The power of language – an irony

by Evans Yonson

Barcelona – in 2005 even before my scholarship was over, i was already making plans about extending my stay in madrid. one of the reasons was that i wanted to live beyond the confines and the shielded life that africa has brought upon me – a choice that i made long before i decided to come to mother spain. and since the masters that i took provided for internship, i was accepted as an intern of the sponsorship department of one international spanish NGO. i worked only 20 hours a week – monday to thursday mornings.

i had so much time to waste that teaching english was the next best thing. you have read some of my funny encounters with my little students (the adult version coming soon.). most of the pinoy scholars of my batch have taken this track. survival of the fittest?

according to philippine history, one of the failures of our former colonizers was not teaching the natives their (the colonizers’) language. of all the ex-colonies, it’s only the philippines that does not have a spanish-speaking majority. learning english in the philippines is very easy (during my time, i remember) from the grade school (primary) to the university. everything was in english, almost everything. math. history. social studies. science. physical education and the rest. except the filipino subject.

Filipino kids in Barcelona are learning their culture through a weekly class. But the language issue is another thing. They would rather that their children speak Catalan/Spanish at home, which is quite funny. Kids talking in perfect Catalan/Spanish and their parents responding grammatically wrong. The Philippines is too far away to speak English or their native tongue.

in spain now, young students learn in spanish (catalan in catalonia) their subjects – math, science and so on. some schools teach french. while most have english subjects throughout the country. professionals are all gaga over english. in barcelona, the city has gone trilingual – catalan, spanish, and english (in order of priority). all bus, metro and street signs are in these languages. learn english or ship out. with this enthusiasm, spain is bound to become a major, a better and a stronger player in the international market.

immediately after the 1986 edsa revolution, the aquino government decided to do away with the spanish language (a 12 unit course in the university). the new constitution also identified filipino (re: tagalog) as the national language which was an irony because the constitution was drafted in english.

when the actor became president, he ruled that filipino language should be used in all government transactions. state universities followed suit with classes being done in the national language or whatever language may be applicable to the area.  in UP-Cebu, cebuano is practiced. in UP-Mindanao, students are encouraged to write their term papers and theses in their preferred dialect/language. the actor was overthrown by a popular text brigade – hundreds of thousands of filipinos trooped to edsa thanks to the ever-active SMS of disgruntled citizens. the filipino language was and still is evolving. good morning is now spelled as gud am. what used to be okay is now simply k. because is now bcoz. take care has been reduced to two letters – tc. more letters would cost another peso thus the shortening of the words. is this a global phenomenon? i don’t think so. it’s only in the philippines because calling a friend’s mobile phone is a lot expensive than sending a short message.

while the spanish people are learning and perfecting their english grammar, the filipinos are delearning theirs. i am proud that i am part of this process here in spain. there is so much demand that language schools are dime a dozen in all parts of the country. while i’m still a work in progress with my spanish language.

You always stand out in the crowd if you know your language very well.

come to think of it, a filipino teaching a spaniard perfect his english, isn’t it ironic? don’t you think? a citizen of an ex-colony teaching a citizen of an ex-colonizer. exciting, isn’t it? it’s so empowering in both sides.

i am teaching them to be more powerful while in the philippines they are the teaching the people to be powerless