Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Sat Feb 26 15:55:54 UTC 2005

>>From the Manila Times,

Thursday, October 09, 2003

By Jose A. Carillo

Whos afraid of speaking English?

274th of a series

The other night, my wife Leonor told me about how a female sales clerk in
the store she runs as branch manager came rushing to her one day. Maam,
help, help! the sales clerk shrieked, pale and breathless. Theres an
American customer outside. Hes speaking straight English and I simply cant
talk to him. Nakakabulol po! Maam, kayo na ho ang kumausap! [He makes me
tongue-tied! Please be the one to talk to him!] My wife, who speaks much
better English than the average, told the clerk in exasperated Tagalog:
Thats what Ive been telling you people! Learn to speak English. I cant be
handling every English-speaking customer for you all the time

This scene must be replicated every day in so many places everywhere in
our country, and its really very disappointing and embarrassing because:
(1) we have had a 100-year headstart in English over most of our Asian
neighbors and have, in fact, made English our second language and language
of school instruction; (2) a good part of our mainstream print media are
in English; (3) easily a good three-fourths of our on-demand
entertainment, including movies and song recordings, is in English; (4)
practically all of our business and marketing communication is written in
English; and (5) most of the recruitment advertising we see demands that
applicants speak and write excellent English. So, with all the scales for
good English tipped in our favor, why are so many of us terribly
incompetent and deathly afraid to speak the language?

I suspect that our inferiority complex in speaking English is caused by
two things: (1) our role models for spoken English are the wrong ones, so
we end up setting unattainable or misdirected spoken-English standards for
ourselves, and (2) many of the local broadcast media people that lord over
our primetimes use English in atrocious ways, yet get away with it because
they get high viewership ratings, which in turn encourages more of them to
deliberately fracture their English para tanggapin at katuwaang lubos ng
masa [so the masses will accept and delight in them]. Let me explain this
twin thesis of mine.

All of us are heavily exposed to Hollywood movies, in which the leading
roles are now often equally distributed between White and Black Americans.
Commercially astute Hollywood movie producers do this because surveys have
shown that there are now more Black movie viewers than White ones in
America. Most White American film characters, of course, are made to speak
English the way most of us were taught; with very few exceptions, Black
film characters are made to speak the Black lingua franca. The result, of
course, is that after watching so many Hollywood movies, our young movie
viewers no longer have a clear-cut model for English pronunciation and
diction. Shall they speak English the way Brad Pitt, Keannu Reeves, and
Julia Roberts normally speak it, or the way Martin Lawrence, Will Smith,
and Whoopi Goldberg do? Torn between these choices, the young Filipino
often decides to simply muddle through with Taglish instead.

As if this dilemma were not enough, our own TV and radio broadcasters in
the Philippines are too busy catering to the masa to even bother to use
correct spoken English. Tacitly encouraged by their TV managements, they
churn out talk show after talk show and sitcom after sitcom using
fractured English and Tagalogthe more fractured, the better. The
retrograde effect of this is in evidence everywhere. Rare is the English
teacher who still speaks English the way it should be spoken. Few students
from kinder to college get confident enough to speak it spontaneously.
Even in upscale offices, hardly anybody speaks (or can speak) straight
English anymore

Is there hope that we can still speak straight English, at least so we
wont be ashamed to talk to Americans and other native English speakers
face to face? I think there is. But we really must strengthen the teaching
of both written and spoken English in our schools. Then we must make a
firm resolve not to rely on Hollywood moviesand certainly not on the local
broadcast mediafor our English pronunciation and diction. We must rely
more on ourselves. We must continually review our English grammar and
enrich our English vocabulary, checking the meaning and pronunciation of
every new English word that we encounter. Then we should make it a habit
to read good English literatureboth silently and aloud. In time, we will
be pleasantly surprised that nobody has a monopoly of good English. The
best spoken English, after all, is not American English nor even British
English. It is the English that comes out of the mind and rolls out of the
tongue of one who has become confident of his English syntax and
semanticsits grammar and meaningsregardless of how Hollywood and our own
broadcasters use or misuse them.


The author, who uses here a pen name, runs a Manila-based English language
services company. An internationally and nationally awarded corporate
communicator, he was formerly a company editor, newspaper reporter, and
campus editor. He can be reached at j8carillo at yahoo.com


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