Teaching Math in Bicol

Over the years I have acquired this rather pretentious past-time of reading scholarly articles about different topics, esoteric or otherwise. I have read academic papers on astronomy, tropical cyclones, Korean pop culture — so basically anything that I find vaguely interesting.

I usually go to Google Scholar to find these articles. Google Scholar works just like regular Google, except when you enter your keywords, the database shows you a list of research studies written by various experts from different fields. It’s not as boring as it sounds, to be honest, especially if you search for topics that you’re genuinely interested in.

The other day, for instance, I was looking for articles about my hometown and I found a study on the variations of Sorsogon dialects in the context of teaching math in grade school. The study was done after the K-12 program mandated the use of the students’ mother tongue for teaching basic subjects between kinder and Grade 3.

It was news to me. I did not know that kids these days have to learn math in their local languages. Math is a highly technical discipline and I have always articulated its concepts in English. Most of us have, haven’t we? We all say “one minus one”, for example, and — how do they even translate this to Bicol anyway?

The examples in Table 1 were taken from an article by Ryan V. Dio and Michael John A. Jamora published in 2014. Dio and Jamora divided the Sorsogon dialects into four categories based on four major areas, and they collected the most commonly used translations of mathematical statements based on interviews with teachers.

The teachers who participated in the study observed that their students were more participative in class after the medium of instruction had been changed to their mother tongue (p. 114). It tracks, doesn’t it? Back then my classmates and I never spoke to each other in English or Filipino. We always spoke in Bicol, and it just makes sense that kids are more willing to raise their hands and share their answers in a more familiar language.

I also noticed that certain areas in Sorsogon formally use the word “sayo” instead of “saro.” The study even lists “sadiyot” and “mabûgat” as valid variations of the words “saday” and “magub-at”, respectively (p. 112).

I always thought that “sayo”, “sadiyot”, and “mabûgat” were verbal ticks of my grade school classmates who were yet to figure out how to speak properly. You know how parents say “wiwi” instead of “ihi” to their kids? I thought “sayo” was just a cutesy way of saying “saro”, but apparently there are municipalities in Sorsogon that use those words on the daily.

Another feature that stood out to me was the phonetic length of the local translations. The Bicol translations simply take longer to enunciate compared to their English counterparts. The word “minus”, for example, only has two syllables while “bawasan nin” has four. A classmate once told me that Chinese kids are good at math probably because counting in Mandarin is phonetically quicker. I don’t speak Mandarin so I have no clue if he was pulling shit out of his ass, but it kinda makes sense, doesn’t it?

Anyway, phonetics wasn’t even a big deal at this point. The study noted that one of the top challenges for teachers was the limited availability of teaching materials (p. 114-115). The study found that the teaching guides distributed across the region were primarily written in Bicol Naga. Teachers from other parts of Bicol therefore had to write their own translations so they could match the materials to the dialects in their respective areas. (Teachers really deserve a pay raise, ‘no?)

The teachers interviewed for the study also raised concerns regarding math terms that “should not be translated” (no specific examples were given) and the lack of a standardized translation guide. The study reported that standardized exams on the division, regional, and national levels were not always written in the same lexical variant taught in a given district, causing confusion among students.

This study is about five years old so maybe all those issues have already been addressed since then. It proves, however, that at least this specific feature of the K-12 program was prematurely implemented. The effectiveness of the K-12 policy as a whole is an entirely different discussion.

And ‘yun, that’s it. I wonder if any of you actually read the entirety this post. Every now and then I feel the urge to blabber about things that I know only a few would appreciate, but hey, blog ko naman ‘to a? Charet.

Ryan V. Dio and Michael John A. Jamora wrote “Variations of Sorsogon Dialects as Mother Tongue-Based Medium of Instruction in Grade School Mathematics” which was published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Education, Arts and Sciences (Volume 1, Issue No. 4) in 2014. I retrieved a PDF version of the article from this link.

The featured image is by Crissy Jarvis from Unsplash.


  1. rAdishhorse

    IIRC bini-Bicol na mga teachers namin sa gradeschool, specially grade 1 yung pag tuturo ng math noon pa. Not purely in Bicol, pero nag Bibicol sila para maintindihan ng lahat. Saro bawasan ki duwa, eh di wara na, may utang ka pa. Kala ko sa Catanduanes lang yung ‘Sayo’. Common sa amin yung variations ng saday, sadayot, diit, diyot. Alam mo bang samin may sadayot, sadayuton, sadayutonon, at sadayutononononon!?? Hahaha. Translation yun ng microscopic hahahaha

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jolens

      True, I think bini-Bicol din kapag ini-explain na pero never ko talagang natutunan na magbasa ng numbers in any language other than English. Kahit ‘pag nagbabasa ako ng Tagalog, ‘yung numbers nagiging English talaga. Like ang “Abril 21” ay “Abril twenty-one”, ang “1 + 1/2” ay “one plus one-half”, ganyan. Haha.

