Learn To Read

One of the nice things I like about big Press gigs is you occasionally get the chance to talk to other writers, many of whom have been in the business for decades. Yesterday I was seated beside friends from Manila Tribune, a sorta celeb guy from Studio 23 and interestingly enough, editors from 34 year old magazine Mod.

I unfortunately wasn’t able to ask for a calling card, so I forgot her name in the mayhem that is a Press event that included the usual big announcements, a displaying of new prods plus of course feeding us and raffling off prizes. At any rate we fortunately found time to small talk about a topic close to my heart, the dwindling number of readers and quality of written and spoken English in the Philippines, something she knew well about, coincidentally being a CEU Journalism Professor as well.

So here’re I’ll share a few things I’ve learned to believe.

One, is that I don’t think ‘Learn To Read campaigns’ are very effective. I’ve seen the ones Inquirer tried to do plus maybe a few others, and they’ve tried going the celebrity route (celebs explaining what reading has done for them etc.) but for the most part, that turns me off more than interests me. Of course, I’ve never been interested in celebs in the first place, so I’m probably an exception.

Two, part of the reason Learn To Read campaigns frustrate me is probably because for the life of me I do not know how to make people read. I know me and my siblings were surrounded by books when we were kids, and so I gravitated towards them during those long stretches of time when we didn’t have anything else to do. Everything came pretty naturally. For example I didn’t think anything of it other than something to do when bored. So naturally later on I began to seek stories that’d interest me more, and after that, I naturally learned to become more discerning and grow the ability to know how to choose really good stuff because I didn’t wanna waste my time and money on a book that turns out to be boring.

Three, I believe the generation of my grandmother, the ones trained by American missionaries(?) after the war, were the best English writers and speakers of our time. The best example to me is Mrs. Gil, whose family owns (owned?) St. John’s Academy of San Juan where I studied and grew up in. I hold her, Mrs. Zorilla our principal and Mrs. Fernandez (not sure anymore if that’s right, but she used to also teach at Lourdes School Mandaluyong), in the highest esteem, as well as the elder of the Pacheco sisters Mayleen (?), who would probably kill me because I think I’m spelling her name wrong or got it wrong altogether. Anyway, to me they spoke and wrote straight, unaccented English, took no prisoners when checking ours, and more importantly, communicated well, which is essentially what you’re really trying to do when you study English. I even had the hugest crush on Mayleen. Imagine that, crushing on your English high school teacher. How typical high school behaviour can you get?

So anyway, the nice lady from Mod explained to me that at some point in the 60’s and ’70s, Tagalog became the medium of expression in schools, causing English to suffer. Which is alright in my book really, so long as it produced great Tagalog communicators, to which the guys from Tribune said (and I agree) didn’t happen – a great pity because Tagalog is a beautiful, intricate language.

That leaves us with – what? Probably up to three generations of Filipinos who neither speak English nor Tagalog well, and because distractions have increased since the times of my grandmother (the Internet, text – speak, cable, etc.), would rather watch things and abbreviate their communication rather than speak good, fluent, unaccentuated, unmodified, straight English. The type where you get your wrist slapped if you abbreviate, or put a comma in the wrong place. The kind where you don’t force yourself to learn a hopelessly contrived American accent because the callcenters pay you more if you do.

Sigh. Ok anywyay, I think this is getting too long, and this is a workday, so I should get back to work.

It just occurred to me to write about this not only because of having met like – minded folks at the Press event yesterday, but also because a few minutes ago, someone made a comment at Kikay, asking information about a product which is already plainly seen on the article itself had she taken the time to read.

See, one of the topics Jill and I often discuss is the length of her articles. Like most readers and writers, she tends to write and think in complete sentences, as her education and preference forces you to do so. However, I’ve met quite a few younger girls who have told me they like far less words, and far more images. An example is publications like Cosmo or Vogue, with only the most basic text but surrounded by large, colorful pictures, almost like comics.

And so, I’ve told Jill (to her disagreement) that I wished her articles were less wordy. That she’d instead go the heavy on images route, so as to relate to today’s audience more. Incidentally, Jill’s preferred reading material, Marie Claire, suites her writing style as well.

But today, after seeing a comment like that, I think we’ll stick to our guns and not respond to it, hopefully sending out a message to the next generation, incidentally many of whom read Kikay Exchange. Learn to read. We’ll just let it stay there, an example of a question that could well have been answered if she just took the time, as well as a reminder to let people know what happens when you don’t.

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