Thursday, September 6, 2012

"University of the Ages"

Known as the largest Catholic University, University of Santo Tomas, UST or colloquially known as: "Uste" for Thomasians like me, is also the only university with the title of "Pontifical", "Royal" and "Catholic" to it. It's complete name: "The Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas, The Catholic University of the Philippines", represents not only it's unique heritage but also its social ideals and staunch religious beliefs.

It is the oldest university in the Philippines and in Asia that literally stood the test of time - 400 years to be exact, whose corridors and classrooms have been the home of illustrious personalities like: Jose Rizal, our national hero and former President of the First Commonwealth, Manuel L. Quezon.

Historically, the title "Pontifical" was given by Pope Leo XIII; and the title "Royal" was given by King Charles III of Spain; while "Catholic University was given by Pope Pius XII. Titles that not only command respect and awe, but also immense admiration for the Dominican priests, educators, staff members, students and especially the graduates of this dynamic university for which the founder: Fr. Miguel de Benavides has entrusted to.  

The Main Building - where the Department of Biology is located and where I spent 4 yrs of my colorful university life. It is also the first earthquake-resistant building in the Philippines.

I had the chance to visit my alma mater recently and except the photo above which was professionally taken, I took some pictures and was glad to have had the opportunity to see my university through the lens of my camera, well cellphone camera to be exact.

Here's a lucky shot that I made and even included Fr. Benavides' statue right smack in the middle:

The tower at the center of the Main Building has a cross on it and I remember funny incidents wherein a white Mercedes Benz suddenly parked right in front of the entrance and a woman dressed in a white wedding gown hurriedly asked: "Is this the church?" or outsiders making the sign of the cross as they pass by this building (I was in high school back then). The topmost floor of the Main Building is where the Biology laboratories are located. This was where I had countless hours viewing specimens under the microscope, drawing and labeling them at the back of my laboratory manual and marveling at preserved specimens of different Phyla and Sub classes (Taxonomy - loved this!). 

The "main" entrance of the Main Building and the grand stairs at the very center leading to the UST Museum of Arts and Sciences that hosts a collection of different historical artifacts, artworks and biological specimens (a two-headed goat, two-headed python and a very long python starting from the entrance leading to the very end of the museum, amongst others). There are also two access stairways on each side leading to the classrooms and offices of the different departments located there. It's basically the same old building that I was familiar with, except for the I.D. scanner that wasn't there 20 years ago. Imagine what another 20 years would be like.

Since I don't always get the chance to come here, I decided to visit the Department of Biology and hoped that I could meet my old professors. I had a look around the classrooms and corridors and there weren't any students at that time. More so, the professors I knew were either retired or weren't there. Oh, well. Tough luck - it was worth a try. While looking at my immediate surroundings, I just had the fondest memories of setting up exhibits along the corridor to get ready for the "Science Week" and we were all stationed in each of our exhibits to showcase our research and answer random queries from fellow students who were either curious or were gathering data as part of their homework given to them by their professors.

It was how I exactly remembered it:

Department of Biology (door to the right)

classrooms and specimen cabinets (left)

This is how the corridors look like when there are no classes. Imagine the opposite. Yep, it's practically teeming with students donned in white, each of whom finding their respective classrooms or simply roaming around the hallways just to meet their friends,....girlfriends or boyfriends....amidst the piercing look of some strict professors. (kidding!)

I then decided to head back the entrance and visit the church, which most outsiders don't realize is a few yards away from the Main Building. I couldn't blame them though, it's the Main Building that has the cross on top of it, while the Central Seminary (where potential priests stay and study), where the church is located doesn't have one:

entrance to the UST church

I also noticed some changes in the facade. It was greatly improved and beautified with elegant landscaping and tiles shaped like a "half-sun" fronting the entrance (top picture). The life-sized "400" above represents the quadricentennial status of the university and another one is located at the Espana gate:

It was a shame I wasn't able to attend the Quadricentennial celebration last year. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be a part of the special celebration of the 400 years of history, excellence and existence of my alma mater, sadly - I had work at that time. Still, it makes me proud to be a Thomasian and be an inspiration to all those I have the opportunity of meeting. (will all modesty aside! - hehehe)

One of the most important historical structures that has been declared as a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines (apart from the Main Building, Central Seminary and Football Field) is the replica of the Arch of the Centuries right in front of the main gate of the university. The original one located in an old spanish fort, Intramuros was destroyed in WWII.

This was the arch that served as the main entrance of the university during the Spanish Colonial times  in Intramuros ("walled city" in Spanish) and this replica was built to remind future students of the rich history of what this university has been a part of as well as the well-known figures who have been an alumni of this university. (Jose Rizal and former President Quezon).

The football field below (beyond the trees) is just a few yards from this arch and is where I have had my arnis and softball exercises as well as military drills as required before in the curriculum (4th yr. high school and 1st yr. college). I would spend hours with my male classmates under the searing heat of the sun and do what the drill master asks as to do. Whew!

Twenty years have passed since I first walked in the gates and corridors of the high school and university I graduated from and indeed, a lot has changed. The walkways, parking lots and even the Central Library which is now fully airconditioned and everything is computerized, like the I.D. scanners in the entrances of the colleges. 

There will be a lot more changes in the years to come, but the Thomasian spirit which embodies its core ideals and catholic values as well as the highest level of competence that are imparted to students in each of their chosen professions will always remain.

I am and will always be proud to be a Thomasian!

