundamental educational or cognitive problem. Mathematical concepts are acquired through language and the problem arising from the use of the language has truly affected the learning of these concepts.

Although there are rich sources of data for English as a Second Language across the curriculum, there is still a dearth in literature concerning the use of English in science and mathematics teaching. The need to answer the challenge of both attaining mastery of the content and the English language is an issue that science and mathematics teachers should address. Furthermore, do they really believe that being proficient in English would help them teach science and mathematics effectively?

The attitudes of teachers come to the fore as they reflect upon the language that they use in teaching. Consciously or unconsciously, their attitudes play a crucial role in language’s “growth or decay, restoration or destruction” (Baker, 1988). Their attitudes, too, as part of their cultural orientation, influence heavily their younger students (Shameem, 2004). What kind of attitudes towards English should teachers have in order for them to teach science and mathematics concepts successfully? Can these attitudes be reflected even during their student training period? What attitudes do student teachers have towards English as their medium of instruction?

The student teachers in science and mathematics have to be equally prepared to perform their tasks not only by mastering their own subject area but also by achieving competence in the use of the medium of instruction. Learning science and language arts is reciprocal (Casteel & Isom, 1994). Language is an indispensable tool in the promotion of learning. Designated as a second language in the Philippines, English takes the central role of bridging knowledge and skills in mathematics and science to learner competency in these areas. The teacher’s preparation should not just be in terms of knowledge and skills in their specialization but also in their attitude towards the tools that they will use in teaching their subjects. Attitude towards the use of English as a medium of instruction plays a significant role in determining the success of the science and mathematics program of the schools, hence this investigation.

Review of related literature
Studies regarding attitudes towards a certain language are quite numerous. Gardner’s contribution in the understanding of attitudes and its relation to language teaching and learning, however, cannot be ignored. Gardner’s studies in language attitudes and motivation have been cited by professionals and experts in language acquisition (Ellis, 1985; Spolsky, 1989; Romaine, 1995; Cook, 1996; Hashimoto, 2002; and Kamhi-Stein, 2003). Gardner (2001) proposes that the teacher must have the training, personality characteristics, and ability to teach the fundamentals of the language to the students. Not only that, teachers must encourage students to learn the materials and most importantly, use them.

Initially, a questionnaire to investigate attitudes had been employed. However, it failed to reveal unconsciously held or socially undesirable attitudes (Hamers & Blanc, 1989). As other researchers became interested in the concept of measuring attitudes, more refined types of measurement emerged. Romaine (1995) cites the advantages of using a questionnaire as facility in the distribution and collection access to a larger number of respondents and ease in comparison and analysis of information/data gathered. Baker (1988) mentions further, several types of techniques in measuring an individual’s attitude, namely: Thurston and Chave, Likert, Guttman’s Scalogram Analysis, the Semantic Differential Technique, the Repertory Grid Technique, Factor Analysis and Sociometry.

One of the most popular techniques was Lambert’s matched guise test (Cook, 1996). This technique presents tape recordings to bilingual speakers who are asked to evaluate the speaker based on the scale, which describes certain personality traits (e.g. good/bad, pleasant/unpleasant, etc.) The judge does not know that he is being presented the same speaker who spoke both languages on tape. Since the speaker does not change, it is assumed that the judgment made will solely be based on the personality traits. When used for French/English bilinguals, results of Lambert’s findings showed that both French and English judges perceived English as more favorable than French.

Warden and Lin’s (1998) study of Taiwanese students’ attitudes made use of the Likert type scale combined with open-ended questions. The study revealed that the past learning processes affected the perspectives in English learning and the fears of the students. Since the study was conducted among non-EFL majors, the findings show that different language skills, teaching methods, interests and outlook affect the attitudes of the students towards the English language. The study suggested the adoption of a variety of methods that would meet the needs of the teachers and students.

Using direct and indirect measures of attitude (subjective vitality questionnaire and a matched-guise instrument), El-Dash and Busnardo (2001) conducted a study on Brazilian attitudes toward English. Results reveal that the majority of adolescents favor English to the Portuguese language in terms of status and solidarity. Favoring the English language over the native Portuguese is attributed to the general perception of English as a prestigious international language and as symbolic use among adolescent peer group.

In the field of reading, a study by Kamhi-Stein (2003b) suggests that the reader’s views of their home language and beliefs about reading may play an important role in reading. In her study of college readers in Spanish and English, findings show that attitudes seem to affect the reading behavior of the participants. In a third study conducted by Borromeo-Samonte (1981) on the attitudes of Filipino college students towards English, results show that the students favor English. The students’ attitudes were influenced by their integrative motivation as they can easily identify themselves with the culture. Student performance and attitudes were influenced by motivation. The study also showed that the attitudes were conditioned by the choice of profession/vocation, age, teacher influence and peer group influence.

