So you can imagine how truly moving it is for me to find a comment that someone takes the time to write to let me know my words make sense to them, too, besides the three others I’ve mentioned here. =) And if I have neglected to mention you and you are always making your presence felt with a “like” or by leaving an echo through a comment, apologies… the Pinay New Yorker is almost 48 and not quite as good remembering.
Thank you, Mike.
I’ve started reading your blog a few days ago and all I can say is that, with all honesty, I really love it. Even though I find it hard to keep up with the width of your vocabulary, it occurred to me that, maybe, just maybe, you are the voice inside my head. It’s the only voice which helps me cope with most of my law school dilemmas including my inability to pursue law straight after college because I thought that I wasn’t ready yet (financially and emotionally). It pains me to see my former classmates charging through the rigors of law school (because I wanted to be in their position), while I’m still here waiting for the opportunity to enter the same. That’s why after a few months of working in the government sector, I finally decided to take up law in San Beda (my Alma Mater) as a working student. However, law school requires proficiency with the English language, which I consider, my greatest weakness. So aside from reading literature and answering WordPower books, could you please share your story on how you became articulate with this language; how you fell in love with it; and how you managed to keep on improving it? I asked these questions because I was greatly impressed by your writings. I can feel that your heart was really into it. And just by reading your blogs, I can already exercise my use of proper grammar and expand my vocabulary. I wish that I’d be able to speak and write like you Atty!
To which the Pinay New Yorker says:
First of all, thanks for the idea for a dozen or so blog posts which I will now have to write because I wouldn’t be able to sit tight on any other topic until I do that. =) I like your calling me “the voice inside your head” which I would reply to with a curt “Be careful what you wish for.” LOL.. I’m not making light of your comment — but the truth of the matter is, when I read that, I actually told myself YOU sounded like the voice in my head.
Second, the fact that you read my blog makes me eternally grateful because now I guess I have 11 readers. (I love making a joke of that..) So I guess it’s you who’s been pulling the stats for the Philippines up. It’s both heartening and depressing to see my stats every day where they are — and I wonder from time to time who in Dubai or Turkey might be reading what I write here — but I am a very shallow person when it comes to people reading my blog, so when I see some new “country” popping up, I’m thrilled pink. Of course when the ticks for the Philippines shows more than 2, that gives me a reason to smile. On the otherhand, it’s depressing because wouldn’t it be great to see hundreds of hits a day? (Hint: I get waaaaaaaaay less than that.) I’d be lying if I said I never thought about chasing that, but then when I tried to grow my audience and make the blog’s readership reach “stats heaven”, I lost a big chunk of the authenticity of the personality of my little corner here. It just wasn’t for me, and it wasn’t what kept this blogging going all these years — I’ll say it again, I write for my personal benefit.
I went back to writing for myself and that’s just the way I like it. But of course I cannot deny the fact that I like that I somehow make sense to other people, too, so I guess I’m not crazy after all.
Let’s start a topic at a time. I would normally start by chastising you for belittling your grasp of the English language but that’s a whole post altogether. And so is the need for English proficiency and your chances at surviving law school. Today, I’ll talk about my favorite topic: me.
How did I become articulate with the English language?
Let it be known that my parents came from very humble beginnings. My mother only finished elementary school and soon after worked as a housemaid to support her family and younger siblings. My father was a high school graduate. I am not saying that to rob them of credit for who I am and the way I am right now — but simply to state that from those simple backgrounds, they nurtured my siblings and I to be the best that we can be. And they would have been brilliant if only life gave them a chance to further their education — I know I’m smart because of genetics and not because of a fluke. They worked very hard to send us to the best schools, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
The first person I’d credit for my English is my Auntie Lydia who insisted on speaking with us in English at home. She was a former nun and introduced us to fairy tales and musicals like The Sound of Music. My mom sort of clashed with her on this because she was afraid that we would stop learning Tagalog and my grandmother who spoke only Bicolano and Tagalog would have an even harder time communicating with us. But up to the death of my grandmother in her 80s, all she needed to do was give us those every tight hugs I still remember for almost choking me telling me how much she loved us.
Auntie Lydia called us off for using slang which was forbidden. No “gonna” or “wanna”. (And she wasn’t a Paulinian nun, mind you!)