      Ginagamit din namin ‘yang “nononononononon” hahahaha. ‘Yung isa pang cutesy variation na narinig ko sa saday: sadit. All this time talaga akala ko pambata lang ‘yang mga ganyan hahaha. 🤣

      Liked by 1 person

      1. rAdishhorse

        samin kasi 1 to 10 lang ang Bicol, 4 to 9 pareho lang ng Tagalog, tapos 11 pataas Spanish na (or Spanish-ish?) (onse, dose, trese), 100 = sanggatos, pero pag 200, dos sientos, tres sientos… tapos pag year or date mil nueve sientos… mas madali pala after ng 90s, dos mil uno, dos mil dies.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Jolens

          Pero kapag nagbabasa ka ng numbers, binabasa mo sila in Bicol? Ano basa mo sa 2001, like right now? Binasa mo siya as dos mil uno?

          Ako kaya ko namang magbilang in Bicol, pero hindi intuitive sa akin na magcuenta in Bicol haha.


          1. rAdishhorse

            Hehehe. Hindi. Pero sa school programs namin yung date binabasa sa Bicol. Pero sa daily life, kung nasa Bicol ako.. magagamit mo yun sa pera. Sa pamasahe, sa sugal, sa pustahan, sa pag bili ng beer at pulutan. hahaha (sorry di ko na alam kung tama ba yung example sa pinag-uusapan natin or sa prev comments ko).

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Kimberly Bañez

    Sometimes I can’t imagine being born a few decades later and be forced to learn Mother Tongue. Learning Bikol at home was complicated enough… imagine learning it in school where you are being graded. In Albay, the dialect isn’t the same for every town so what you’re learning in your hometown might not be applicable to what your school is teaching (if it’s in a different town). But it’s nice that somehow people still understand each other, although informally. I myself understood my Sorsoganon blockmates, the majority in my block, when they spoke. Formally teaching in Mother Tongue might be complicated though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jolens

      I know what you mean! I can also understand my friends from Legazpi and Naga, and if I spend enough time with them I can start speaking like them too haha.

      I can definitely see how complicated it can be to teach in the Mother Tongue, especially since Bicol is really diverse, ‘no? I think the policy generally favors kids who can adapt quickly to languages. Lugi ‘yung mga may linguistic delays/weaknesses, kasi what they see in exams may be different from what they learn in the classroom. 😦

      On the plus side, I guess the future generation will be more, um, literate (?) in Bicol? I can speak Bicol but I really don’t know how to read/write in it. Quite unfortunate, I guess? Haha.


  3. Mochichi

    This is why when college friends would usually asked why my roommate (from Iriga) and I (from Sorsogon) won’t speak Bicol to each other, we would often just look at each other silently. Too hard to explain na “magkaiba” yung Bicol na ginagamit namin. Even from High School, classmates would make fun of us because from our town we use “Amo” as yes. Sabi nila dami daw mayayaman samin, lahat daw kasi amo, walang katulong. But with regards to Mother Tongue Math, when my 7 year-old cousin, came home with a Bicol Math problem, pati kami sumakit ulo. It was the start of K-12 back then and even private schools use Mother Tongue to teach Math but the problem is that some of the kids there speak Tagalog and even English on a daily basis, so when asked “Pito bawasan sin upat”, iyak sila. Haha. I think they were also taught basic shapes using Bicol.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jolens

      Uy, same! I had a schoolmate in high school who’s from Catanduanes and when we tried speaking to each other, wala, hindi kami magkaintindihan haha. I low-key want to consult a linguist tuloy and ask if it’s even accurate to call all languages in our region “Bicol.” Why conflate them to single category, ‘no?

      Nag-aral ka ba sa Pisay or something? Haha. I went to Pilot in grade school but I’m not from the city talaga, so bata pa lang natuto na akong mag-code switch. Sa bahay, “iyo”, pero sa school, “amo.” Tapos meron din ‘yung variation sa verbs, like sa amin “dimalagan” pero sa Sorsogon, “duminalagan.” Parang ‘yung “tumatakbo” vs. “natakbo” ng mga Tagalog haha.

      Na-imagine ko ‘yung rich kids na umiiyak dahil sa Bicol Math! Hahaha. So may Bicol translations na rin ‘yung polygons? Pak, parang gusto kong matutunan ‘yun! 🤣


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