Posted by: Jae | April 9, 2008

English Spoken Here

Yes, I know, this is a case of (incredibly) delayed reaction. But, well, better late than never.

So everyone was in stitches over Janina an Miguel’s question and answer portion at the recently-concluded Binibining Pilipinas competition and not a few raised a howl when she made it as one of the winners, despite barely being able to construct a simple english sentence. I was already disconcerted when people were watching it over and over in youtube and making fun of her attempts to answer Vivian Tan’s question in english. As far as I was concerned, what we should be making a mockery of is a culture that insists on english as the accepted language of success and whatnot, and views a person’s capacity to speak english fluently as a barometer of her intellect (not even background or social status, but intellect.)   

And then, about two weeks ago, I saw a Jessica Soho report featuring contestants that flubbed question and answer portions. Jessica interviewed the tatay of Janina and on my TV screen was the image of a man visibly distressed. It turned out that Mr. San Miguel is a jeepney driver. Yes, folks, Janina comes from a poor family — not just poor in the sense that we all are getting poorer and poorer by the day because of the rising prices, but poor as in barely-able-to-eat-thrice-a-day poor. According to Mr. San Miguel, they were all mighty proud of Janina (as indeed they should) but were deeply hurt when all the news reports on TV focused on her question and answer portion and made her a national laughingstock.  He was crying during the interview. No father deserves to hear that shit about his daughter, especially since the only thing they can throw at her is a fumbled sentence or two.

And then this excerpt from Metro magazine. I’m probably a month late, but I just read it this morning. This is what actually prompted this blog entry:

It will be a first — imagine, dahling, a Miss Philippines, a citizen of a former American colony, asking for an english interpreter! — and it will speak volumes about how bad the educational system has gotten in our country, and how such beauty and brains combination are quickly becoming extinct. xxx

First, I take major issue with the notion that just because we used to be a former colony, we are somewhat expected to speak the language of our colonizers fluently. As though colonization should impose obligations on the post-colony states.  As though colonization wasn’t bad enough for the colony as it is. In truth, we must be lamenting the fact that so much of our rich and beautiful heritage has been diluted, if not lost altogether, because of an overeagerness for all things Western.

Second, jesus christ, deficiency in the english language is considered a lack of brains?! Only in the Philippines, indeed, is there such a diminution of the national language that we doubt the intellectual capacity of our countrymen who only speak the mother tongue. I speak with people regularly who don’t know a whit of english but who continue to astound me with their depth and understanding of issues, and with the integrity of their vision. Way, way smarter than those kids speaking Starbucks english and drinking Starbucks coffee.  

Go Janina! Sock it at ’em Starbucks kids. I’m rooting for you.



  1. i really don’t see the logic in expecting a formerly colonized people (not necessarily the philippines) to be fluent and flawless speakers of the imposed language. kahit man lang sa pronunciation a magkakatalo, di ba?

    also, in many countries that belonged to former french africa, the incongruity of seeing (and hearing) dirt-poor people, or drug-crazed, genocidal tribal warriors speaking flawless french blows my mind!

  2. uy wait. tumawa din ako ng ubod lakas ha. teka lang.

    fist we have to agree that people may have found her Q&A laughable for different reasons. the short-sighted may have thought her english was funny and stopped at that. i thought it was her gumption (“no, i don’t feel any pressure right now!”) to venture into a language she had no command over, that elicited a guffaw.

    it would ultimately depend on what people would say — whether they would say “bobo kasi” or “bakit kasi hindi na lang nagtagalog” that would make for a split-haired decision if janina should be defended or not. for those who say the first, yes dapat siya ipagtanggol for reasons we both know. pero for the second, which include me, she should not be defended from. kumbaga, sinuong niya ang pag-iingles pangatawanan nya dapat.

    for the record i am an advocate of beaucons where contestants practice the native tongue. as for this particular case, since janina couldn’t hack it, then i don’t think she should be supported nor defended. she knew what she was getting into. she thought she could get away with faking it, but she fell apart. coming from a poor background doesn’t allow us to cut her some slack either. don’t equate poor=noble. never, ever. we help them, but should not put them on a pedestal.

    if my rambling amounts to anything, maybe we should blame the organizers of bb pilipinas. for cultivating this culture of sex tourism, this small-minded mentality of english language superiority, this narrow patriarchal notion of what passes for beauty, and all other social crap that bb pilipinas stands for.

