Author Topic: A Passion for English  (Read 5351 times)

Joe Carillo

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A Passion for English
« on: June 19, 2016, 09:01:47 AM »
For its being more emotional than I usually allow in my English-usage columns, I have long hesitated to post in the Forum this highly personal essay that I wrote sometime in 2007. But today being Fathers’ Day, my resolve was broken when my wife and two sons (their sister, the eldest, is now married and lives abroad) badgered me to choose the restaurant for their ritual Fathers’ Day treat for me. Touched by their caring and solicitousness, I thought that perhaps it would be apropos to post the essay as a Fathers’ Day retrospective of some sort, so here it is. (June 19, 2016)  

One legacy that I am confident of having already given my children is an abiding passion for good English, coupled with a keen appreciation for the finer things that make them uniquely Filipino, like caring for family and a capacity for joy and laughter and for at least a little song and music. I am afraid that my attempts to provide for them material wealth way beyond the needs of the current year or semester have not altogether been successful, but by the grace of God all of them are healthy and can speak to me, to their mother, and to their friends in impeccable English, and all are doing quite well in school. I know that the global clock is ticking without pause or letup for all of us, Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike, but it is comforting to know that whether we are Sri Lankan, Korean, Maori, Serb, Swede, or Melanesian, there is a language that can wonderfully widen our outlook and open doors and opportunities for our children beyond what the language we were born in can do. And that other language, of course, without any doubt and reservation, is English.

Of course I only know too well that whether their English is good or not, there are many roadblocks along the way for people whose dream is to rise above their current station in life. My own life has been like that: one long series of quiet ups and downs, suffering, frustration, and heartbreak that could have broken the will of someone with a fuzzier dream or a weaker resolve. It seems to me now that life’s formula is essentially a gentle or strong yank downward for every little bit of success that you achieve, and a little or big comeuppance for every pride of achievement or vainglory that you feel. But through all these, in my case, one dream seems to have held and continues to hold: my children are getting a good, solid education with English at its core, and the proof of it is simply too many that I always count my blessings and discount my tribulations.

My daughter has already cleared many of the roadblocks to her own dream and is now on her way to getting an undergraduate degree, possibly with the highest or second honors, in a good Catholic university abroad. That is actually as near to a miracle that a family in a Third World country, with the countryside for its roots, can hope to bring about in another nation so far but so great and so blessed with modern civilization’s amenities, but that miracle is right now unfolding to my own amazement. Apart from being in the dean’s list, my daughter also works as staff writer (and with a digital camera her own photographer) for her university’s English-language college newspaper; every now and then she would proudly e-mail me an entire page carrying her feature stories and color photographs, which talk with the campus journalist’s authority about such things as the culture of the Hopi Indians and the art of Andy Warhol. She has, for good measure, given me the website of her college paper, so that I can read through it at my leisure on my computer, page for page, and understand her creations in the context of the whole campus journalism production. It really does seem that the good English and the good writing sense she had acquired back home are working quite well even in another land.

My eldest son, meanwhile, who is in third year high in an exclusive but not so ridiculously expensive Catholic school, speaks and writes so fluently in English that my wife Leonor and I sometimes get into arguments as to who he has taken after, the mother or the father. In any case, I have no doubt that he could very well stand on his own when compared to his public school counterparts, but I do worry how he will fare when ranged against the products of the more expensive exclusive schools when the time of reckoning comes. The problem, I can assure you, is not in the person but in the instruction. The other night he confirmed to me that his school, although private, had adopted this school year something like the Makabayan or “Millennium Curriculum” of the Department of Education, Culture, and Sports, which is mandatory for all public schools. What it really means is that practically 65% of his subjects in school are now being taught in Pilipino, the official Tagalog variant, instead of English. I am baffled to learn that they now teach the following subjects in straight Pilipino: Values Education; Araling Panlipunan (Social Studies); Technology and Home Economics; Physical Education, Health, and Music; and Computer. The only holdouts in his school still being taught in English are English and Literature, Science, and Mathematics. In Computer, my son thankfully said as an aside, his teacher was bungling his Pilipino teaching so much that he gave up altogether and started teaching it in English, which is actually doing himself and my son a great favor.

And what about my youngest son, a generation straddler who is only in Grade II in a Catholic private school? Well, no matter what the leading government educators do to confound the curriculum, I am seeing to it that he will be largely impervious to its shocks. I made sure that my son was already computer-literate at five, and for his reading materials I have kept a steady stream of English-language books and comics. (Sometimes he pines for the Tagalog-language comics that his elder brother used to enjoy, but I told him flatly that he has already outgrown that and should now be reading more interesting adventures in English.) For his viewing fare, I gently made it clear to him that he is free to watch the better local TV programs, but that he would learn better English and see better, more entertaining, and more wholesome shows on cable than on local TV. And although he told me that his own school used Pilipino to teach Sibika (Social Studies) and Pilipino itself, I am confident that our English-language-orientation formula for him at home is working. At less than nine years of age, his grasp of English was already astonishing. I sometimes hear him giving instructions to his classmates on the phone in a straight, didactic, and flawless English that would put many English teachers to shame. And one morning, on the couch, I discovered a touching story written on Oslo paper recounting the adventures of the French comics character Asterix visiting the Holy Family in Bethlehem. It was painstakingly written in block letters in halting but essentially straight English, and it gave me such pleasure to know without being told that it was my little boy who did it. (Written circa 2007)

From the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in The Manila Times. This essay subsequently appeared as Chapter 151 of the author’s book Give Your English the Winning Edge, © 2009 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.