Secondly, the Paulinian sisters should take a huge chunk of the credit. I remember they would penalize us for speaking in Taglish. When I was in gradeschool, the fine was 25 cents. Of course it was just a threat. The rule went that if you were to speak in Tagalog, start and finish the sentence in the same language. And to this day, that rule is embedded in my head. If I talk to you in English, I will do it in straight English. No “tusok-tusok the fishballs.”
I started writing when I was 11. I wrote poems, stories, letters, diaries. And I went back to the stories I wrote and re-wrote them again. I kept notebooks of prose which I had brought back to New York in the hopes of encoding them sometime in my lifetime and actually produce a compilation even just for my own benefit. I still have one or two old letters I wrote to friends or to my mom and I didn’t write this way then. I had grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. But I never stopped writing.
I haven’t written poetry in over a decade now but I have written as much as I can on paper and here.
I like to listen to my voice resonating in the bathroom as I read the newspaper. Maybe that’s why my resume has “Newscaster for an FM radio station” as one of previous jobs held. I’m an “aural” person. (I work best when hearing what I need to remember.) Even when I memorized in law school, I had to hear myself speak the verse or provision for it to stick to my head. Most of my study aids had to do with Baroque music playing in the background because one of the books I read said their cadence and melodic progression somehow “opened up” the brain to be more receptive to memorizing.
As I got older, I tried to seek out advice and pick up the comments and suggestions of people who had done this for years and years. I’ve always said that anything can be learned. But more than that, you have to want to learn and be open to absorbing new information and words and styles like a sponge.
There was Sir Cas, a 70-something veteran in Manila City Hall who was dredged from retirement by one of my first bosses to help us with a government project. From him I learned such basics in English like how to address a memo properly. You say “TO:” when it’s a peer or someone under you, but to a superior, you say “FOR:”. (And I don’t care if the memo police swat my hand because Sir Cas said that.) Add to that that you don’t sign off with “Sincerely” unless you are attesting to something. Hence, “Truly Yours” which a lot of people find sort of “old” now. Besides, “Sincerely” sounds better, true — but what are you being sincere about?
Then there was Triccie C, one of the most remarkable people I have met who had influenced my writing style, and who, to this day, is a proven expert in the field of communications. Her elegant style and attention to detail has made me think of all the reminders she would chirp in whenever we were working together.
Much like what you are doing now — trying to seek advice and find bits and pieces to pick up from other people’s experiences. They will not all work for you, but if you look and are open to it, you are bound to find something that will help you improve yourself.
I devoured Reader’s Digest, Time and Newsweek when I could. It takes a certain patience to go through their sometimes lengthy articles, but I enjoyed them immensely and regretted not having the time to pick up one as the years passed. These days, I regret that their issues are much thinner and less substantial than they used to be. I still pick up an issue once in a while, and when I grab a magazine, I try to finish the article from start to finish instead of just flipping through the pages.
I actually take the time to find the meaning of strange or new words to me. When the definition was ambiguous, I didn’t leave it at “I have an idea what it’s meaning is.” I went to the dictionary. (Of course these days, googling the word will give you a definition easy.) When I was reading books, I scribbled the new words I didn’t know the meaning of at the back page and I looked up their meaning when I paused between pages or chapters. I probably would remember 3 of 10 words I sought definitions for, but reading the definitions of the other 7 gives me a better chance of properly defining the word later if I do encounter it. The new words whose definitions I remembered, I tried to use in an every day context.
I have had a love affair with words all my life. From the children’s books I read over and over again to my endless ramblings here. Proficiency in the English language, like any other, takes practice to master. Write. Read. Then write again. And read again.
I don’t see what your problem is. Save for a correction or two, your comment as written doesn’t need to be edited. And I’ll tell you a secret: I make those mistakes, too. You have to be comfortable writing and speaking the language to be able to paint a canvas with your words. You have to be confident enough that your words will come naturally without sounding too high brow — and you will be able to switch your tone and language depending on whether or not you are writing a formal letter or if you are poking fun at yourself like I often do.
That you are willing to learn and better yourself is a big leap towards the right direction. Just keep going and keep learning. Open yourself to keep growing and grow you will.