Thinking in English



Fr. Emeterio Barcelon, SJ

Fr. Emeterio Barcelon, SJ

It is one thing to understand and speak a language and another to think in that language. Unlike in Mexico and South America, Spain did not propagate the Spanish language in our islands. Neither did it prohibit its use. There was a generation, that of Jose Rizal, that mastered the Spanish language as well as anybody else.  I always marvel at how well they wrote in Spanish.  The “Ultimo Adios” of Jose Rizal is a gem as nobody else can surpass.  That generation thought their thoughts in Spanish. It is a pity that we have lost that language.

But we have moved on to English, the current lingua franca of the world. We have people who have mastered English, like Jose Ma. Guerrero and Fr. Horacio de la Costa and many others.  There are probably more people in India who think in English than in England. To master a language one must think in it  Is it possible to be able to think in two languages? Of course this is well proven by people speaking and thinking in two languages in Europe and other places. So can we think in Filipino and English? Singapore and India have many who master both English and a local language.  So must we. The ideal is when our jeepney drivers can think and speak both in Filipino and English. We have gone a long way towards this.

Seventy percent of mistakes in English by Filipino speakers can be cured with three rules. The first rule is the use of final “s.” Filipino languages never change or conjugate the ends of words. They change the beginning and the middle of words but not the ending. This is the opposite of Latin and the languages that derive from it like Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, and others. English retained only one change at the end of words. And that is the final “s” in plural nouns and present third person singular in verbs. Fifty percent of grammar mistakes of Filipinos is in this final “s.” Another ten percent is in the use of prepositions.  This because we have only one preposition — “sa” — to which we add another word.

The third problem for Filipino speakers is in the use of the present form of the main verb when there is an auxiliary verb in use, like “I will go” not “I will gone.” “It will break your bones” and not “It will broke your bones.” The other mistakes are in the use of the past participle which can be learned by reading.

We need to learn how to think in English as well as in Filipino. It is in first language that emotions are better evoked. This is a big disadvantage in favor of those who have English as their first language. But it can be done. We must learn to think in English and move forward. English is our second language and we can master it. We can think in it and read a lot to really master it.