Fear of English?

Fears of excellence, the unknown, Manuel Luis Quezon

Isabel Pefianco Martin writes of students ‘Fearing English in the Philippines’ (April 12, inquirer.net). In one school, where it was English-only in classrooms, corridors and faculty lounges, she would see everyone rush to the quadrangle during break time to exhale English and inhale Filipino. Haaah!

She thinks students will not learn a language if they fear it. I agree. Aside from the fear of punishment in strictly-English schools, this fear of English arises from peer pressure – the peers prefer Filipino, because they equate it with nationalism or love of country. If that’s all the nationalism you have, your school has not taught you anything at all. Learn from the Ateneo; the Jesuit Fathers don’t teach nationalism – they teach internationalism. They don’t teach love of country – they teach love of fellowman.

I explain what Isabel refers to as fear of English also as fear of the unknown – English is largely unknown to us, isn't it? I know because I have been an editor of University of the Philippines students and professors for the last 50 years and I have seen manuscripts written by PhDs that leave much to be desired in terms of grammar and composition. We think in Filipino and write in English - no one can ever be good at that.

Elsewhere, in print, compare the best news written on the pages of our own Philippine Daily Inquirer and those of the International Herald Tribune and you will see what I mean: The quality of Philippine journalism runs from average to mediocre. That's because we don't encourage excellence - we encourage instead insolence. Journalistic fear of excellence? That goes with columnists; that goes with broadcasters and talk show hosts. And that’s because in fact we discourage English in school, in the office, at home. We instill fear of English into the very hearts of everyone. What will the great Manuel Luis Quezon say of us?

Me? You can scare me with anything but not nationalism, not righteousness, not English, not Manuel Luis Quezon. He was the one who said, ‘I prefer a country run like Hell by Filipinos than a country run like heaven by Americans!' He thought we Filipinos knew better. So, look at us now. Now we know better. The future of this country lies not in our stars (movie stars, politicians performing in a major role) but in ourselves.

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