So, you want to speak English?

by Henrylito D. Tacio 

“The barangay captain hi as me what you have done you start.  I’m going to municipality… I was attend on here sission.  The member of the council took me, ‘What is your porpose?’ To attend the sission, I answers them.  To help the people of barangay to developing the area.” Can you understand what the aforementioned paragraph means?  Well, that’s part of a report, which I have to edit recently. 

Reading between the lines, you may be able to grasp the author’s thought.  But to think of, the report did not come from a high school student but from a professional person.  How he was able to graduate from college, I can only speculate. On the other hand, I can definitely absolve a jeepney driver who puts this sign for all the passengers to read: “Before pay tell where get the on before get the off.” 

Alan C. Robles, who writes a regular column for the South China Morning Post, observes:  “Once, Filipinos liked to say theirs was the third-largest English-speaking country in the world, after the United States and Britain. I do not know if it was ever true, but any claim to English dominance would have to be prefaced with ‘sort of.’” 

Among Asian countries, the Philippines has an edge in terms of speaking English. As Honesto General wrote in an article published in a national daily: “We are way ahead of everybody. Ever since the American colonizers sent over a shipload of teachers on the transport Thomas a hundred years ago, we have been grappling with the nuances of the English language.” But such is not the case anymore. 

According to a March 2006 survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS), the national proficiency in the English language has declined by 10 percentage points in the last 12 years.  The survey showed that only two out of three Filipino adults or 65 percent understood spoken and written English. Some 14 percent said they were not competent at all in spoken and written English.  In the December 1993 and September 2000 surveys by SWS, three out of four Filipino adults, or 75 percent said they understood spoken and written English. Only seven percent said they were not competent at all in spoken and written English.  

So one wonders: Whatever happened?

Although English is a very difficult language to master, Filipinos was able to learn how to speak and write English well.  But how? In his article, General gave a classic example: “The late Rev. Francis D. Burns opened Ateneo de Naga in 1939. When he arrived in Naga City, he had already taught in Ateneo de Manila University for about seven years before. He had his own ideas about teaching English. He established the English rule in Naga: As soon as a student stepped in campus, he was to speak nothing but English. If a classmate hears him speak in the dialect, he was to be reported for punishment. Fr. Burns believed that forcing the student to speak English was the best way to learn the language. Believe me, it worked. We learned.” 

If you think Filipinos are no longer good when it comes to English, think twice.  A few years ago, a newspaper in New York printed quotes from student-evaluation reports written by public school teachers.  A student “does not take to many things serious,” wrote one teacher.  Another reported that one student in his class had a “studdering” (should have been “stuttering”) problem. 

Then, there was one teacher who was wondering about a boy. “Why is he not learning or learning so but so little,” she wrote.  “How comes his past teachers have been passing him from grade to grade without he advancing or progressing academicly.  I will like to know what is causing the mental blockage.” I want to know, too! 

But then, Filipinos and Americans are not the only people in the world who have committed in “murdering” the English language.  Consider these signs spotted from all over the world: 

A Bangkok dry cleaner in Thailand asks its customers to: “Drop your trousers here for best results.” 

A laundry in Rome, Italy proves it knows la dolce vita: “Ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon having a good time.” 

A Norwegian cocktail lounge isn’t asking for much: “Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar.” 

In the window of a Barcelona travel agency in Spain that may not last long: “Go away.” 

Hotels are good sources of humorous signs.  In Mexico, Hotel de Paseo pleads: “We sorry to advise you that by a electric desperfect in the generator master of the elevator, we have the necessity that don’t give service at our distinguishable guests.”  In Bucharest, a hotel posted this notice: “The lift is being fixed for the next four days.  During this time, you will be unbearable.”  In Hotel Deustschland, Leipzig: “Do not enter the lift backwards and only when lit up.” A Tokyo hotel has this notice on its elevator doors: “Do Not Open Door Until Door Opens First.”  Another Tokyo hotel placed this elevator sign: “Keep your hands away from unnecessary buttons for you.” Still another Tokyo hotel posted: “Is forbidden to steal towels, please.  If you are not person to do such, please not to read notice.” 

Restaurants have their own share of hilarious signs.  From a little restaurant in Mexico City: “U.S. Hots Dog.”  Don’t worry about not getting tea drinks anytime at the Restaurant des Artistes, Montmartre: “We serve five o’clock tea at all hours.”  And this notice was placed on every table in the dining room at a restaurant in Nepal: “All vegetables in this establishment have been washed in water especially passed by the management.” 

Some entrepreneurs have their own way of promoting their own line of businesses. A butcher in Nahariyya, Israel boasted: “I slaughter myself twice daily.”  A dentist in Hong Kong claimed: “Teeth extracted by latest Methodists.”  A barber in Zanzibar advertised: “Gentlemen’s throats cut with nice sharp razors.”  A barber in Tokyo topped them all when he publicized: “All customers promptly executed.” 

Accidents happen all the time.  But reporting them to authorities is another thing.  Here are some accident reports submitted to an insurance company and were published in the ‘Toronto Sun’: 

“Coming home, I drove into the wrong house and collided with a tree that I don’t have.” 

“The guy was all over the road: I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him.” 

“An invisible car came out of nowhere, struck my vehicle, and vanished.” 

“I told the police that I was not injured, but on removing my hat, I found that I had a skull fracture.” 

“The telephone pole was approaching fast.  I was attempting to swerve out of its path when it struck my front.” 

“The pedestrian had no idea of which way to go, so I ran over him.” 

But let’s face it – “English is a crazy language,” wrote my friend who forwarded an e-mail to me to prove his observation.  Consider the following:  There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple.   English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France. China wares don’t come from China.  Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat. If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth beeth? One goose, two geese. So one moose, two meese?   Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend, that you comb through annals of history but not a single annal? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught?  If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?  If you wrote a letter, perhaps you bote your tongue?

In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? Park on driveways and drive on parkways?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and wise guy are opposites? How can overlook and oversee be opposites, while quite a lot and quite a few are alike? How can the weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell another?

Finally, I read this announcement on a city bus while I was in Columbus, Ohio a couple of years back: “When you exit this vehicle, please be sure to lower your head and watch your step.  If you fail to do so, please lower your voice and watch your language.” 

Now, why are you laughing? — ###


2 responses to “So, you want to speak English?

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  2. i love this!!!


    two thumbs up!!!

    so many wrong grammings!!!


    peace out!

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