I am of Bicolano origin. I grew up and went to school in the province, and as a typical ‘provinciano,’ my exposure to English was limited to the classroom, the unusual experience of being asked for directions by a foreigner, and, to my disgust, being compelled to speak the language at home.
I’ve always disliked English classes. It had the same level of aversion to arithmetic as I do, and as a result, my foundation was never strong. I never cared to learn the fundamentals of grammar, pronunciation, or diction, and my vocabulary was limited. Carrying on a conversation in English was impossible since I would avoid any opportunity. The lack of a solid foundation deprived me of the ability to correct myself if I made a mistake.
A local radio station had a job opening after I graduated from college. The radio commercial became Pied Piper music to my ears, and one day I found myself compiling my résumé and a five-minute demo tape in which I played DJ, read the newspaper, and chatted about myself. “Bahala na,” I thought to myself.
I waited a few weeks after submitting the demo cassette, but received no response. One day, a radio station ad announced that five radio jocks had been picked and that a contest to name them was underway. I decided to participate in the promotion and went to the radio station to turn in my submission. As I was ready to leave, the radio station’s manager approached me and said, “Your tone of voice sounds familiar. Did you send us a demo tape?” I responded with a brief yes. As I accompanied him to the recording booth, he said that there will be another vacancy for the DJ position and that he wanted to see if I would be a good fit.
I was instructed to present a song, play DJ, read from a magazine, and speak about myself inside the booth. I completed the task despite being nervous, hot, and unconfident. What the station manager said to me is still fresh in my mind “Your voice is lovely, but I’m afraid I have to tell you that you aren’t qualified for the position. You have a strong provincial accent, weak grammar, poor diction, and a worried tone to your voice, which is reasonable given the circumstances. If you want to be a DJ, a new radio station will open in six months; come back and we’ll do it all over again.”
Six months, I told myself. I didn’t have a lot of time, and I needed assistance. I traveled to Manila in search of a program or school that may assist me, but they were all too pricey for a jobless recent graduate like me. I chose to work for my cousin’s company, but I was keen to improve my English.
I told my friends and family that I was on a self-training program and that I needed their assistance, and I urged them not to laugh at me, but rather to accommodate me because I wanted to learn. It’s a good thing; everyone was helpful.
The first order of business was to learn the fundamentals of grammar. I didn’t know anything about the internet (which was launched in the Philippines by PHNet in 1994), so I requested another cousin to lend me her (high school) textbooks. While learning the fundamentals of grammar, I resolved to talk in English 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I was destined to make errors. I quickly requested that my family and friends correct me. They’d do it every two to three minutes (being purists and obsessive-compulsive about grammar, my friends made sure that I understood the rule I broke, and a penalty was set for a repeat offense.)
I practiced pronunciation by imitating the DJs, but it wasn’t enough. Every weekend, I would rent ten Betamax tapes, all of which were American films. I’d put on a headset, play and pause, and copy the dialogues; if I was satisfied, I’d proceed on to the next dialogue/line. The goal was to improve my pronunciation, reduce my accent, and learn intonation. With the exception of Fast Times at Ridgemont High (which I watched the pool scene over and again), I never truly watched the movies I rented; they were simply a tool for me to employ.
My friends noticed that my grammar and pronunciation had improved after two months of constant learning from books, listening to DJs, and replicating dialogue from movies. As a result, I was able to fix myself. However, I was still having difficulty with verbs, tenses, and prepositions; the only difference now is that I recognized what I was dealing with, and a targeted study may be conducted to remedy the issue. I didn’t worry too much because I knew I’d have time.
My next objective was to improve my vocabulary. Every day, I would memorize five words, understand their meaning, use them in a sentence, and they would be mine for life (not knowing the meaning of the word or its synonyms and antonyms gave me restless nights). I realized I needed to work on my vocabulary because whenever I was in a conversation, I didn’t know what word to use or was having difficulty finding the correct one. I didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t express myself effectively and efficiently, especially when it was required.
We had an American visitor one day in the third month. It was an opportunity for me to practice, and during one of our chats, I couldn’t help but notice the American’s facial expression as he strained to understand what I was saying. I can’t remember what I said to him, but I realized I was thinking in Filipino, searching for the proper word or expression, and then translating it to English. It was a classic instance of lost in translation, and anything I said made no sense at all. Solution: speak and think in English 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
On the fifth month, I conducted a self-evaluation to assess my development, using a list similar to the one below:
- Passed the grammar test (one made by a friend)
- Pronunciation – insufficient (but I was struggling with TH, short and long I, b and v, and p and f)
- Diction – double-check
- Check your intonation.
- Check the accent
- Vocabulary – adequate
- Unpredictability – Getting There
- Coherence and conviction – uncertain at this point in the evaluation.
Practice breeds spontaneity. It was the fifth month of evaluation that I realized that the learning I had experienced in grammar, pronunciation, diction, intonation, and improved vocabulary had given me the confidence to speak without fumbling for words. As for fluency, I didn’t bother with it because it has something to do with mastery of a certain subject; one can never be fluent at something if one does not have a thorough understanding of it.
The last item on the list was the most difficult because I couldn’t find a method that would assist me in developing coherence and delivering a line with conviction. It was really important to me that my views make sense and convey a clear point when I spoke. While both parts of the problem were real, I believe that a person’s image is negatively affected by lacking comprehension.
In the sixth month, I went back to the radio station and presented myself, the manager invited me to haveI returned to the radio station after six months and presented myself; the manager invited me for coffee and was surprised to hear me talk; he claimed I sounded completely different. He summoned me to the recording studio once more, and this time I aced it. He offered me a position, and I spent five wonderful years working in that field. coffee and was shocked to hear me speak, and he said I sounded so different. Again, he asked me to the recording booth, and this time, I passed with flying colors. He offered me a job, and I stayed in that industry for five beautiful years.
As a jock, I was never concerned with spontaneity or coherence because DJs speak in phrases; also, the key to the best ad-lib is “to write it down first.” Then I realized that coherence and spontaneity were no longer an issue; years of reading had simply given me the confidence to speak. I can carry on a discussion as long as I’m conversant with the subject.
The final stage in completing my learning was to listen to myself while speaking; this way, I can identify my mistakes and correct myself right away. I recognized that it is acceptable to make errors – no one is perfect, and no one expects me to be. Even this blog entry is not without its flaws.
We appreciate your time in reading. I hope you gained some knowledge.