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English as a Second Language (ESL) in the Philippines: My Experiences in Learning

Updated on December 7, 2014

Ancestral Roots

My late paternal grandparents did not belong to any of the privileged families back in their times, so when it comes to this economic condition, they did not had the chances to attend school and get an education. They had no other choice but to stay in the countryside to help my great- grandparents in cultivating their piece of land to have harvests for their survival. Because of this they did not speak any other vernacular except their mother tongue which is the Cebuano language.However, even if they were not given the chance to get an education, my grandparents were able to live their lives imbued with wisdom which according to some is better than the knowledge that one can get out of memorizing concepts taught by the teachers in school.

I can attest that illiteracy and poverty transgresses through generations and this was palpable in my father’s family which was composed of thirteen children. Times were tough while they were growing up and my grandparents could not send them altogether to school which resulted to having them acquire the very least education they could have most especially in learning English as a second language, not to mention the poor academic facilities and deficient faculty members . However, I do consider my father as one of the lucky kids among the broods because he was able to make it until high school, but considering the fact that he graduated from a hinterland high school, it could be expected that his linguistic competence is not that excellent. He’s good at Math, though.

Illiteracy could not be eliminated immediately in a clan. In fact, some may even reach up to the third or fifth generations, but in my knowledge and experiences, the illiteracy of my clan ended to the second generation only since my parents were able to send us to school. Most Filipino parents have a positive attitude towards educating their children. Having been born poor, they firmly believe that it is the only the legacy that that they can pass on to their children—an inheritance that cannot be stolen and the one which can permit their children to achieve in great heights. As a result, my siblings and I were able to go to school.


Early Years at Home and in School

As for my experience in learning English, just as it is hard to lose weight, learning a language was very difficult for me too. Recalling my experiences in learning English as my second language, I can say that it has never been that easy for me especially that I spent my childhood years in the very same environment where my father and his siblings used to live and grow- up. There was no access to electricity and so television was a very unpopular possession of every household. The poverty of the time and place did not allow us to own even a black-and- white TV to give us at least a glimpse of the English language through popular shows like Barney, Sineskwela and the like; nor did other media find their ways to our isolated place. What was present was a dry cell- powered radio set to which we were very fond of listening to ABS- CBN’s MOR (My Only Radio, For Life!) station.

On recollection of these experiences, I realized that that radio listening experience must be considered adherent to my archives of frustrations because the station seldom played English songs which I consider as one of the precursor in the acquisition of second language among children in the mountain villages. What prevailed in the late ‘90’s were songs such as Jolina Magdangal’s Tameme, and April Boy Regino’s Di Ko Kayang Tanggapin, among other songs famous at that time whose meanings are so difficult to comprehend. As a result I just considered them as the sounds of other unknown animals, ghosts and fairies. In other words, the Filipino language was not my second language because I was taught broken “carabao” English at home at a young age and in the school in the later years. In fact, I never knew that the language existed until I reached the second level in grade school when we relocated in the city. Should we have stayed there in Mabinay, I think I will not be able to acquire my second language effectively because instructions were very different in the rural and in the urban areas way back then and I believe, even up to now.

I can still remember our situation in that classroom in my first grade school, Napasu- a Primary School. There were two levels occupying the same room handled by the same teacher who would swap her time between two classes. Once her grade one students were already given an activity, she would then turn to her grade two students. Our classes usually ended up to Friday mornings only because our teacher would go home to her hometown.

At home, my father usually spoke the English language to us, often a translation of the native terms assigned to things that are found at home and in the rustic environment such as spoon, plate, fire, match, pig, chicken, rooster, cow, beans, farm, corn, and sister among others.

Learning by Pain

I can still recall how I loved to pick- up cuddly chicks while they were walking around the yard which was the very reason why I always ended up crying as the mother hen gets agitated and attacked me as if I was a leopard cat in her coop. Thanks to that experience and I was able to learn a new term which was “angry”. The hen was angry!

