Author Topic: Conversations: Close encounters with highly atrocious English  (Read 8534 times)

Joe Carillo

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With the permission of the writers concerned, we are delighted to share with Forum members excerpts from very interesting and highly instructive e-mail conversations between two Filipino professors about English usage and English teaching in the Philippines. This very recent correspondence is between former De La Salle University professor Conrado Sanchez, Jr., and De La Salle MBA professor Oscar P. Lagman, Jr.

Conrado Sanchez, nickname Ben, studied in De La Salle from kindergarten all the way to college and taught there for three years after graduation; he later earned graduate degrees in Economics from the University of Notre Dame and Yale University. Oscar Lagman, Jr., nickname Oscar, also a product of the La Salle grade school and high school departments and of its Liberal Arts-Commerce program, is an MBA from the University of San Francisco; he has been an MBA professor for many years and writes the column “To Take a Stand” for

The two have not met; they communicate with each other by e-mail. Ben registered as a member of the Forum recently.

Their conversation:

Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 6:33:00 AM:

Dear Oscar,

You are, I believe, teaching students in the Graduate School of Business. Are they able to write clear, cogent sentences?

I employed a U.S.T. graduate once as my secretary. He couldn’t speak English fluently, much less write in the language.

Ben Sanchez


Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 7:47 AM:

Funny you should bring this up because that is an issue with me. As someone who speaks Tagalog, I am able to discern the meaning of sentences using English words but constructed the Tagalog way. So, they are cogent to me in a way. But what is atrocious is my students’ grammar: verb agreements, tenses (mostly present tense), wrong use of present perfect and past perfect verbs, wrong word as in “decease” for “desist,” an “s” in equipment, etc. And this is true of La Salle college graduates, too. When I check their papers, I correct their grammar. So, students enrolled in the MBA program say that they not only learn Marketing from me but English grammar as well. I always tell them to write out “through” in reports…

In 1996, a trade mission composed of US franchisors came to Manila. As I was in charge of the consulting practice on Franchising at SGV [a leading accounting firm in the Philippines], the US Embassy commercial attache invited me as one of the resource persons. George Yang of McDonald’s told the delegation that the Philippines is the third largest English-speaking country. I corrected his statement saying that most Filipinos understand English but cannot speak it. The Berlitz man in the delegation said, “That’s good enough for me.”


Thursday, May 27, 2010 5:08:36 AM:

Dear Oscar,

You are a good storyteller. Let me make a request. Why don’t you write a column on how your students fracture the English language?

I had my own experiences with night students in an educational institution located in the University Belt [in Manila]. After I returned from studies in the U.S., I decided to teach Basic Economics to first year college students so they will be well-grounded in the science.

Came the first semester’s final exam and the first question was, naturally, “What is Economics?” The answer I got: “Economics is the social science that studies WOMAN wants and their satisfaction.” In the margin of his test paper I wrote: “This is the sexiest definition of economics I have ever read.”

Remember that there’s a lot of traffic in the University Belt and classrooms were not yet air-conditioned. I had said that economics addresses “HUMAN wants.” Goes to show that this guy took down notes of what he had heard without processing it in his mind. He just committed to memory what he wrote down in his notes.

On the same exam, I asked a question on the location of economic activity: “In the Sampaloc district of Manila, why do you find a sari-sari store in almost every corner?” The answer I got: “Sari-sari store located in corners because you see, sir, there plenty people istamby.” Never mind his English; I gave the student an “A.”

The next school year, I entered the classroom to give another final exam. Professors in that university were required to bring their own chalk and blackboard eraser. Why? Because they were frequently stolen!

I found a small piece of chalk but I had left the eraser in my car. Needing to write some notes on the board, I asked the ladies if they had Kleenex tissue. One pretty lady in front opened her bag, took out a brown envelope, and slowly pulled out…a sanitary napkin! I quickly snatched it from her hand, hid it in the palm of my large hand, and started erasing the board Ariston Estrada1 style. Then I quickly pocketed the darn thing. Whew!

The final exam proceeded without incident and afterwards, I started correcting exam papers. Again, a question was asked about the location of an economic activity: “Why was the Maria Cristina Fertilizer Plant located in Lanao? [Answer: proximity to the source of power.] This is the answer I got in one test paper: “Because, you see sir, in Lanao there are plenty farms. And in the farms there are plenty carabaos. That is why fertilizer plant located in Lanao.”

The next semester, I quit teaching Economics in that university. In fact, I quit teaching for good.

