The State of the Nation's English (SONE) and what we can do about It

- Tingting Cojuangco () - January 8, 2012 - 12:00am

The victim saw that the suspect drew bladed weapon from his waist and was about to stabbed her boyfriend, but she fulled him to elude the weapon. The attack was halt when bystanders responded and pacify the suspect who runs afterwards.”

“Supt. Cruz is like a father to me. He teaches me everything I want to learn on marksmanship and target shooting.”

“I am Filipino and I do believe that the Philippines is the largest English speaking country in Asia and when it comes to usage, we are the third largest. The English situation here in the Philippines is this: News papers are in English. Medium of education is in English. And everybody wants to learn English from the day they started schooling until the day they graduate. In the workplace it is the means of interview and operation. I think English has already absorbed as Filipinos. That even me, speak only in English…”

What is common in the quotations above? They were all written by Filipinos. The first two were written by professionals working in government. The last one is a comment from an anonymous contributor online. All quotes have one striking characteristic: they are replete with grammatical slips. We’ve sunk in our English language skills. Talk about bragging when there’s really no reason to do so.

What, indeed, is the real score on English language learning in the country? Recently, Atty. Ruben Platon the Philippine Public Safety College president commissioned another study aside from mine in that educational and training institution I headed for seven years for career advancement for the Philippine National Police, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology and Bureau of Fire Protection. Atty. Ruben wanted to determine the level of proficiency in English grammar to teach it among police recruits.

All those would-be recruits are college graduates and civil service examination passers, not to mention that a number of them are also professionals who passed licensure exams in Criminology, Nursing and Engineering. Of the total 1,938 students from eight police regional training schools across the country, including 187 jail recruits who took the diagnostic test in English Grammar, only 18 or a mere 0.93 percent passed the test, leaving the remaining 99.07 percent as flunkers. Disheartening!

Despite the 12 years of formal schooling in which English is not only one of the major subjects but also the medium of instruction, trainees have barely mastered English grammar in the schools they attended nationwide.

Accordingly, this study reveals a bleak picture of the country’s education system, particularly its failure to teach our students essential language skills to prepare them for future employment.

As grammar is integral to both writing and speaking, what kind of communicators will these public safety officers be unless we make more drastic interventions to reverse the downward trend of their language skills? We need your assistance, Brother Armin A. Luistro of DECS and Tatti Licuanan of CHED, for the enhancement on English grammar proficiency in private and public schools.

How can public safety officers bring criminals to justice if government prosecutors cannot make sense of the fractured, incoherent and haphazardly-written police reports and complaints? With reports riddled with bad grammar and vague references, defense counsels can easily get their clients off the hook on account of technicalities, coupled with the failure of the prosecution to provide prima facie evidence because the basis — the police report lying on top of the prosecutor’s table — seems more like a crossword puzzle or, worse, a butt of jokes, than a vital document essential to put the guilty behind bars. We ask ourselves, why? Our criminal justice system requires English as the main medium of communication, and the laws of the land are all written in English, not to mention that court proceedings, transcripts and resolutions are in English. And yet we say we shouldn’t prioritize English-language learning. And we say public officers are not English majors anyway, so we can ignore their bad grammar.

Some scoffers may argue that it is not the grammar that counts but the message. True, what is being said or written is important, but how the message is written is equally important. The how — the form and style — is integral to content because it is the how that makes the message clear and understandable. Consider the following example taken from a police report which makes us beg the private and public schools to assist us in law enforcement:

“At about 7:00 p.m. of October 8, 2010, Mario Ladislawa, 41 years old and Pedro Masinghay, 43 years old, both residents of Bgy. Sto. Domingo, Sta. Rosa City, were having a drinking spree together with their feers when suddenly a hot argument ensued between them. Ladislawa get hold a knife and have a duel wherein Masinghay sustained a lone stabbed wound that resulted his instantaneous death while suspect also sustained multiple stabbed wound was rush to the City Hospital for medical treatment. Cadaver of the victim now lies at Asuncion Funeral Parlor awaiting relatives.”

Just imagine how many police reports with similar entries are churned out the whole year across the archipelago. No wonder prosecutors often have the same quizzical look once they get hold of police reports.

To what or to whom do we attribute the dawn of English language dominance in the country? United States Army soldiers initially taught the English language to Filipinos. William Howard Taft continued the educational work initiated by American soldiers. American teachers arrived onboard the USS Thomas in the country with the primary purpose of educating Filipinos. These Thomasites introduced English as the medium of instruction and taught reading, grammar, mathematics, practical arts and athletics, housekeeping, and other trade skills such sewing, crocheting and cooking and trained Filipino counterparts to be public school teachers; indeed, on Sept. 1, 1901, the Philippine Normal School was established specifically to do so. Outstanding students were also sent to the United States to study and, upon their return, they taught English in schools. Saddening, then, to see that English is left to the care of modern educators who graduate unprepared students who can’t accomplish job-related tasks, such as writing letters and reports.

A solution: I recently got hold of a copy of an extraordinary grammar book titled Master English Grammar Without Cracking Your Brain authored by a couple, Roger Victor Flores and Florian Navarroza-Flores. Roger is presently a consultant for training and education of PPSC, and has been a technical writer for years in the Civil Service Commission and private companies, while Florian used to teach grammar, composition and communication arts subjects to trainees of the Fire National Training Institute based in Camp Vicente Lim, Calamba City. Both are products of the state-run University of the Philippines at Los Baños. They lived in Singapore for a while and are staunch advocates of homeschooling. They have two sons, aged 11 and six who are both proficient in English.

It is a book born of their frustration and inability to find a complete grammar book that can prop up and sustain the interest of both teachers and students. They make use of colorful concept diagrams, animal caricatures and illustrations that depict at a glance the relationships of grammar concepts, particularly on the subject-verb agreement, pronoun-antecedent agreement, verb tenses, use of adverbs and others. I pray our educators take a second look at this reference book and see how it can fit into the Philippine educational system, to give the Philippines a higher standard of public safety officers who won’t be looked upon with ridicule and amazement.

Grammar, as we know, is all about conventions or rules that cut across the four macro-skills in language learning — listening, speaking, reading and writing. Just as we are expected to obey the laws of the land, so should we adhere to standard rules in English usage. Incorrect grammar distracts from understanding the message.

As parents, we want our kids to be globally competitive, to be ahead of the pack and take leadership positions in their respective fields. There should be no global Filipino who gropes for words, fumbles and flounders because he cannot express himself confidently in the only language accepted and understood in the global community — English.

Thus the book Master English Grammar Without Cracking Your Brain came to be. Buy a copy for yourself and your children.

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For more information about the book, send an e-mail to mindstirrers@yahoo.com.

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