19 April 2010

On the Deterioration of English in the Philippines...

I had the opportunity to interview some of the country's finest financial minds last week for a project and, while the photographer was setting up the lighting equipment, the conversation turned to the communication skills of today's young people. Both the gentlemen I was interviewing at the time were appalled by what they'd been hearing from the mouths of modern Filipino kids:

  • If you speak English with an American twang, a British lilt, or even an Aussie drawl, people make fun of you. They think you're stuck up or putting on airs;
  • If you speak straight English to anyone under the age of twenty-five, they'll ask you to stop: Ate, Tagalugin mo naman; ka-nosebleed naman kasi English mo, e. And the aforementioned statement will be accompanied by a wry, even pained grimace;
  • If you speak straight English with a "foreign" accent, people will throw you a look of wonder and say "Wow, ba't 'di ka mag-trabaho sa call center?";
  • Kids these days swear a lot - and, whenever they swear (or try to swear) in English, it sounds so wrong.

English was the very first language I was exposed to, having been born into a family of educators and civil servants. Television served as my babysitter and I picked up an ambiguously American accent because of Sesame Street and various cartoons on RPN's Saturday Fun Machine weekend block. My earliest memories are of books (all in English), of learning to read from Reader's Digest, of watching my younger aunts rehearsing their lines from numerous plays or classic pieces for elocution, of teaching my younger brother how to read because he wanted to read the Bible. I remember that English was the lingua franca for conversation in school; any words in Tagalog were reserved for recitation in Filipino or Araling Panlipunan or any number of idiomatic expressions used to spice up a conversation. If you have a chance to read Arnold Arre's soul-stirring graphic novel Martial Law Babies, keep a keen eye on the conversations: they're pretty much the way my peers and I spoke to each other in the late eighties' and early to mid 1990s.

Fast forward to 2010: I have this sinking feeling that I am one of a dying breed of English-speakers / writers. Most people younger than me are more comfortable with Taglish - that bastardized mix of English and the mother tongue - and their conversations are peppered with all sorts of vulgarities, expressions picked up from loud, crass transvestites who have come out of their closets to shock us through mainstream media. When I was a schoolgirl, it was considered de rigeur to listen to FM radio stations like RX 93.1 and Magic 89.9; today, I don't bother listening to FM radio because every station I tune into sounds like a cheap club filled with filthy-mouthed showgirls and their sleazy customers. I don't watch local television anymore except for the news because I know that scumbags like Willie Revillame will be screaming at me while selling pipe dreams to the hapless masses. It disgusts me to no end that even kids from the Big 3 Universities - schools whose alumni have long been known for their linguistic superiority - can't speak or write English properly at all.

Who do we blame for this? Can we blame the media for unleashing a tsunami of cheap, uncouth, sickening programs on the public? Do we blame the late Corazon Aquino and the much-reviled Joseph Estrada for their insistence on putting an emphasis on subjects other than English in the national education system? Do we blame the yayas hired by middle-class households for exposing their young charges to local pop culture? I honestly don't know.But what I do know is that young people today are getting an extremely watered-down linguistic education - and this, I believe, is a damning factor for our failure to rise to the same level as our Asian neighbors. In the 1980s, we were the third largest nation in terms of functional literacy in English; today, I don't even want to know where we stand.English is still my personal lingua franca: my language of choice for conversations both in business and among friends and family, my language of choice to express how I feel, my language of choice for the writing that serves as my bread and butter. Not to disparage the mother tongue, but English makes my life a whole lot easier - and much more colorful.

And if anyone is stupid enough to either laugh at my accent, think that my vocabulary and grammar give them nosebleeds, and believe that I ought to be working as a lackey for stupid Caucasians to rail at, that person is going to die a slow, painful, lingering, and very public death.

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