ON LEARNING ENGLISH. Grade 5. Two words challenged me during a spelling exercise- bourgeois and rendezvous. Why are there “silent” letters – like “g” in sign or “k” in knife? Why add them if they are not going to be pronounced anyway? Why do they have to make things difficult (or in my opinion then, maarte)? I never bothered to ask my teachers because I felt that my questions were beyond the scope of our lessons. If they are to answer me with a tweet now, I’m imagining that it will come with a hashtag #imbiyerna. Nonetheless, the combined challenge and fascination made me appreciate all English subjects – Grammar, Language, Reading and Literature. I liked the lessons on subject-verb agreement, on finding the direct object in a sentence, on proper ordering of adjectives, on remembering the present, past and past participle tenses of common verbs. I developed a love for reading, though I hated making book reports. As soon as we got our stack of books for the new school year, I activated my geek mode and read the stories in my books during the last few weeks of summer. I put in that amount of effort not just for the grade or not just to be spared of the catchy, red English campaign tag on campus; but because my young mind thought that mastering the English subjects will answer the questions I had earlier. Of course, it was later on that I learned that those two words which enticed me to master English, were French in origin and were borrowed directly into English. If I had asked my teachers then, I probably would have known the answer early on. The good news was, I have learned the basics of English and there was no turning back. Let me give a side note on the tag- yes, we were required to speak English at some point. Whenever the student or teacher marshals heard you spoke in Filipino, you should be ready to receive the tag with the long yarn, which you can conveniently but embarrassingly wear for about an hour on campus. Did that work? I don’t know. I decided to take the vow of minimal talk instead. The less talk, the less error there is. I don’t know if they still do that. All I know is it needs to be changed so students don’t end up expressing themselves less often for fear of humiliation.
ON LOVING FILIPINO. Filipino on the other hand was much easier to learn for me because most words are pronounced as written. I had the same passion for Filipino as I had with English. Aside from the fact that it’s the major language I used to communicate with almost everyone around me then, I fell in love with Philippine literature. That affair probably started with reading both youth- and adult-oriented Filipino comics during my grade school days. There was a game then we called, teks. Simply put, teks are small cards with comic strips on one side that you throw up on air and wait if they land with the print facing up or down. Being a small card, a whole story won’t fit in it and so you have to collect several cards (which you can win out from a game) to complete the story. So partly, I played teks so I could collect the cards which would build the story. When we entered high school, it was the books in Filipino that excited me during the summer. If I don’t do well in Filipino, how will I understand the wonderful prose and poetry that Philippine literature can offer? While it is true that there are severely complicated words, some of them can be easily understood if you extract their root words. That technique worked well for me when I was exposed to more advanced reading material. Two writers who wrote in Filipino whose works I really enjoyed were Amado V. Hernandez (Isang Dipang Langit and Ibong Mandaragit) and Ruth Elynia S. Mabanglo (Regla). There were also writers who wrote in English but had Philippine themes within their works like Nick Joaquin (Summer Solstice/Tatarin) , Alejandro Roces (A Portrait of the Artist as a Filipino), Carlos Bulosan (The Laughter of my Father). Of course, there are other talented and noteworthy writers, but those were the names which stuck on my head. When we revisited some of these authors in our Humanities class in college, I’ve appreciated them even more. A lot of them didn’t really graduate from high-ranking universities. We are inclined to think these days that personalities worthy of recognition must have come from prestigious universities in the country or abroad. Their natural intelligence, intensified by their personal experiences in the Philippines (think Spanish and American colonization, Martial Law, countryside life, etc.) was the main ingredient to their timeless and relevant works.
If there is one thing confusing about conversational Filipino, it is the abundance of simple words that can be used interchangeably, but only some are actually used in daily and usual conversations. For example: ngunit, pero and subalit which all translate to but or however. Usual conversation though goes like this: “Maginoo ka sana eh, PERO medyo bastos”. We don’t normally say, “Maginoo ka sana eh, NGUNIT medyo bastos”. Your friends will surely laugh at you – and that is precisely one of the reasons why non-Filipino speakers are discouraged from using Filipino.
BEING LAUGHED AT. There are a lot of non-Filipino speakers in the Philippines. Filipino, which in my opinion is essentially Tagalog is considered the national and official language of the Philippines. There are dialects unique to various regions in the Philippines and I believe Tagalog is not even representative of these dialects. That was one of the issues raised for making Filipino – Tagalog, the national language. It appeared to be the language of the privileged ones as most people in Manila, the political and economic capital of the Philippines, speak Tagalog. Some Filipinos in Manila have this notion that those who don’t speak Tagalog come from the province. Others would even comment, “Ay promding promdi naman siya.” Promdi = from the province But what is a province anyway? Those what some would refer to as provinces are technically cities too- urbanized areas.
