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Oct 02nd
Home Columns Op-Ed Page "A Second Language Is No Laughing Matter" - The Janina San Miguel Experience
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Columns - Op-Ed Page
Saturday, 22 March 2008 19:18

"A Second Language Is No Laughing Matter"

by Prof. Fred S. Cabuang

The worldwide popularity of 2008 Binibining Pilipinas-World Janina San Miguel, started with the question by Vivienne Tan, one of the judges. And in the Internet, video clips of the Q & A have reached more than a million viewers which make them more popular than the recent victory of Manny Pacquiao over Marquez. The scene went like this.

Ms. Tan: The question is, what role did your family play to you as candidate to Binibining Pilipinas?

Janina San Miguel: Well, my family’s role for me is so important (pause) b’coz (pause) there was the waa—(pause) they’re…(pause) they was the one who’s…(pause) very… hahahaha…(pause) Oh I’m so sorry, ahhmm…(pause) My family…(pause) My family (pause) Oh my god… I’m… Ok, I’m so sorry… I… I told you that I’m so confident… Eto, ahhmm, wait…(laugh) Hahahaha, ahmmm (pause) Sorry, guys because this was really my first pageant ever b’coz I’m only 17 years old and…(pause) ahahaha I, I did not expect that I came from, I came from one of the tough 10.  Hmmm, so… but I said that… (pause) my family is the most important persons in my life. Thank you.

Editor's Note: Professor Cabuang's article appeared in his column in the Manila Times, March 23, 2008, issue.

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Three things I observed. One, that was a family-oriented question asked by judge Tan, a celebrity and daughter of one of the world’s wealthiest persons. Two, there was a sizable audience of unsupportive Filipino crowd. And three, Janina, a young, beautiful teenager, unskilled in public speaking, was audaciously responding to a question in English that did not seem to be her own mother tongue. It would have, probably, made a big difference if she were encouraged to reply in a language familiar to her, which is a practice in international beauty contests. The mother tongue is the language that is spoken at home and in the community of the speaker.

As she tried to grope for words, the hostile crowd began to laugh at her predicament, even as she explained that she was only 17 and this was her first pageant experience. Even some judges, including Ms. Tan, could not help but laughed as well.

To fully understand Janina’s situation, we have to understand the process of mental reasoning. If a speaker is asked a question in a second language (example, English), the speaker has to mentally translate the question into his first language or mother tongue (example, Tagalog) before he can comprehend the question. Afterwards, the speaker will mentally formulate the reply using his mother tongue (reasoning in Tagalog) and then translate the response into a second language (English) to answer the question in the same form it was asked. Sometimes, the true meanings of the words, together with emotions, suffer in the translation.

The mother tongue plays a very important part in communicating one’s ideas and feelings. After Janina’s revelation that her father is a driver and her mother is a laundry lady, it is possible that she does not have the opportunity to develop strong English speaking skill. English speaking is strengthened only by speaking English! The more one speaks, the more his oral skills improve.

Nowadays, most Filipinos speak adulterated English. Somehow, “Taglish” has been socially and academically accepted in our country. Abroad, our own version of mixed Tagalog and English is called “Eng-log.” Let those who have no sin cast the first stone, the Bible says. Those who deride her weak public speaking must look at themselves first. Does Janina really deserve to be our representative in the forthcoming Miss World pageant because of her broken English? Of course, why not?

According to beauty pageant experts, the Q & A portion of a beauty contest is meant to be informal, open-ended and considered as “referential questions.” These are questions that extract opinions and information from the candidates. Questions are designed to elicit content rather than the form of the answer. Accordingly, there is no correct or wrong answer.

For many, including myself, speaking in public is not easy. It may look simple from the outside but it is actually emotionally challenging. To do effective public speaking, time is needed to prepare for the topic at hand. In the case of San Miguel, her time to process the question was almost instantaneous. There was no time to even think of the “best answer.” One thing for sure, the content of her answer was the best for me!

With an unsupportive crowd and the judges facing her, it’s amazing that she was able to carry on herself despite the insulting chuckles. Janina showed neither sign of frustration nor the slightest feeling of embarrassment on her lovely face. At that point, she was confident as well as pertinacious before the judges and the audience. She had the heart of a winner. Though she answered in broken English, Janina managed to focus on the content of her answer, that…“my family is the most important persons in my life.”

Janina was in a competition based mainly, but not entirely, on physical beauty. She won the “Best in Long Gown” and “Best in Swimsuit” awards. She must be that good to merit those awards. Before the evening was over, Janina received the coveted Binibining Pilipinas-World title.

Her triumph serves as inspiration to other young Filipinas who used to think that international beauty pageants are only for those who have the money and those who have the right connection. She widened door for those who used to dream dreams and never even gave their dreams a chance.

In August 2008, Janina will represent the Philippines in the Miss World pageant in Ukraine. It is expected that the coronation will be the world’s largest live television event, viewed in more than 200 countries. The Miss World pageant is the oldest major international contest (since 1951) and the only major beauty title that the Philippines has not won. Janina San Miguel might just be the Filipina the world is waiting for. Will she get the last laugh?


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Last Updated on Tuesday, 25 March 2008 00:17

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