Similar studies in the Philippines made by Amamio (2000) on attitudes of students, teachers and parents toward English and Filipino as media of instruction provided an interesting comparison. Students and teachers prefer the use of English as the medium of instruction with the teachers finding English as a more comfortable language for explaining ideas and concepts. Teachers further noted that English is an intellectualized language and a valuable tool to source information technology. However, the parents preferred Filipino because “it is a language in which they can think and express themselves” and it is a language that they understand and through which they themselves are better understood.

In sum, research regarding language attitudes has yielded information that is valuable in determining the language to be used as the medium of instruction. It would benefit the teachers and the policy makers to identify the attitudes of teachers towards the language they use in their fields of specialization.

The present study
This research endeavors to address the following questions: 1) What attitudes do student teachers have towards the use of English as medium of instruction in teaching science and mathematics? 2) What implications may be deduced from the respondents’ collective attitudes towards English as the medium of instruction for science and mathematics in the light of the Bilingual Policy of the Philippines?


A total of nineteen (19) pre-service teachers from the government and private schools were purposively selected for the study. As observed by Patton (2001), limiting the number of respondents in qualitative studies is not aimed at generalizing but clarifying the idea. The schools were chosen on the basis of graduates’ performance in licensure examinations for teachers. These teacher-training institutions have consistently produced graduates who pass the licensure examinations thereby placing the schools in the top performing institutions. The teacher training supervisor provided respondents from the state university while their supervising teachers favorably endorsed those from the private university. Student teachers were only allowed to undergo the interview during their free time. Respondents came from the state university (32%) and the private university (68%). A majority of the respondents were female (84%). Of the respondents 74% graduated from secondary education in private schools, while 26% finished secondary education in government or public high schools. Fifty-eight percent (58%) took science as their field’s specialization in the tertiary level while the rest specialized in mathematics (42%).

Based on the robotfoto (a Dutch term which means a cartographic sketch of the respondents, Kelchtermans & Ballet, 2002) given to the respondents before the actual interview, the majority of respondents used Filipino (74%) as the language spoken at home while English and Filipino (53%) were widely used in school. In terms of language preferences, the majority of respondents seemed to be inclined towards movies (79%), magazines (89%), books (79%) and newspapers (79%) in English.

Qualitative in nature, the study made use of robotfotos and actual interviews as main tools for gathering information. First, the respondents were asked to answer the robotfoto and were invited for an interview. The interviews lasted for a minimum of twenty to forty-five minutes per respondent. The interview guide questions are presented in Appendix 1. These questions were formulated based on an intensive related literature review.

The interviews were semi-structured in nature to allow the researcher to clarify and probe deeper into the answers of the respondents. Respondents could choose Filipino or English as their medium of expression and they were asked to state without inhibition their opinions and comments regarding the questions. Before the actual interviews, respondents were informed that the exchanges were to be tape-recorded. All interviews were done voluntarily and the respondents were assured of the confidentiality of their answers.

Data Analysis
Data from the recorded interviews were gathered and transcribed carefully. Answers were categorized into two main classifications: positive and negative attitudes towards the language and the persons using the language. Results were reviewed and analyzed thoroughly by reading the transcriptions. The data were then summarized and interpreted.

Concept of English

Respondents generally thought of English as a universal language that is used in communicating their thoughts and ideas. They also related it to some concepts like grammar, vocabulary and speech. A few considered it difficult as they perceived it to be a challenge and “very hard”. As indicated in Table 1, respondents from the public and private schools did not differ much in their responses as both referred to components of the language

Table 1: Perception of the word: English

Respondents from Private Schools Respondents from Public Schools
“language expressing thoughts…”
“Vocabulary words…”
“Language for communication”
“Hard because I’m not good in grammar”
“Universal language”
“Very hard”
“Universal language…”
“English is a second language.”
“…anything that’s English”
“…medium of instruction”“…classic literature, essays, short stories…”

Attitudes towards English as a Language
The majority of respondents gave English an important status in the country. Some of them valued English highly because it is used for “business, transaction and communication with foreigners”. One respondent seemed to relate the ability to speak the language with the socio-economic status of the speaker. It suggests that if one knows how to speak English, one comes from the upper class in the society. Another respondent suggested that knowing how to speak the language relates to intelligence. Fifteen percent (15%) of the respondents believed that it is the language of the educated.

Three respondents believed that English has the same status as that of Filipino though each clarified later on what was meant by equality. One stated that though both languages have the same status, English seems to be the language of the upper class. Another revealed that one should “know first your language before you study another language such as English”. One seemed to be practical in saying that both languages enjoy equal status since there are mathematical and scientific terms that cannot be translated in Filipino, thus, Filipino is seen as a substitute for English. On the other hand, when students have difficulty understanding English explanations and discussions, Filipino comes in handy for translation. The majority of respondents agreed on the necessity and utility of the English language.