I understand and can speak some Ilonggo (Hiligaynon) as I grew up in a home where some members converse with it. The intonation is definitely very much different from that of Tagalog. Unless needed, I dare not speak Ilonggo because it might appear that I am trying too hard to speak it and I am afraid to be laughed at. Besides, my vocabulary is very much limited. One time at a McDonald’s store in Iloilo, I ordered something by saying, “Ma-order ko sang… “. She understood me. After I paid, she said to me, “May ara ka sang salapi, ga?” I froze. The gears in my brain whirred. Salapi. I know salapi translates to money in Tagalog. Why was she asking me for money, when I already gave her money? Confused. I don’t remember what happened, but I learned that salapi was something like 25 or 50 cents. Being in a situation like that is embarrassing. So whenever I encounter someone who doesn’t speak Tagalog and is having a hard time expressing herself/himself, I recall my experience on thought processes concerning language translation. No matter what language it is, there is always a fear of being mocked when trying out a new one for your tongue. Just like when you try out a new clothing style and people will tell you upfront, “Ay hindi bagay sa iyo.”
NOW. A lot of school subjects are taught in English. Inevitable? Yes, as there are materials that are more effectively understood in English. Unfortunately, infusion of the English language had side effects. If it used to be, “Uy, kursunada ko siya. Maginoo ngunit medyo bastos.” Now it is, “Uy, crush ko siya. Maginoo pero medyo bastos.” Our brains now try to process two languages within a single sentence. Does it even sound good? Well, it sounds short, automatic, and convenient. What’s not good about that in fast-paced world? Some would ask. And unfortunately too, language has become a measure of one’s social status. Ironically, a system like language, that was developed to improve communication between individuals seem to widen the gap even more. As the writer, Mr. James Soriano had pointed out, “English is the language of the man in the mansion, while Filipino is the language of the man on the street.” Mr. Soriano, who published an article on Manila Bulletin entitled “Language, learning, identity, privilege” (http://mb.com.ph/node/331851/language-learning-identity-privilege), caught the ire of some Filipinos for his elitist views. Was there some truth to what he said? Maybe. Case in point, we still can’t get away with laughing at people who are not well adept with a certain language. If we laugh at those who can’t speak straight Tagalog before, now we are amused by those who can’t speak straight English. Manny Pacquiao after bringing forth prestige to the Philippines through his victory, then becomes a laughingstock in his post-game interview. We find it hard not to make fun of beauty pageant contestants who can’t go beyond “First of all, good evening and thank you for that question.” in response to a judge’s query.
Language is a dynamic system that can embody one’s culture. Words evolve. New words are continuously added to the dictionary, while some are removed. The question is how do we want our language, our culture to change? Is it really practical to master English alone as it can bring you to places with “greener pastures” or will it be more beneficial to become multilingual in the future? Is it necessary to choose between English and Filipino? If we know how to speak Filipino, does that alone make us wholly and sincerely Filipino? Should we, especially the younger generation, eventually learn to embrace the other dialects to preserve the culture that we have? I find it futile to castigate Filipinos who think that English is superior to his/her own native language, especially if they were made to believe that English is their native language. I think it would make more sense to find out what can be done to cure that mentality. The challenge lies in all of us Filipinos but most especially in our educators, both at home and at school to encourage the younger generations TO REMAIN INTERESTED in learning the language native to their place. I think it is a SIGN OF RESPECT to acquire the language of the majority, in one’s place of residence or work.
When it comes to learning a language, Filipinos are smart. We struggle for a while with pronunciations but when we hear a lot of examples as to how the words are pronounced, we can easily follow. Interestingly, we are more inclined to learn the words when they are part of a song- being the music lovers that we are. When I first heard this boy sing (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ik37QpZ-xg0) and how he enunciated the words of the song, albeit with a melody, I was impressed. If it’s possible to learn English through a song, surely the technique will be applicable to Filipino too. Of course you can argue that a singing voice is still different from a speaking voice. My point is, if language is dynamic, then the way language is taught should be made dynamic as well.
With all the write-ups as to what the language of the learned is (in response again to Mr. Soriano’s Manila Bulletin article), I think it is now possible to make a compilation of the snippets. My take is: the language of the learned is not just one language, like English. It is the combination of various syntaxes that make an individual a SENSIBLE and SENSITIVE communicator. And I think, we Filipinos should aspire to be one.