English is an Egg-citing Language

Ernie Zarate’s book once again came handy. I still consider his Malictionary, which has been inside my blue laptop sling bag for quite a while, as a practical reference (and entertainment) to most frequently (ab)used English words.

While figuring out what to do this afternoon, one of the words in this small yellow paperback led to me to open our thick dictionary to see if this architect-turned-broadcaster’s pronunciation guide is correct for the English words starting with ‘ex.’

In his book that was published in 2005, Mr. Zarate wrote that even some broadcasters have repeatedly mispronounced the word exercise (during the past Balikatan exercises) by saying it as ‘EGS uhr sighs’—he made his own easy pronunciation guide for the benefit of his readers. The book also states that it is common for most Filipinos to do the same thing with words ‘exciting’ and ‘except’—that is, pronouncing ‘ex’ as ‘EGS.’

Pronouncing the letter “x” as “gz” or “gs” may be alright if the accent was on the second, third or fourth syllable as in “exalt or exaltation (ig ZOLT, igzol TEI shun) or as in “examine or examination” (ig ZAH min, ig zah mi NEI shun)”, Mr. Zarate explains. But his explanation wasn’t completely absorbed by the soft stuff inside my head.

Our Merriam-Webster dictionary then comes to the rescue. After flipping back and forth through its pages where the ‘ex’ words are, I eventually recognized the pattern. I discovered that if the ‘ex’ is followed by a vowel or a silent ‘h’, it is then likelythat either ‘ig’ or ‘eg’ applies such as in the following words: exact (ig’ zakt), exam (ig’ zam), executive (ig ze k(y)u tiv), exist (ig zist), exit (eg zit), exile (eg zil), exotic (ig za tik), and exuberant (ig zu be rant).

Meanwhile, most ‘ex’ words followed by a consonant use either ‘ik’ or ‘ek’ such as that in excel, exciting, exclusive, and excuse. At this point, it is already clear that the famous noodle commercial that introduced the word EGG-citing is catchy but wrong thus should never be used in normal and, especially, in formal conversations.

However, as this is just my general observation, it apparently still pays to continue reading and learning from reliable sources and not just believe anything that popular media feed us. This is also to say that writing English is one, articulating or pronouncing it is another.

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Incidentally, a couple of hours after learning all about these things, I was called by two separate call center companies. I’ll be in for an interview tomorrow somewhere in Laguna.

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Mood: 2/10 Honks! (Phone calls from HR personnel are always egg-citing.)

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Relearning English the Call Center Way

In my quest to learn English I started attending a call center training that will go on for one week. Although I prepared myself to be corrected, all that mind setting did little to help suppress the shock I got the moment I heard our trainer speak. I haven’t heard such good and fluent English spoken in person for a long while.

The fluency of our trainer got me humbled and speechless. It made me feel that I was totally ignorant of this language the whole time and this may be because even if I have been blogging a lot for a couple of years already, I never had regular English conversation and if ever I had such chance to speak with someone at work, the quality did not come any near to what I am hearing inside this class. I am not saying that there is none in our current company who can speak English impressively but it is just that there is a very big difference compared with the call center standard. And it has something to do with what is called the “American thwang.”

According to our trainer, learning the American accent or pronunciation—funny that even this word is hard to pronounce—will be the majority of our training on top of my favorite grammar discussions. We also practiced listening skills and yesterday, we did tongue twisters that by the end of the class my tongue was just as tired as my mind.

Our trainer also suggested that we evaluate our typing skills by downloading Typing Master—I discovered can still do a decent 50 wpm with 95% accuracy for English words.

There will be three more sessions to go and I am eager to learn more. As painful and embarrassing as it may seem, I will open my mind to what is being taught, for this week I am relearning English. I kill me.

In English Please

My recent blogging inactivity did not keep me away from English. Instead, what I lacked in English writing was compensated by opportunities that compelled me to speak the language which I always thought has been my forte. I was wrong. I once again realized that English remains foreign.

When I was in grade school, I was among those who would rather speak than compute if I can avoid it. I was always more comfortable filling pages after pages of theme writing compositions than competing with someone else in the mathematical flash cards race. I did well in English than math. I just love words more than numbers.

It wasn’t surprising then when I jumped into the blogging bandwagon right after I got hold of my own internet connection at home. I dumped my pens and paper journals. And although I only rate myself as among those considered average in terms of English skills, it didn’t deter me to post my entries in the form of blogs. Practice, practice, practice was my mantra.

So just imagine how excited I was when I found a couple of perfect excuses to speak English. First, our son’s arrival meant that my much awaited time to teach English to someone came. And I find it funny that while he’s learning the basics—alphabet, words, and vowels — I on the other hand was silently relearning most of it. I correct myself every time I pronounced a word wrong. Second, l attended a training last week wherein our instructor was Tenora—a black American with a doctorate degree. Obviously in this training, interactions were all in English.

Other than learning how to become a good manager by using the Symphony/Conductor metaphor, I also began to make a conscious effort to get my message across by trying to speak up every time I had the chance. And just as I was persecuting myself for the mispronunciations I regularly had, I was quite surprised when at one point Tenora had to write something on the flip chart and seemed to have doubts whether she’s spelling the words right. Sensing that some of us might be looking at her, she admitted that often times she’d falter when it comes to writing. She even joked that someone once said, “Only a wise person spells one word in different ways.” She’s not sure if it was from Thomas Jefferson. Whoever it was, at that point, I was smiling. Nodding. Well, I can’t be that bad then.

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One of the newspaper clippings I keep until now is a poem which Philstar’s Mary Ann Quioc Tayag posted on her February 13, 2005 article: So what if my English sounds funny? This one is like a year of speech class com- pressed in one tiny clipping. Here it is:

Hints on pronunciation for foreigners (by TSW) I take it you already know

Of tough and bough and cough and dough? Others may stumble, but not you

On hiccough, thorough, laugh and through? Well done! And now you wish perhaps

To learn of less familiar traps? Beware of heard, a dreadful word

That looks like beard and sounds like bird. And dead: it’s said like bed, not bead

For goodness sake don’t call it deed! Watch out for meat and great and threat,

They rhyme with suite and straight and debt. A moth is not a moth in mother

Nor both in bother, broth in brother And here is not match for there

Nor dear and fear for bear and pear

And then there’s dose and rose and lose

Just look them up – – and goose and choose And cork and work and card and ward

And font and front and word and sword And do and go and thwart and cart Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start! A dreadful language? Man alive,

I’d mastered it when I was five.

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And here’s a hilarious poem I found while searching related topics:

I have a spelling checker

It came with my PC

It plainly marks for my revue Mistakes I cannot sea

I’ve run this poem threw it I’m sure your please to no, It’s letter perfect in it’s weigh My checker tolled me sew

– anonymous

(Source: http://www.etni.org.il/quotes/spelling.htm)

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Oh by the way, I also tried searching for Thomas Jefferson’s quote related to spelling and what I find is completely opposite to what Tenora mentioned:

“Take care that you never spell a word wrong.  Always before you write a word, consider how it is spelled, and, if you do not remember, turn to a dictionary. It produces great praise to a lady to spell well.” – Thomas Jefferson, to his daughter Martha.

(Source:      http://www.wisdomquotes.com/cat_spelling.html)

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Mood: 3/10 Honks! (Wife and baby sleeping)