Sunday, January 22, 2006

English is my second language

My sons often tease me about the way I repeatedly mispronounce certain English words. Growing up in the big city, I don’t have a provincial accent. My English isn’t bad, but it is still somewhat “Filipinized”. I try to get away with it by saying, “Filipino English is American.” Or, “That’s British pronunciation.” But they aren’t falling for it.

I sometimes challenge my sons to check the dictionary. Or I discreetly check it myself. When they ganged up on the way I said HYOO-ricane instead of HÜR-ricane, I looked it up in the Canadian, English and American dictionaries hoping to get vindicated. I did not find my vindication, not from the dictionary anyway. I was at a Bible study with some fellow Filipino immigrants when I heard a guy say, “My life is a HYOOricane.” I knew it! That’s how we said it in the Philippines. I couldn’t wait to tell my sons. It didn’t make me right, but at least I could say I was not the only one wrong. There are many of us who are better off saying typhoon.

The word vehicle is my other pitfall. I keep saying VE-hicle instead of VEE-hicle. Gino is quick to point that out every time. So I have to consciously and deliberately say vee-hicle if I am to avoid being run over by these speech patrols. Maybe I should just stick to cars and S-U-VEEs.

Here’s another one: excitement. I say ig-zitement instead of ik-sitement. My kids find it really funny the way I say excitement with a g. My tongue finds it hard to unlearn this faulty pronunciation --- until this afternoon. I was driving with Markus to Home Depot and we were chatting back and forth when I said, “It’s going to be exciting when you join the youth group in September!” I was referring to the church group he will move up to when he turns Grade 6.

Markus tapped my right shoulder and very calmly said, “Mom, you’re on the road to recovery.” His response caught me by surprise and I laughed, the hi-hi-hi kind of snicker.

“What do you  mean?” I asked.

“Mom, you said iksiting! Before, you always said igziting. You’re on the road to recovery, Mom. Now you just have to work on your laugh.” He then mimicked my shrill akward laughter.

I guffawed, and let out a hearty ha-ha-ha.

“That’s better,” he said in a dry but comical way. Ahhh, so now I have to check my laughter too?

I must say my spoken English has improved a lot since we migrated to Canada. I still don’t have the twang but I have more confidence in speaking with just about anyone. Occasionally, I run out of English or a Tagalog word comes out of my mouth as I’m speaking with a non-Filipino, but hey, I’m on the road to recovery!


lhb said...

You too? It took my kids many tries before they could make me tell the difference between the sound of "peas" and "peace". Our Pilipino ears just aren't trained to detect the difference.

Despite many years at UP, I didn't feel I really learned English until I had to live and study in the States where I had to speak English 24 hours a day. However, my first dorm roommate was a Southerner from North Carolina and he was teaching me English with a southern drawl. :) He once asked, "Do you ever WRAHT home?" After many "ikskyus me"s, I finally understood that he was asking me if "I write home" to the Philippines. Still, he forced me to think in English all the time. Soon, I even woke up up at night to find myself dreaming in English!

Now, my kids are still working on the aunties. I hear them arguing sometimes about such words as "aborigines".

'No, Auntie, it's not a-BO-ri-jins, it's AH-bo-ri-ji-neez!'

'It's hip-po-PO-ta-mus, not hip-po-po-ta-MUS.'

Just last week, Monica caught me. I told her, "So, you will be applying for a job in Manila which will involve working with a-DO-les-cents?" I know she enjoys working with young people. "You mean, I will be working with AH-do-les-cents?" OK, you got me again. :)

Living in Quebec, you don't have to be too self-conscious about English pronunciation. Just watch the evening news and you can see how some supposedly smart and powerful people are also struggling. Surely, you must still remember how badly the former Prime Minister Jean Chretien mangled his English (his French is also bad!) and yet he managed.

My kids are desperately trying to learn Tagalog. They find it convenient that we can speak "privately" even when there are others around. My older daughter, the dentist, has a Filipino dental assistant and they manage to talk "privately" even while working on a patient.

But with English, French and Tagalog - all running around inside their head, sometimes they'd run out of Tagalog words and use French instead. The first time Monica brought a boyfriend home to introduce to us, there were many quiet awkward moments among us. To encourage me to talk to the guy, Monica whispered to me, "Parlez naman kayo ng kaibigan ko." :) :)

Learning English is a never-ending task. Thank goodness we have our kids to teach us. :)

lerryblossoms said...

AHdolescents? I say aDOlescents too. ADult or aDULT? Peas, peace, piece, I say them alike. Even with occasional boo-boos, I have surprised a number of non-Filipinos that I spoke fluent English as if they were expecting less from me.

In general, Filipinos here are known to be quite conversant in English, and it makes us more competitive in the job market. I hope Filipinos can keep this edge in the international arena. The last I heard, the English language, esp. in schools, has deteriorated in my nativeland. Is UP doing any better?

lhb said...

You heard right. English has deteriorated but Taglish has prospered. It's now generally accepted - government officials and TV news reporters are expected to speak Taglish.

UP is not helping either. Our good old alma mater, the UPHS, now known as UPIS, leads the way in using Filipino (that's what it's called now, NOT Pilipino) as the medium of instruction.

The "competitive edge" you mentioned is disappearing fast.

lhb said...

P.S. - peas is pronounced with a "z" sound, as in "peez". Peace is pronounced with an "s", like "pees". Just ask your kids to demonstrate, if they haven't embarassed you enough. :)