Attitudes towards users of English
Most of the respondents had positive attitudes towards fellow Filipinos who use the English language in a place beyond the home as indicated in Table 2. Respondents agreed that fluency in the English language signifies success in profession and society. Fifteen percent (15%) or three respondents said that they admire these people. The respondents seemed to admire these users because they see the advantage of the use of the language at home and in school and some compare their communication skills and found themselves inadequate.

A great number also attributed the ability of the speakers to use English well to their upbringing at home. The perception was that these people are trained to speak English well at home and in school and so develop fluency in speaking the language. In addition to this, Filipinos who speak English well were taught the language since they were children. The respondents also seemed to relate this ability to speak English well to success in life and having better chances of working in other countries.

Initially, some respondents reacted negatively, but after careful probing, they clarified that their answers associated this negativity with their insecurity in speaking the English language. Other respondents thought that non-native speakers who use English at home and in places beyond the school want only to impress other people with their competence in the language. They perceived these users to be “maarte” (exaggerated) and “OA (overacting)”.

There was only one respondent who did not have any thoughts at all regarding these English users since his response is “Wala, wala. (None at all)”.

Table 2: Attitude towards the user of English at home and in school

Positive Attitudes
Negative Attitudes
“Magaling po sila” (They are good.)
“…excel more in outside the country, they have better chance”
“Okay, that way they can develop more yung speaking in English.”
“They have better edge.”
“Magaling sila….kasi pinalaki silang ganoon.” (They are good because they were brought up that way.)
“I admire them because it’s hard for me to speak in English.”
“Para bagang well-trained. Lalo po yung pinanggalingan nilang school o yung family.” (They seem to be well trained. Especially from those school or family.)
“There’s nothing wrong about it as long as you can manage and you can communicate well with other people.”
“Nature noong kinalakihan nila.”
“Advantage. Magagamit po sa bahay at sa school” (It can be useful at home and in school.)“I admire them and I consider them educated.”
“I think they’re trying to impress their, yung mga kausap nila.”
“Okay lang pero parang ‘funny’ at home kasi you’re suppose to speak the Filipino language.” (It’s okay but it seems funny to be speaking the language since you’re supposed to speak Filipino at home.)
“I feel insecure kasi parang gusto nilang maging successful.” (I feel insecure because they want to be successful.)
“Parang OA. Depende sa place.”
“Maarte if they use it in public places.”

Use of English in Science and Mathematics
All of the respondents were positively inclined towards the use of English in teaching science and mathematics as shown in Table 3. They agreed that English is the language of science and mathematics because all materials that they use are written in English. They also stated that scientific and mathematical terms are very difficult to translate in English and that there is an abundance of terms that do not have any equivalent terms in Filipino.

Table 3: Use of English in Science and Mathematics Subjects

  • “ English is a must in teaching science and mathematics.”
  • “Mahirap po talaga kasi mahirap mag-explain sa students” (It’s difficult to explain to students) “May terms na di mo talaga ma-express sa English” (There are terms which cannot be expressed in English.)
  • “I agree that English should be used in teaching science and mathematics because there are terms which cannot be explained in Filipino, that only English term can describe.”
  • “I think we should use English because science is usually published in English.”
  • “Sa Science, it’s okay… maraming words na hindi pwede i-translate.” ( In science, it’s okay…  there are many words, which cannot be translated.)
  • “It’s much better to use English kasi if we use our language, Filipino, more complicated.” (It’s much better to use English because if we use our language, Filipino, more complicated.)
  • “We should use English in explaining…. but we can use Tagalog so that students will understand.”
  • “English should be used as a medium of instruction provided that in explaining terminologies, the processes in mathematics, we must use Filipino.”
  • “It’s good.”
  • “In English but I don’t think it should be that strict.”
    “Dapat English ang gamitin.” (English should be used.)

endent on the language use. The findings suggest that English terms in science and mathematics are difficult and it is the understanding of the lessons through discussions and exemplification using the English language that seems to pose the problem.

Most respondents realize the necessity of the science and mathematics teachers as facilitators of language learning in the classroom. By using language arts skills of speaking, listening and writing, teachers can identify students’ scientific understandings (Akerson, 2002). Student teachers seem to agree in principle that this should be so. The findings suggest that respondents concede that English is a necessary language in teaching science and mathematics. They seem to consider English as necessary since terms in science and mathematics are all in English. Materials in the form of textbooks and reference books are also written in English. Difficulty in translating these terms in the native language is a great dilemma for most of them. The majority agrees that it is a very important language at present since this world has become “borderless”. Respondents seem to admit that knowing how to speak English is an advantage.
However, the study also reveals that the implementation of language policy is yet to be fully realized. The goal of producing individuals who are proficient in both Filipino and English has yet to be attained even at the level of higher education. The majority of the respondents use Filipino in teaching their lessons because they point out that this is the only way that students will be able to understand the lesson. Students, they argue, comprehend the lesson better or only, when they use Filipino. At some point, the bilingual policy was even a point of confusion for some respondents who defined it as the actual use of both languages inside the classroom. This is quite in contrast with the existing policy that clearly states the scope and limitations of English and Filipino use.

