Fr. Bernie Rosinski is finishing his last week of teaching in the Philippines. The following is a reflection from him on “Philippine English” and his role in helping Filipinos to pronounce the language.
Linguistics is not my profession. I am not one of its teachers or practitioners except in a very incidental way. On two occasions now I have been to the Philippines to teach English pronunciation to Filipino and Vietnamese students. On those occasions I have tried to put into practice what I learned while obtaining a Master’s in Linguistic Science from Georgetown University. As my second tour of duty winds down, what have I learned from my experience? Was it worth going to the Philippines?
Let me deal with the initial question first. In my semi-professional opinion there is a reality I call “Filipino English.” It seems to me as valid a form of English as American, British, Canadian, Australian, South African, or any other form of English including Indian and Pakistani. Filipinos who speak English know its grammar and easily become familiar with it through media, sports and business interests. They only lack practice because it is not their first language. By preference they speak their native languages to each other. Only in international settings does their ability to use English manifest itself; also, it is one of the official languages of the country. Filipinos are schooled and instructed in it from grammar school on for better or worse. And this is a point that needs additional explanation.
High school English instructors in the Philippines are not indigenous speakers of English; rather, they are native-born Filipino teachers. Many of these teachers are aware that their pronunciation of English is often inaccurate and thus have sought to obtain study visas to travel for immersion in English-speaking countries for a summer course, or a semester or two. Unfortunately, they are often denied the opportunity because immigration officials do not always approve the necessary paperwork. However, when Filipino English teachers are denied the opportunity to learn to pronounce a language, whether that pronunciation is American, British, or whatever, their Filipino students suffer.
Filipino English has some consistent pronunciation errors that indicate that they are systemic. Apart from the problems that printed words cause (English spelling and print causes grief throughout most of the world), pronunciation errors abound.
Here are just some examples of the systemic errors I have noticed: (1) the “s” sound; wherever it appears in print, the letter “s” receives the sound “sss,” thus the word “is” becomes “ISSS” instead of “IZ,” the word “his” is pronounced “HISSS” rather than “HIZ;” (2) words like “give,” “live,” and “river” which are pronounced “GEEV,” “LEEV,” “REEVER” respectively; and (3) “man,” “pat,” and “bat” are pronounced “MAHN,” “PAHT,” “BAHT.” In some English language cultures, these pronunciations are correct but Filipinos tend to want to speak American English.
Was it worth coming? That was the second question. In some respects, because the Filipino-style English tends to overwhelm all efforts at corrective pronunciation, an American coming to the Philippines to teach American pronunciation must feel like Sisyphus, the Greek condemned to pushing the huge boulder back up the hill.
However, my Filipino students assure me that my visit was very welcome: (1) they themselves desire to speak “American” English; (2) in the Philippines they are generally taught grammar and are given no pronunciation drills; (3) English is an important, worldwide means of communication; (4) special corrective courses in “American” pronunciation are extremely expensive and only the very wealthy can afford them; (5) although it isn’t necessarily the case in all cultures, Filipinos seem readier to hear and understand the American pronunciation of English than others.
These reasons were convincing enough for me. I am glad that I came.