It helped that I had a complete set of Classics Illustrated Comics which I read from cover to cover. I read the English dialogues aloud and this was how I learned to write. I remember how I beamed with pride when an essay of mine was singled out by my Grade 6 teacher for reading out aloud in class. I vaguely recall that the theme was about “graduation blues” and I wrote an angst-filled article about it which my sentimental teacher lapped.
However, my spoken English was another thing. Somehow, I could never quite speak English confidently due perhaps to my promdi shyness. I was named Best in English in my freshman year, but didn’t attend the awarding rites for fear that I would be asked to speak. I would have murdered the King’s English with my thick Kapampangan accent.
English--the language of our American colonizers--became the medium of instruction as soon as the public educational system of our country was reformed. The Americans, unlike the Spaniards, freely shared their language with their island possession, and the schools they built were soon staffed with Filipino teachers trained not only in the modern methods of instruction, but also in the prescribed language—English.
In its campaign to advance English, penalties such as fines were imposed on anyone who was caught speaking in a native dialect. English-speaking clubs were set up in schools, engaging in activities such as staging short plays, oratorical contests and public speaking—all in English. The caton gave way to American textbooks that introduced alphabet exercises (“A is for apple”) as well as new characters other than Pepe and Pilar, in the persons of Dick and Jane.
Schooled in the new language, Kapampangans from all walks of life showed off their mastery by becoming outstanding writers like Vidal A. Tan, poet Angela Manalang Gloria, essayist Sol H. Gwekoh, encyclopedist Zoilo Galang and journalists E. Aguilar Cruz, Jose Luna Castro and Renato Tayag. Over at Fort Stotsenburg, househelps of military men and their families quickly absorbed the language from their masters and were soon conversant with it. Carolyn Shunk, an army wife stationed in Pampanga saved a letter written by a former houseboy to an officer, in the hope of landing some laundry jobs from the soldiers at the camp:
Hon. Sir. We rejoice if our letter reach you in the same condition as before now sir as are in wait under your protection we wish to beg a favor of taking mucho contract about laundry we desire one troop to have of its cloths the price, honorable sir and colonel 2 pesos of the one soledad we expect of your kindness although we are not here by the grace of god to get of this work for which with thanks,
Your obedient servant,
Though mangled and mispronounced, English continues to be important, being the principal language of international business. Just look at the thriving call center industry here and the incessant demand for English-speaking overseas Filipino workers. Speaking in English—in the right setting and under the right conditions--does not make one less of a Pinoy. It is when one attaches “—or else!” to the Speak English policy that things become contentious.
A year ago, it was reported that certain schools in Pampanga fined students for speaking in Kapampangan in campus, and not in English! With just 2 million Kapampangan speakers left, and with its use relegated to texting, the thought that institutions of learning are themselves contributing to the demise of a language is appalling. English, as a language, continues to grow and expand every day—the 1 millionth English word ("web 2.0"--the next generation of world wide web products and services) has recently been added to Webster’s. It will always be there—so why worry?