The attitudes of the respondents towards the language and its speakers can be taken positively. Pascasio (2002) revealed that language use and positive attitude are important in achieving language proficiency. There is a great possibility that Filipino student teachers believe in the capacity of the English language in making their students learn. However, it is suggested that in language and curriculum planning, teachers from various disciplines, most especially in this case, language teachers and content-subject teachers should be consulted. Using the content-based approach in the curriculum, planners and implementers should be guided by the principles of collaboration and teamwork. Language is not taught and learned solely for its sake. For students who are learning ESL in English-medium schools, English is both a target and a medium of Education: They are not only learning English but are learning through it as well (Gibbons, 2003).

Language is a tool for all teachers. Its use should be guided by actual observations and practice of the classroom teacher. It is argued that only by exploring and understanding the distinct communities that ESL (English as a Second Language) and science teachers belong to, can we begin to understand how teachers can negotiate shared understandings (Arkoudis, 2003).

Although the study was limited to nineteen respondents from two institutions, further studies can be undertaken using respondents in other teacher-training institutions across the country for more conclusive databases. Areas for further studies include: To what extent does attitude affect learning? What positive attitudes should be developed among content subject teachers towards the medium of instruction? What are the implications of a positive language attitude towards the attainment of effective learning?

As teachers and researchers, there is a necessity to probe deeper into these questions.

Akerson, V. (2002). Teaching science when you’re principal says ‘teach language arts’. Teaching Teachers. Virginia, USA: National Science Teachers Association Press.

Amamio, L. (2000). Attitudes of students, teachers and parents of RVM schools in metro Manila toward English and Filipino as media of instruction. (Unpublished Thesis) Presented to the UST Graduate School, Manila, Philippines.

Arkoudis, S. (2003). Teaching English as a second language in science classes: Incommensurate epistemologies. Language and Education, 17(3), 161-173.

Baker, C. (1988). Key issues in bilingualism and bilingual education. England: Multilingual Matters, Ltd.

Berriz, B. (2006). Unz got your tongue: What have we lost with the English-only mandates? Radical Teacher, 75(1), 10-15.

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Borromeo-Samonte, J. (1981). Attitudes of college students towards English as a language. (Unpublished Thesis) Presented to the UST Graduate School, Manila, Philippines.

Casteel, C.P. & Isom, B.A. (1994). Reciprocal processes in science and literacy learning. The Reading Teacher, 47(7), 538-545.

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Appendix 1: Guide Questions for the Interview


  1. Thoughts on the English language
  2. What comes to your mind when you hear the word “English”?
  3. When do you use the English language?
  4. What do you think of Filipinos who speak English well in school and at home?
  5. What do you think of people who use the English language in a place beyond school?
  6. What do you think is the position of the English language in our culture?
  7. Should all Filipinos learn how to speak English?
  8. What do you think of Filipinos who try hard to speak English?
  9. When is the right time or place to speak English?B. Attitudes towards English as a Medium of Instruction in Teaching science and mathematics
  1. What can you say about the statement: “All teachers are language teachers”?
  2. What is your opinion about the use of English in science and mathematics?
  3. Are you familiar with the use of English as the designated language for teaching science and mathematics?
  4. Can Filipino as a language ever replace English as a medium of instruction in teaching mathematics and science?
  5. Will you appreciate the English language better when taught by a native speaker?
  6. Do you think you will be a more effective and credible teacher if you use English in teaching your subject?
  7. Do you think that students understand you more when you speak in English?
  8. If not, do you think it is more effective to speak the native language when students seem not to understand the subject?
  9. Give your comments about teachers who speak Filipino in a science and mathematics class.
  10. What are your comments regarding teachers who speak both in Filipino and English during the science and mathematics classes?
  11. What affects your communication skills in English?
  12. In what way have you developed your communication skills in English?
  13. What can you say about teachers who have difficulty in using the English language inside and outside the classroom? In what way do they affect the extent of language learning of the students?
  14. What suggestions can you give to teachers who cannot speak English well during science and mathematics classes?
  15. When should teachers be allowed to speak English or Filipino in teaching their subjects? How about the students?
    16. What policies should govern the use of English and Filipino as medium of instruction in teaching science and mathematics?

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Category: Volume 1 Issue 3