Saturday, May 24, 2008

Speaking in English

My friends and family in the Philippines expect me to be fluent in English now that I've been living in the United States for more than 11 years. The truth is I am not. I don't know if it's just that I am not an eloquent person, or conversation with the Americans requires to use only simple English words. They also use tons of idioms, for example when Jason gets irritated by my nagging he will say cut it off instead of saying stop nagging.

Many Americans asked me if I learned how to speak English in my home country. I answered yes but it is different because in school we were taught the formal way. Conversational English is very different. Well, I'll say American English conversation is different. Most people will say that I speak good English. I think they meant I speak relatively well. As many immigrants now moving to Iowa, many Iowans are grateful that at least they can understand most of what I meant compared to other foreign people who are very limited with English. The challenge for me is talking to people who are hard of hearing. About 90 percent of my patients are hard of hearing. I need to speak loudly and slowly. This makes my accent worst. I think this leaves my tongue and lips raw and vulnerable to twist with certain words and I am more apt to mispronounce the words. Also, at the end of the day, I tend to jumble Filipino and English words altogether because I am more tired and it requires certain amount of energy for me to express what I want to communicate in English.

My writing did not improve as much because my vocabulary is limited. I wish I could use more descriptive words to describe how I feel. I think the reason is that I have to use simple words. One time I used the word masticate and people just looked at me with confused eyes. Also, my job and educational background did not help much with this because we need to write concisely in our daily notes and assessment. We eliminate unnecessary words and jargon as medical reviewers do not like these. Actually, we cannot even use any other punctuation except for period. The words that we normally use are very unromantic and uncreative such as anterior which means front or facade. We have to use these scientific words to sound professional.

English is a very complex language. I explain it this way to many Americans -- Tagalog which is my first language has only 5 vowel sounds but English has a lot of vowel sounds (I am not really sure how many). Also, in Tagalog, you pronounce it as how you spell it. In English, there are silent letters. We do not have c, j, th, q, v, f, z and x. In pronouns, we do not have male or female. Also rules in the use of verbs in English are very complicated. Tagalog is relatively an easier language .

My Tagalog also suffered. I think I am very wordy when I write in Tagalog. In the end I am not fluent in any language. Welcome to the expat life-caught in between 2 cultures and languages, where I do not belong 100 percent to either.

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