Viva Santo Tomas!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Pronunciation Awareness Training

 As a language instructor, I try to always put myself in the shoes of English learners and understand the difficulties they encounter, especially in learning proper pronunciation.

I do not consider myself a foremost authority in EFL instruction, but through my unique experiences from teaching foreign nationals that is almost close to a decade, I came to understand and realize that there are patterns to these pronunciation difficulties.

Aside from patterns, there are also simple and practical solutions to it without being too technical and would add on to the confusion or being too simple without understanding the intricacies of the underlying causes of these difficulties.

How then should we find the right balance in learning pronunciation in a practical and "easy-to-digest" manner, while at the same time making it insightful?

Here are some practical suggestions to your pronunciation woes:

1) If you encounter a word that is difficult to pronounce, "syllabicate".

     a) pronounce the word slowly
     b) listen to the beat of each syllable as if you're listening to music
     c) each syllable corresponds to 1 beat
     d) write down each syllable and tap the table or the back of your hand to each beat.
     e) check the dictionary to confirm the main stress and proper vowel and consonant pronunciation

*** a syllable is a language unit that consists of the combination of consonant and vowel sounds

    ex: demonstration: de-mon-stra-tion (4 syllables)

           simple phonetic representation: \deh-m'n-STREI-sh'n\

                           3rd syllable: Main Stress - the strongest sounding syllable in a word

2) Practice - once you have identified the number of syllables as well as the main stress of the word,  you have to say it repeatedly - slow at first and making it faster as you become more comfortable with it.

3) Record your voice - since pronunciation is not just acquiring the "American accent", but also gaining more awareness and realizing if you made a mistake or not, recording your voice as you pronounce a word would be a valuable reference. You could make comparisons and make the necessary adjustments if there are still some inaccuracies. Moreover, the realization that you gain is essential during conversations. This means that you're more "connected" with the words that you're saying and how you say it. If you make a mistake, you should be able to detect it and correct it promptly - because you are now more "aware".

4) Observe - Enhancing your awareness is all about resourcefulness and creativity. When doing some pronunciation exercises, you can use a small mirror right in front of your face as you can observe closely how you open your mouth, the shape of your lips (rounded or unrounded - Vowel sounds) and to a certain extent, tongue position. Articulation of sounds depends on these elements as well as how your mouth "feels", whether "tense" or "relaxed" (vowel sounds). Observing your mouth, listening to yourself as well as processing these information that you gather is a very efficient way to establish an "active" connection between your mind, the words that you say and what actually happens inside your mouth when you pronounce different words.

5) Take it for a spin - Now that you have acquired what is necessary to improve your pronunciation, use it when having a conversation with your teachers or with friends who are also English learners. Nothing is more valuable than learning from experience. If you make a mistake, just correct it and try again. Teachers most especially, would gladly help you with your difficulties and "fine-tune" your learning strategies as well as give you more insightful tips to aid your learning.

I also have found a very specific study done by Michael Kistler and Joseph Sandkamp who presented useful information between the differences of Japanese "Katakana" English and the Standard American English.

The study is really meant for teachers, but I don't see the reason why students shouldn't have access to it. After all, as I have said in my other blog - we can all be teachers in our own right, because we are all students and we never stop learning.

I hope this would give you the necessary realization as well as empowerment that learning a foreign language shouldn't be too difficult to the point of feeling hopeless about it.

Keep the faith!

Monday, September 3, 2012

"Quotable Quotes"

What makes a quote quotable? Why are some quotes easier to remember while others are easier to forget? Is it because of the words used? or is it because of the combination of words that make up the context?

Whatever the reason may be, a quote is generally the unique opinion or thoughts of a person regardless of rank, gender, age, beliefs or status. It symbolizes the various perceptions of life itself, based on specific experiences and what that person has learned from it.

Some quotes are funny, some are abstract, but most are sources of inspiration and learning opportunities. Most quotes are famous because of the obvious popularity of the person who said it and a lot of people value and fiercely "immortalize" it, but ironically that quote merely represents the innermost thoughts of that person: not for fame, but for wisdom.

Here are some notable quotes to live by:

 * "Imagination is more important than knowledge" - Albert Einstein

 * "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent" -   Eleanor Roosevelt

 * "Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential" -    Winston Churchill

 * "Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment 
        where excellence is expected." - Steve Jobs

 * "Chance favors the prepared mind" - Louis Pasteur

Some quotes are even based on a movie and my personal favorite, "The Last Samurai":

      Katsumoto: "Do you believe that a man can change his destiny?"

      Capt. Algren: "I believe a man does what he can, until his destiny is revealed."

Since we all have different perceptions and reactions to life's challenges and circumstances that we are surrounded with, we can all share them with each other and learn more in the process. We usually focus on knowledge and forget about the importance of wisdom, which act as a "guide" for our intellect and which matters the most.

After watching a film that had a profound effect on me, I came up with my own quote:

"All of us can be teachers, trainers, scientists, engineers or anything we envision ourselves to be. Each and everyone of us started out as students, regardless of gender, financial status and especially age. It does not matter therefore how early or late you started, the important thing is - you initiated the first step."

"No one's integrity is above the other, we should all live with mutual respect (Ip Man 2) since we all started without nothing - we will eventually leave without anything." (added my own :D)

"True learning starts with humility"

What about you? Do you have any quotes of your own? Why not share your "two cents worth" of wisdom? 

You will never know the extent of your influence or inspiration you could provide for others who need it the most.