    and world peace. i tenkyu. 😛

  3. hi vince! ang sa akin lamang, kaya niya sinuong, dahil pinasuong sa kanya. na-cultivate yung mindset na kailangan english-proficient, na kailangan ipilit niyang mag-inggles kung gusto nya manalo. tama ka dun, it really is the small-minded mentality of english language superiority. 😦

    gusto ko din ng world peace. 🙂

  4. kapag hindi tuwid ang pananalita ng isang tao, tagalog man o inglis, it will always elicit laughter. so for me the alleged janina debacle is a non-issue. natatandaan ko ang college days ko sa manila. bagong salta ako and coming from the visayas, hindi tuwid ang tagalog ko. pinagtatawanan ako ng mga kaklase ko tuwing mag salita ako ng pilipino. pag mag-inglis naman ako sa klase, with my visayan accent, tawa pa rin sila. minsan sabi pa ng isang professor ko sa akin; “enough of your filibustering. take your seat!”. (ouch) pero hindi naging sagabal ang visayan accent ko sa buhay. on the contrary, i found out that being “may matigas na dila” wika nga is very deserving and rewarding (hehe). ;p

  5. feeling ko hindi dapat pagtawanan ang pagkakaiba ng accent. kahit sa tagalog or english. andami dami kayang dialects sa pilipinas. polyglot ang madami sa atin.

    gusto ko yung ilonggo accent, charming at malambing. pero siguro biased lang ako. (yung visayan accent, ok lang din naman.)

  6. Yes, English does in fact come from a colonial history, but I beg to differ with the idea that U.S. colonization was somehow ‘bad’ for the Philippines. In fact, the U.S. was quite beneficial, and remains an important benefactor to this day. Arguably, the Philippine islands gained more progress under 50 years of U.S. rule than it did under 300 years of Spanish rule. It was the United States that guaranteed Philippine independence from Japanese occupation, and true Philippine independence soon followed after the liberation.

    Spanish colonization, on the other hand, is a different story. However, if Filipinos desire to erase the colonial past by removing English as the language of government and business, then it would *also* be appropriate to change every Filipino surname — all the surnames, in fact, do have Spanish roots.

    The fact of the matter is, the Philippines is a nation without any history of its own. Philippine history evidently begins when Ferdinand Magellan landed on the Philippine islands; Filipinos have no memory of tribal life before Spanish colonization. In fact, the name of the nation itself is based on the Spanish king.

    It is impossible to remove the colonial past. I dont see why spoken English is such a bad thing.

  7. jusko. tinatamad ako humirit.

    (im too lazy to engage in a full-on debate right now…)

    hehe. 😉

  8. Other races don’t care if they can speak a word of english or not – as long as they are in their country, they speak their mother tongue. Sa atin, masyadong critical pag di ka makapagsalita ng English – and yes it is implied that in beauty contests mas malakas ang dating mo kung English ka sumagot. Masakit lalo sa tenga ang Starbucks english (e.g.”Uyyy, I have kwento”). 😉

  9. hey jae! remember i asked you to write about this thing before? when i saw an interview of a dive instructor who couldn’t speak english very well but was obviously a very good dive instructor…

    anyway, i saw janina in a cooking show somewhere and was pleasantly surprised to see she could speak very well, i mean, what she was saying made sense and did not show a ‘dumbell” as what everyone is making her out to be!!

    and yeah, so what if she needs an interpreter? many past winners needed interpreters….

    labo talaga ng pinoy! minsan accent lang din ang tinitingnan, pag nakinig ka naman sa radyo, sa mga DJs with the perfect accents, dami naman maling grammar! oh well!!!

  10. uhm, sino si dyingculture? curious lang!

  11. sana mga Dutch na lang nag-colonize sa atin 😦 saka Jae, biased ka naman talaga towards Ilonggos eh. hehehe

  12. jordan – haha. ‘i have kwento.’ true. standard starbucks stuff.

    dette – urgh! pinaalala mo pa sa akin yang isa ko pang issue. mga DJ na pinapagulong gulong ang dila. contrived naman. at yes, in many cases, wrong grammar. may subject verb disagreement.

    arnold – hehe. syempre. andami ko kamag-anak dun eh.

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