“From Passable to Horrible to Horrendous” is how I have heard some people describe the decline in the language skills, both oral and written, of our young people.
Without meaning to disparage my own students, my experience in having taught in the Ateneo de Davao College of Law for over 20 years leads me to say that there is, at the very least, some truth to this statement.
In the study of law, in particular, command of the English language is of utmost importance. We cannot ignore the fact that our laws are in English and the Bar Exams are given in English. It would cause an armed uprising in Visayas and Mindanao if the exams were ever to be given in Filipino.
Our country has long prided itself, no matter how colonial it sounds, in the fact that English is well and widely spoken and understood in all parts of the Philippines and we claim this to be a great advantage over our Asian neighbors in attracting investors from English speaking countries. We are, however, losing this advantage. Should we start learning Mandarin, instead?
In addition to whatever woes our educational system may be suffering, I personally believe that one of the major causes of this noticeable decline is the growing reliance of children on video input in lieu of reading books.
When I was growing up, our televisions at home, from the old Radiowealth cabinet-type black and white television to the colored Sony Trinitron, could be locked and lock them my mother did, to be unlocked only on weekends for Saturday morning cartoons.
More importantly, under those circumstances, I read a lot of books and I was lucky enough to have parents who loved books, maybe a little too much.
Even at young age, those books transported me to wondrous lands of fact and fiction, allowed me to travel all over world from the confines of my room and fed me knowledge of facts and culture, from the Orient to the Occident, from different eras in world history.
I hope that our kids can see that no matter how technology may improve, there can never be a higher definition screen than the human imagination.
From my own experience, I have come to learn that language is learned and absorbed, not in individual words, but from reading phrases, sentences and paragraphs in books of whatever kind. It is in the proper assembly of inanimate words that the beauty of language gains life. Compare the dryness of a dictionary to the poetry of W.B. Yeats, if you will, or the prose of Supreme Court Justice Isagani Cruz.
Now the big question, how do we get our kids away from video and get them to read books? It is practically impossible to lock the sources away, as my mother did, considering the ubiquity of screens all over, from TVs to laptops, phones, tablets, etc. In fact, kids nowadays are so dependent on the Internet, even for their schoolwork, that it would not do to deprive them of online access. Many kids do not even know what an encyclopedia looks like.
I do not have a ready answer and I do not believe that there is a magic bullet or a cure-all solution to the problem. I am just certain that something has to be done to address the situation else it will fester and worsen as one video generation after another goes by. Knowing that a problem exists is, after all, the first step in finding a solution to it.
For my own kids, while I certainly cannot say that I can pry them away from their respective screens, as I also have a problem prying myself away from my own, I have found positive reinforcement to be somewhat effective.
I do this by buying them whatever age appropriate books they may ask for, although I sometimes buy additional books, mostly classics, that I ask them to read in return for buying the books they want. Of course, I am lucky that they developed a love for reading on their own and that I have the wherewithal to do this for them. New books can be quite expensive.
Additionally, I also believe that the appreciation for the written word can be absorbed by osmosis. I say this because when I was still a kid, I would often find my dad, and my mom, reading anything from newspapers to law books and novels. I must have thought that there must be some powerful magic in these tomes because I also learned to love reading.
True enough, the magic was real because, after years of trying, I finally managed to sometimes beat either, or both, of them in Scrabble. This may be insignificant to many, but it was no small victory for the young me to beat a judge and a veteran lawyer at a word game.
So, parents who want their children to learn to love reading should probably start with themselves.
To this day, I still enjoy the magic, so to speak as all aspects of my life have been much enriched by the language and knowledge I gained from the worlds within books.
I can only hope and pray that, somehow, the coming generations can also learn to appreciate books over video and that, some future student of mine will bring a smile to my face by properly quoting Shakespeare or even the lighter wisdom of Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull.