By Rico Hizon
(Delivered during Toastmaster International’s District 75 Annual Conference in Manila)
Every single day for the past 10 years on BBC World News, over 350 million people from all over the world wake up to the sound of my voice.
What I say can make or break their business. How I say it, however, will affect how they will react—whether to stay calm or panic.
Delivering the news
Delivery is key.
Apart from having complete, accurate and relevant information, the news must be read clearly to ensure that it is easily understood.
And for that, I am grateful for my education from the Philippines. Tubong Maynila po ako! I was born, raised and educated here in Manila. Hindi po ako nag-aral sa Amerika o sa UK.
Hindi po ako nag Cambridge o Harvard.
I learned to speak well and clearly thanks to the patience of my parents, siblings and my teachers at La Salle Green Hills and De La Salle University. My looks and my diction often leave people wondering about my nationality.
On many occasions, I’ve been asked if I’m a western-educated Chinese, Singaporean, Malaysian or even Indonesian.
They wonder because of my eyes, skin color, and the way I speak English.
I guess you can say its Pinoy super power.
We have the gift of languages. But what sets us apart is how, with any language we use, we are able to speak it clearly.
The Filipino diction is—clear, simple, neutral, easy to understand.
The Filipino enunciates clearly, pronounces every syllable in a pleasant — even — and non-threatening tone modulated for every ear to capture its essence….
And when we speak English, for instance, it is neither American nor British English.
It is a Pan-Asian diction. It does not pretend to sound western but both Asians and non-Asians can easily comprehend what is being said.
There are a variety of accents speaking the English language and there is no need for the Filipino to imitate … the American, British or whatever accent just to say its proper English.
We have our very own, and that is what makes us a cut above the rest. And that’s why I am where I am. It’s because of the Filipino English diction.
People often mistake the American accent for good diction. And yet, there is no real American accent because there is the Southern drawl, the Texas twang, and a host of so many others ….
It is too, difficult to keep track….
But that’s beside the point.
Someone pointed out, we are Filipinos. We don’t have to speak good English.
But don’t you think it’s amazing that we do, despite the fact that we’re not? (Think about it)
During my time, English was the medium of instruction.
When I graduated Grade School in 1980, High School in 1984 and University in 1988, majority of students could carry a very decent English conversation, because during my generation we had very good teachers who encouraged us to speak the language fluently.
We either spoke in English or we spoke in Tagalog.
Mixing them up into Taglish was unacceptable. Even earlier, during my parents’ and grandparents’ time, the country had citizens that were very good in English regardless of their educational attainment because English was widely and strictly used.
But today when I look around me and speak with the youth, I think we are dwindling race. English as a second language of Filipinos is fast deteriorating.
In fact, it has become a third language after Filipino and the more widely spoken Taglish. Not many can speak at least two or three sentences of straight English.
Worse, the diction is twisted to favor a twang often taken as a sign of being sosyal or wealthy.
And believe me, nothing could be further from the truth.
The media has played a major role in the inability of many Filipinos to speak English well.
TV programs these days are all in Taglish.
Even the news is no exception. What do we do? How do we stop the spread of “Here na me, where na you?” and “Yes, op kors, dats rayt”
And it also does not help, that when people text or sms, the language and the writing is inappropriate.
And thus their inability to learn correct spelling, impacting their ability to communicate clearly and correctly—whether it be in English or Tagalog.
The key lies in recognizing that proficiency in communicating in English is indispensable.
Speaking in English is not unpatriotic.
We are not less Filipinos for mastering another language.
We are only making good use of our gift for languages to forge ahead. English should be the medium of instruction in schools.
Spoken in the presence of trained teachers, children will learn to speak fluently and clearly, because when we master one language, whether it be English or Tagalog, we prepare our youth to challenge themselves to stretch and excel in their language skills, and basically, setting the foundation from an educational perspective.
There should be more English television programs such as documentaries and talk shows on commercial/terrestrial television with at least one dedicated English newscast.
Such shows these days are all on cable channels and are beyond the reach of the less privileged. It is also equally important that we Filipinos read English text more often. Doing so further improves the grasp of the language. Nowadays less Filipinos read and enrich the mind through books, editorials or websites.
And because of this, poor reading skills translate into poor writing and poor diction.
Indeed, sometimes the answer truly lies in reading between the lines, as well as from cover to cover.
In this age of globalization, it is inevitable that the Filipino will interact with peers and colleagues in the international community.
We can rightfully expect to hear even more accents, even more variations of the English language.
As such, this should spur our youth to even greater heights, to cement our place in the international scene as the most skilled, in communicating in the English language.
You have to give it to the Pinoy, we are still the best English speakers on this side of the planet.
So I believe, it is time to stand up, stand out, speak proudly as a Filipino and be heard across the globe loud and clear.
I know I did! Live from the Toastmasters International Conference this is Rico Hizon reporting. Proud to be Filipino! Proud of our Filipino-English Diction! Mabuhay ang Pinoy! Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!
(Rico Hizon is a Filipino broadcast journalist, with BBC World News. He anchors Asia Business Report and Asia Today which is broadcast to more than 300 million households worldwide. He is the first-ever Filipino news anchor to work for two of the world’s most prestigious television news networks – CNBC Asia and BBC World News.)