When speaking in English…
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with speaking in English.”
Those were some of the first words I wrote in a column after I was appointed editor in chief of our high school newspaper.
Back in the day I wanted to influence every student who stumbled upon my column that managing to complete a sentence in English was a commendable effort and not a target for mockery and laughter, or even an excuse for bullying.
Up to this time, it is still a struggle for many people to understand that English is a second language that we have been trained in school to use for employment and communication purposes. But still, as many Filipinos would agree, speaking in English in this country can put you in a number of unwanted places.
To be frank, the double standards set on the use of the English language in this country is madly infuriating.
Not too many months ago, Maxine Medina competed in a nationwide beauty pageant and was pelted with hate messages by bashers for her lack of proficiency in answering in English during the question-and-answer portion. Among the same crowd, you’d be able to find people who, when faced with a person who’ll politely address them in English, would have a finger up their noses and exclaiming: “Ah! Nosebleed!”
There is no in-between: Speaking in English has become either a basis for judging someone’s level of intelligence or a cue to smart-shame.
Recently, the hot topic on the internet was the child of 13 who had been taking over social media with her belligerent way of speaking in defense against another user. Netizens were encouraging the child to go on, and praising her for being so “cool” and “classy” as to be able to stand up to a basher, completely ignoring the fact that she had merely trash-talked the latter. And it’s all because the child spoke in English.
This adds to the frustration. There is never a clear platform on which people can stand when it comes to using the English language.
Personally, I have had 13 years of school and there wasn’t a year when I wasn’t criticized for speaking in English. I didn’t have the satisfaction of standing in front of the class and introducing myself—and not being instantly stereotyped as maarte (artful). I didn’t have the satisfaction of reciting and speaking out my thoughts without anyone making a sarcastic comment because of this ability. And while the teachers have been very encouraging, some students weren’t.
It’s incredible that these are the same people who could easily post a laughing emoji in the comment thread of someone’s post marked with a grammatical error, or snigger behind their hand when someone mispronounces a word.
There were people in my class who wouldn’t stay long around me because they weren’t very fond of the seemingly arrogant English speaker. Even as I entered college with the ambitious hope that perhaps this time I wouldn’t have this travesty on my tail, I am still within that circle of criticism and am often the bull’s eye, front and center.
Many people would even question me about my loyalty to my nation because of this ability to speak in fluent English. I have been told not to speak in English because I am a Filipino so many times that I have lost count. The apparent logic behind this is that the mere fact that one is more comfortable expressing oneself in English makes one less of a citizen of the Philippines, and even less so because one patronizes another country’s culture!
Is it so bad that I have chosen to apply in real life all of the years of work on my language subjects? Or is it really just the way we perceive how we make use of the language?
And meanwhile, while I am scratching my head thinking of solutions to overcome this predicament, there are people out there crying for help because they are being pushed around for not having perfect grammar or fluency in English. Some critics are such easy pushovers for negative controversies that they fail to find the good in things. Instead of appreciating some people’s way of exerting effort in speaking a foreign language, the critics shame them. And when these people become proficient in speaking the language, the critics turn against them, pointing out how artful, what show-offs, they are.
The amount of comments I’ve received about how well I play with my words or how fluent my English is, is much smaller compared to the number of people who find me annoying. Often I just find myself in great confusion: Should I just conform to what they wish and limit myself for the sake of acceptance, or embrace this talent disguised as a curse in the land where I was born?
Ingrid Angelica Custodio, 18, is a communication student at Holy Angel University, Pampanga.
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