by Adonis Fernandez
I am a new immigrant. I am from the Philippines where Filipino (Tagalog) is the household language and where English is used occasionally as a language in office and school settings. I was convinced that, while in the Philippines, my knowledge and skills in the use of the English language was advanced. I can read, speak, listen, and write convincingly well in English. I knew I was well-prepared to exchange words with any Canadian I’ll meet. Even in their most high-fallutin of terms. That was what I thought.
Now I’m in Canada. Now I’m exchanging words with Canadians day in and day out. And, it is now that I have started to doubt my abilities in the English language—the terms I use, my accent, and my sentence constructions. Why will I not doubt it, if time and again, I hear these commonplace retorts: What do you mean? I’m sorry, I didn’t understand. This just happens even if I knew I was picking the right words, pronouncing the accent according to the dictionary, and delivering my lines in a grammatically sound sentence.
It is then that I started to realize that there is a marked difference between the “Canadian English” and the “Philippine English” especially in matters of conversation. I have realized that I usually speak to Canadians with my formal English while they speak conversational/colloquial English. I understand that I and the person I am talking with may be thinking of the same thing/event but expressing it in different terms, accent, or lines.
In my young stay, I am particularly struggling with some Canadian terms while I fairly deal with their accent and sentence constructions. So far, I now know and understand that “to shout” is to yell, that “to avoid” is to get rid, that “to invert” is to flip, that “going down” is getting off, that “to tear off” is to rip off, that “to hold/take” is to grab, that “to fetch” is to pick up, that “to be angry or frustrated” is to be upset, that a “comfort room” is a washroom/bathroom, that a “ball pen” is a pen, that a “police” is a cop, that a “place” is a spot, that a “pail” is a bucket, that a “videoke” is a karaoke, that a “calling card” is a business card, that being “absent” is being away, that a “couple” may mean more than two, that instead of using the pronoun it to refer to an animal/pet, you use he or she, that “wait a second” may mean wait in five minutes, that “a while ago” may mean yesterday, and most intriguingly, that “see you tomorrow” is see you later.
I have yet to learn how to add “eh!” in my phrases, how to use buddy to refer to a male friend, how to say bah bye instead of good bye, how to use “ah” in between words, how to use the terms crap, silly, crazy, sucks, and stupid as a matter of expression, how to call a superior with his/her first name, how to say 50 bucks instead of 50 dollars or five grand instead of five thousand dollars, how to use gonna/wanna instead of going to / want to, how to speak in natural Canadian accent, and how to naturally say: I’m good (not I’m fine) when asked: “How are you?” or “How’s it goin’?”
I may soon speak the Canadian way. I may soon speak their terms. I may soon speak their accent. I may soon be comfortable with what I’m not used to. And I may even soon learn to speak French as I see French terms everywhere. But in no sooner nor later will I let my conversational/colloquial English harm my formal English. I would like to put a border line between the two. I would like to be skilled in both the colloquial and formal English. And in no sooner nor later too that I’m going to abandon my Filipino language. I would like to see myself speaking in Filipino to my kababayan in Canada. I would like to see myself speaking in Filipino to my relatives and friends back home. I would like to observe my children’s speaking both Filipino and English. I would like to continually use and hear terms like kuya, ate, nanay, tatay, po, salamat, ingat, atbp. I am proud of my mother tongue. It runs thicker in my veins.
At such time, I am sure, I no longer need to panic with my English.