Help! Her college students don’t know their grammar

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11:30 PM February 19th, 2012

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By: Sandra Mijares-Tolentino, February 19th, 2012 11:30 PM

I am a retired employee from the corporate world. I was writing press releases, speeches and corporate paraphernalia until they put me as manager of a call center for a public utility company.

When I retired (early retirement, mind you), I delighted in old Hollywood movies on HBO and TCM, until a friend prodded me to teach English, a dying language in the Philippines, suffering the fate of Spanish in my time.

Although the compensation was a pittance compared to what I used to receive, I relished the idea of having something to do.

I’ve been [in this school] for three years and, to date, I feel like it’s more of an apostolate to teach these kids who don’t even know the meaning of “in the family way.”

I handled first year college grammar so these were kids fresh from high school, and yet they had no mastery of their high school English grammar.

Since I am a product of a private exclusive high school for girls run by German nuns, I never thought of English as a second language. My parents brought me up with English, my peers at school spoke to me in English and even our help spoke to us in English.

So imagine my chagrin when I found these kids couldn’t speak English, much more know grammar! I consider their English “chopsuey English” but I don’t totally blame them as they are products of a screwed up public educational system in the Philippines in general and in the provinces in particular. (Education Secretary Armin Luistro sure has a formidable task up his sleeves!)

I decided to make rules in my class. First, everyone should speak English during my period. Anyone caught speaking Tagalog would be penalized two bucks every time. One student handed me P100 and told me it was advance payment for all the Tagalog he would speak. On the campus grounds, whenever I would approach a group of students to converse with them in English as a practice session, they would all scamper away in different directions like I had leprosy.

My first year in this school, I discovered that absolutely nobody could speak the royal language—not even the English teachers or the school director who had a Ph.D. degree! As I snooped around, I also discovered some teachers who taught English in Tagalog!

This is the sad state of English brought about by media, the likes of a certain hunky comedian whose bastardized English makes his audience roar.

My second rule was for all to write a weekly composition titled “My Good Deed.” It followed that there were more red marks (I taught them the editing marks beforehand) than their black-ink handwriting. I got terrible headaches from these!

Another requirement was for the kids to submit a semester-end book report. They did, but all were lifted from the Internet! I remember the book was “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho.

Then I decided to assign a movie report, thinking their visual processes might be better. I brought DVDs of “My Fair Lady” and “Schindler’s List.” I even brought my 32-inch TV to school since at that time the school didn’t have a TV. Nothing doing!

In consternation, I formed a book club among the more concerned students, hoping to create a love for books and reading to expand their world. We had an election of officers, an oath-taking in the presence of our director. I donated books to the book club, which formed the core of the now-existing beautiful library. The club never took off in spite of my offering free tutorials. Good heavens!

As for the “in the family way” thing, our lesson was on prepositions, so I asked them for its meaning and not one hand went up. I challenged them to a P500 reward, still no hands. Then I upped this to P1,000. At the end, they asked me what it meant and I told them.

I grew tired of grammar so I asked to teach world literature this semester. The kind director gave me what I wanted. I have no regrets.  But when I discuss Guy de Maupassant, O Henry and Leo Tolstoy with the kids, it is very difficult to discern if they appreciate the author’s words. They heave a collective sigh of relief when we touch home, so I see that they can relate to Franz Arcellana, my once professor, and Jose Garcia Villa. Filipinos for Filipinos!

At times I feel frustrated, but perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel.

This is a cry for help! If you, readers, have any suggestions to improve my teaching of English, please feel free to e-mail them to learning@inquirer.com.ph.

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