Ben Sanchez


Thursday, May 27, 2010 at 6:49:00 AM:

If I ever write about fractured English, it would not be about my students’ English but about ranking public officials’ and military generals’ carabao English. In fact, part of a column of mine was about it.
Here are excerpts of that column [in the BusinessWorld] about the House of Representatives’ hearing on drugs:
When finally the hearing was opened, with Ablan having difficulty in finding the appropriate words for calling the meeting to order, Cuenco called attention to the resolution of the DoJ Prosecutor John Resado, commenting that the grammar of the resolution was atrocious. He pointed out that there should not have been a “d” in “surmise” as used in a sentence in the resolution. He also said there should have been a hyphen or no space between the words “warrant” and “less.” Viewers of the Sitcom can surmise that a bill would soon be introduced in the Lower House about the teaching of English grammar in all schools, especially in law schools.   
Resado also pronounced the word “read” the same way, regardless of whether he used it in the past tense or present tense. As Cuenco’s and Zialcita’s pronunciation and diction are exemplary, we can also surmise the two Committee vice chairmen would include phonetics in their bill on the teaching of English.       
Making the episode more hilarious was the badly fractured English of Congressmen and resource persons, with Cuenco totally undisturbed by the clumsy attempt to speak English. There was Dumpit’s “How did it came to know…”, Barzaga’s “Did you brought…” (he immediately corrected himself), NBI Director Mantaring’s “The internal investigation the Secretary is telling…” and Dangerous Drug Board chairman Tito Sotto’s awkward “When I was not yet the chair of the Board…”, and Prosecutor Philip Kimpo’s struggles to express himself in English…



Thursday, May 27, 2010 at 1:06:00 PM:


You made my day! My doctor says that I should have a good laugh at least once a day and you brought it about. I told you once and I’ll tell you again: “You may not change the world, but at least you embarrass the guilty.” That’s what I also told my very good friend, columnist Tony Abaya2, before he had a stroke.

Ben Sanchez


Friday, May 28, 2010 at 5:26 AM:

I was listening to the deliberations of the joint session of the two Congress committees on the canvassing of the votes this afternoon when I thought of you because of the terrible diction of the senators and Congressmen. Really bad is that Romualdo of Camiguin. He sounds like Mike Velarde. I thought Aquilino Pimentel could do better than saying “to torn over the ballot boxes.” Maybe it is old age, but Johnny Ponce Enrile was constantly groping for the right word.
I also listened to the valedictory of Chief Justice Puno. I wondered how the professors at UC Berkeley, Southern Methodist, and Illinois where he took up graduate studies understood him. I guess they based their grade on his written reports, not on his participation in class discussions and debates. No, he didn’t speak with a Visayan accent; he spoke like a University Belt college student. He didn’t pronounce any “F” sound, “handcuffed” coming out as “handcup,” “chief” as “chip.” He interchanged the long “O” sounds and the short “O” sounds, as in “lows of the lun” and “nuting to shaw por it.”
He had no dragged “A” sound like “wots your buck,” nor a long “E” sound like “dim proper.”  The “au” as in “authorized” came out as “owtorize.” That is right, no “TH” sound came out of his lips. “Those” came out as “dos,” and “them” as “dem.”
The Pampango native Art Panganiban, from FEU Law, was not that bad. Oh, I was not impressed with through-and-through Atenean Renato Corona. His English lacks the elegance of Teofisto Guingona’s almost oratorical pronouncements. Maybe Corona studied in Ateneo when only James Reuter3 among the American Jesuits was still around…

[At one time, when] we were in Grade Six [at De La Salle], we were made to stay after class and write “I will  always do my assignment” 100 times.
Bro. Bernardine, newly arrived then from the New York Province of the Christian Brothers, was the proctor. He asked a classmate [of mine] why he was detained. Here’s how the conversation went:
Bro. Bernardine: Why were you asked to stay after class?
My Classmate: I didn’t bring a mop to class, Brrr.
Brother: Why were you told to bring a mop, did you wet the floor?
My Classmate: No, Brrr. It was our assignment.
Brother: All of you were told to bring a mop to class? What were you supposed to do with them?   
My Classmate: To study where the states are. Where New York is, where California is. 
Brother: Ooooohhh, a maaaaaaap!       

1Ariston J. Estrada, Sr., is a De La Salle University faculty member, honorary doctor of literature, and professor emeritus of philosophy.
2Antonio C. Abaya is a veteran journalist who currently writes a column for the Manila Standard Today.
3Rev. Fr. James Reuter, S.J., is an academician, theater writer, director and producer in the Philippines whose ministry includes work in the theater, radio, print and film.
« Last Edit: May 29, 2010, 04:29:15 PM by Joe Carillo »