Imitation and Habit Formation

Basically, I was able to learn speaking my second language through imitation and habit formation (behaviorism approach) on the English words that I’ve heard from the people around me and practicing them until I was able to identify the objects by myself. Like for instance, my older sister would point at the buzzing insect and would say that it was a “bee” instead of the usual buyog and I would imitate the word, repeating it thereafter until I was able to name it the next time it occurs in my sight. Each day, new words were taught by the older family members which for me were a very good foundation prior to my acquisition of the second language. I remember how I was in awe as my first teachers at home spoke English to me, but just lately I realized that they were ungrammatical in doing most of the language teachings. Good thing I was not able to fossilized those errors and suffer the consequences thereafter.

We transferred in Dumaguete City, the capital of the province of Negros Oriental for good when I was a child.
We transferred in Dumaguete City, the capital of the province of Negros Oriental for good when I was a child. | Source

Moving to the City

As we moved here in the city, I experienced one of the most frustrating consequences of living in the hinterlands because things turned out to be very unusual and baffling. I realized that I could not even spell out words correctly and when I take down notes, I was the last pupil to go out of the classroom because I did not copy the sentences by words or phrases. Instead, I wrote every word by letters as in p-r-i-n-c-i-p-a-l. From that on, I was able to get the idea of being bitter in life at a young age, of wallowing myself in self- pity because of my academic condition. What used to be a top student in the boondocks became a timid worrywart in a capital forested by carbon emissions.

It was a good thing I had very competent teachers who patiently taught me how to do things especially in writing, reading and speaking in the English language.

Behaviorist and Interactionist Approaches in SLA

As I reached college and studied second language acquisition, I found out that there were two approaches applied by people around me—both explicitly and implicitly—that made me changed from being a timid pupil into a person of competence: the behaviorist and interactionist approaches. I believe that when it comes to second language acquisition, the behaviorist approach which employs both language imitation and practice can never be undermined. In addition, having been immersed in an environment where competence in the use of the language is required, the interactionist approach should be given due credit because it did not only provide an authentic practice for me in using the language, but it also has allowed me to consciously monitor my progress as a learner during interactions. Through constant immersion with the target language, I was able to develop competence in it and it made me of what I am today as a language user and student. In fact, I consider the incidence when I learned English and made progress in the four macro- skills a great linguistic feat.

As a Bilingual Today

Currently, I consider myself a bilingual—I can speak three languages Cebuano, English and Filipino and I do consider this ability as an edge both domestically and internationally especially when it comes to the aspects of relaying messages and information. When I am communicating with a native or a Filipino who doesn’t have any background of the English language, I can still communicate with him without the constraints of any fear of being misunderstood because I can communicate to him using the mother tongue. The same is true when I am communicating to a native English speaker, a foreigner who is non- native speaker and a Tagalog person. It really has a great value if a person knows and uses language other than his mother tongue fluently, more especially when it comes to competing in the international arena.

How Culture and Language Limits Each Other

In terms of the relationship between culture and language, I also believe that both of them have their respective ability of restricting each other. For instance in my experience, the rustic culture that I had during the earlier years of my life was so backward, and as a result, it limited my exposure to the language and did not allow me to grow linguistically more especially in the English language. On the other hand, my limited language awareness and skills hindered me in communicating well when I moved in a different setting with different culture. Should these difficulties were not addressed thoroughly by my formal mentors; I would have stayed in a backward culture and personality because language is very vital to the existence of a culture that makes up a nation.

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    • cianeko profile image

      Cianeko Abueva 4 years ago

      Thank you, Miss Gonzales for dropping by my article. I am happy of your feedback, and nice to meet you. I don't know how I made it, but I believe it's my immersion to the language and the linguistic environment that made me what I am today.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 4 years ago from Philippines

      I love your article. You know, your rural life is very interesting to me, as I grew up in the city. I don't think your rural life is backwards, it's just another way of living. It contributed to who you are today. I admire your persistence in learning English to the point of being trilingual. You know, Kabayan, I grew up traveling and English is my first language. My tagalog is not very good, I'm not fluent in it. Plus, my parents (deceased) spoke Cebuano, but I never learned it. So I can't speak Cebuano, my tagalog is barok and my English is okay. Congrats kabayan! I'm so privileged to meet you here on hub pages.

    • Mhitz profile image

      Mhitz 4 years ago

      To sum up everything,"The past doesn't determine our future". An excellent article. Well written.