• How’s that again please?


    THERE’S been such a surfeit of commentaries on politics, especially on the citizenship of presidential hopeful Sen. Grace Poe, that I decided to write something lighter like problems of many Filipinos in oral communication. I hope readers wouldn’t mind. Here goes:

    Question: What is a bicker?

    Answer: A bicker is a pirson who bicks kicks.

    Filipinos may immediately recognize what the definition is but probably, not English-speaking foreigners. I don’t know why but many Filipinos have difficulty with the short “e,” pronouncing it as short “i” instead. There’s the anecdote about a sweet young receptionist in a small hotel in the province greeting a guest.

    “Tsik-in sir?” she asked with a smile.

    “De-hins. Noy-pi,” the guest replied.

    This difficulty can be traced to one fact — our language is phonetic. Our tongue has been “regimented” to pronounce all vowels in a word, like “Niagara.” Our nephew Benny Sabado once took my wife Lynn and me to the famous Niagara Falls. Listening to recorded information about this tourist attraction, I noted that the speaker pronounced it with a long “i” and with the second “a” silent. Thus, when a friend mentioned “Niagara,” pronouncing it as most Filipinos do, I immediately corrected him.

    “Ah, like Viagra,” my friend remarked.

    Search me why my friend immediately thought of the blue pill in discussing the waterfalls, but that’s another story.

    They say that the true measure of a linguist is the ability to pronounce a word as a native using it as a first language would do. So, when we speak English, why don’t we do so like the native English speaker? Ah, but if they do, they’ll be immediately mocked. Filipinos are expected to speak English like a Filipino and not like an American. Filipinos may mispronounce some English words but at least, fellow Filipinos understand them, and that’s what’s important.

    Maybe, this is okay when we talk in English with fellow Filipinos but how do we make ourselves understood when we talk with Americans? Or, how could we understand what Americans are saying? We may be using the same language but we could barely communicate orally with each other.

    Former Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos once famously said that he was fond of “hamburgers,” pronouncing the “g” as “j.” This spawned an anecdote about his visit to a fast food center on his first trip to America.

    “I want hamburger,” he said, again pronouncing the “g” as “j.”

    “This is America and we pronounce it ‘hamburger,” the bartender corrected him.

    “Sorry, I’m a stranger here,” Abalos supposedly replied, using the hard “g” sound.

    This brings us to the puzzle of American pronunciation. A letter has different pronunciations, unlike our language where it is pronounced as written. The variances in the pronunciation of English words could befuddle Filipinos who use English as a second or third language, thus the difficulty of speaking the language like a native English speaker.

    Hey, did I say that a true measure of a linguist is the ability to pronounce a word like a native does? Come to think of it, this may disqualify many Americans from being considered linguists. You see, they use many foreign words but pronounce them the way they want to.

    Very often, I hear television commentator mentioning “Eye-rock,” when referring to Iraq. Spanish words should be pronounced the Latino way but not to Americans. Filipinos and Latinos all pronounce “mesa” the same way but Americans wouldn’t be able to understand it. Pronounce “e” as a long “a” and they’ll know what you’re saying.

    We all know the correct pronunciation of “padre,” a Spanish word but not Americans who insist on pronouncing the “e” as long “a,” as in “pad-ray.”

    My daughter Irene, a pharmacist at Walgreens in Las Vegas, was once stomped by an American customer who said her family name as “Agwire.” Irene wasn’t sure that she heard the customer correctly.

    “Can you spell that please?” she said.

    “A-g-u-i-r-r-e,” the customer answered.

    Hey, what’s that again that I said about oral communication?



    Please follow our commenting guidelines.


    1. Have you heard New Yorkers english accent? I have been in US for almost 25 years and I tell you that New York accent is one of the hardest to understand .

    2. For a simple exercise, let’s try pronouncing, Des Moines (IA), Des Plaines (IL), Nachitoches (LA), Beaumon (TX)t, Frederick Chopin, Johann Sebastian Bach, Terre Haute (IN), La Place(LA), and Waukesha (WI). See how easy it is?

    3. I personally struggle with Illongo language, living here in NegrosOcc. My wife confuses me with the short “i’…”e” words…that is true,after 18 years of marriage! Americans are not good at foreign languages(most Americans like me) but as kids,when we made fun of how someone from another country spoke English, we were reminded that people with an accent can speak more than one language!

    4. Americans don’t speak real English, its the Brits who do. I think its a miracle that Americans understand each other, or perhaps they really don’t, we only think they do. Here in this country there is clearly a language barrier between the westernized elite and the masses which to any objective eye does not help our situation any. But the elite believe this foreign language is crucial to our development even if it obviously serves as a barrier that divides our people. After 500 years of westernization doesn’t it look like to you that the natives of these islands are hardwired to resist a foreign language? It makes one wonder how the Chinese, Japanese, and many other countries who prefer to speak in their native tongue are way more developed while those who used to be our peers like Thailand or behind us like Vietnam are quickly moving ahead even if English is not the preferred tongue of their respective elites. We have been bludgeoned as a people to make us believe that what in reality are toxic is good medicine. So wonder no more why even professional pundits who should know better believe that we have a real functioning democracy or a real God-fearing religion even if the opposite reality is already spitting at them in the face. Thats what 500 years brainwashing does, and this brainwashing was accomplished using first Spanish, and now English. Isang Bansa, dapat lang Isang Diwa, di ba?

    5. Jose A. Oliveros on

      I remember having lunch with an American journalist who mentioned President Kayzon (Quezon), Senators Ehnggeyrah (Angara) and Enraylee (Enrile) and who for dessert ordered yoohbay (ube)/mehkaypyunoh (macapuno) ice cream. Well even Americans and Engishmen sometimes cannot understand one another because to an American it is an apartment; a flat to an Englishman, elevator to an American, lift to an Englishmen. How well did Winston Churchill in his address before the joint session of the US Congress that the Americans and the Englishmen are one people separated by a common language.