Lost in Translation

by Tin Bartolome

Posted at Nov 07 2014 02:47 PM | Updated as of Nov 07 2014 10:48 PM

Functional Literacy is “a term initially defined for UNESCO by William S. Gray (The Teaching of Reading and Writing, 1956, p. 21) as the training of adults to ‘meet independently the reading and writing demands placed on them’.”

Carmelita N. Ericta, administrator of the Philippine Statistics Authority writes:
“Fifty-eight million of the estimated 67 million Filipinos 10 to 64 years old are functionally literate, according to the results of the 2008 Functional Literacy, Education and Mass Media Survey (FLEMMS). In this survey, a functionally literate person is one who can read, write and compute or one who can read, write, compute and comprehend. Persons who completed high school or a higher level of education are also considered functionally literate.” http://web0.psa.gov.ph/content/almost-nine-out-ten-filipinos-are-functionally-literate-final-results-2008-functional

This means close to ninety percent of Filipinos within that age group are functionally literate, which means many of us should be able to make wise choices during elections, see beyond what politicians present to us or “read between the lines”.

Functional literacy and emotions

Do we make wise choices during elections? If grounds for impeachment, graft and corruption and other cases involving moral turpitude – not just mudslinging against our politicians are sufficient to initiate investigations, then perhaps not! Power emboldens elected officials to revise history to make them look good. And sometimes, our personal defenses or emotions get the better of us when we are at the receiving end of “bato-bato sa langit, ang tamaan ‘wag magagalit” statements.

I used to wonder why we Filipinos have the ability to laugh at ourselves and obviously have a sense of humor, yet we seem to overlook some messages being put across when we become defensive about other people’s views or simply fail to appreciate satire. I felt so uncomfortable when I first read Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal in high school: “I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or broiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie, or a ragoust.” http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1080/1080-h/1080-h.htm

It then occurred to me that language may be key. If “P-I mo” strikes at the heart and “SOB” doesn’t, then perhaps this is why we do not appreciate satire. Of course, we also consider personality types, critical thinking and discernment.

Sensitivities vary, and so does “breeding”. How one calls the attention of another across the room, how we ask Manong Driver to allow us to get off his jeepney and whether we say “thank you” after people sitting near him hands him our fare are only some examples of “breeding”.

Critical thinking and discernment

Critical thinking does not come easy and teaching it requires patience and practice.

“Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness. http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766

It also requires some level of irreverence and respect for other people’s views.

Discernment is the ability to make good judgment and, according to Google, for Christians, it is “perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding”. Merriam-webster.com defines it as “the ability to see and understand people, things, or situations clearly and intelligently”.

Critical thinking and discernment help check emotional reactions by allowing us to understand, on a deeper level, the message being put across and avoid taking things literally or, in some instances, reacting emotionally, often defensively.


I was so amused by the reactions generated by Hopechest last week. Some took it well, even adding their own examples while others seemed hurt and indignant—perhaps defensive (to the point of posting “Tabachoy” as a comment).

Ridicule was not my intent at all. I think I made it clear that using a foreign language could make us look a whole lot less smarter than we really are. And the piece, as well as all the reactions it generated, only proved that messages do get lost in translation.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.