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As I write this editorial, the streets of Manila are noisy with campaign jingles and (on Sunday morning of all times!) a parade complete with horns and drums! While Filipinos have to endure a few more weeks of inartistic campaign jingles sang (or snorted, if the audio is bad) by clumsy amateurs blasting away every few minutes, China Business readers need no further reminder of the May elections.

So, I'll try my best to write about something else amid the din. Here goes.

It used to be French, German, and Japanese. These were the popular language courses when I was at university. UPians, finding Spanish too ordinary or traditional an elective, chose to tuck a few units of a first world language under their belt.

I recall that French was very popular with my batch. I, too, was tempted. My favorite authors, after all, always seemed to create characters that would break into French at the drop of a hat. But I was too busy trying to survive the Calculus that seemed to seep into almost every cranny of my course (Architecture)!

Filipinos, I believe, are natural linguists. The many dialects across our archipelago—not to mention the English, Chinese, or Spanish from grownups that served as a soundtrack of our youth—were enough to exercise our tongues from a very young age.

Our academic training (at least, when I was in college) seems confined to learning the basics of conjugation and pronunciation (if the latter; some professors are either too forgiving or too lazy). You hit the jackpot if you find a professor who would throw in stuff about the culture, authors, and history of the country whose language you were butchering, I mean studying.

Everyone just assumed that if you wanted even superficial details, you enrolled in higher courses. Otherwise, you just learned enough to, maybe, get you to the library (why not the train or toilet first, I wonder), wish the hotel staff a good morning, or thank your cabbie for not ripping you off.

The language of the day now is, of course, Chinese. The FFCCCII (Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc.) offers free lessons to Filipinos, mostly taught by instructors from Mainland China. If you're ethnic Chinese, you have to pay.

I still think the best way to truly learn a language is to live in its country of origin. If you find relocating for long periods of time impossible, then a good option is to enroll in a university course taught by native speakers. The UP Asian Institute has visiting fellows, although I'm not sure that they teach basic courses.

If you prefer Filipino teachers, Ateneo's Confucius Institute offers 30-hour courses at inexpensive rates. Mandarin lessons cost 4,000 pesos (US$87) and Business Chinese, 5,000 pesos (US$109). The schedules are extremely flexible too. Not only are they available at both Loyola Heights and Makati campuses, they also have weeknight and weekend schedules.

A lesser alternative are phone lessons. I have yet to meet a person who actually learned a new language from those telephone lessons that seem to have mushroomed all over Metro Manila. I once even met a phone instructor who admitted that he doubted any of his students actually learned how to speak the language he struggled to teach them.

If you don't want to wait until enrollment, you can always build your confidence by buying one of those audio language programs from the bookstore. Our senior reporter was able to purchase a kit at Fully Booked for only 899 pesos (less than US$20). Pop it into your CD changer and you have a great way to forget the sun beating down on your car while stuck in midday traffic, likely caused by Manila's May election frenzy.

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