Two years ago I wrote Do They Speak Tagalog? in Catherine’s Corner. In observance of Buwan ng Wika (Language Month) in the Philippines, I am republishing this post.
It has been my mission to teach my children how to speak my native language, Tagalog. I don't really know why it is that important to me. My main reasoning is that when I am old and gray and have Alzheimer's Disease, or as we say in our native tongue, "kapag ako'y uliyanin na," and I forget the English language, I don't want them fighting over their inheritance (if ever they will inherit anything) because they can't understand me when I tell them what each of them will get.
I talked to my first child, Reggie, in Taglish (a combination of English and Tagalog). His babysitters, (he had been through three) were all elderly Filipino women who talked to him in Tagalog. I noticed a problem when he was already three years old, ready to start nursery school, and he couldn't talk in straight sentences, neither in Tagalog nor in English. I even recall that he called Batman, "Memen." You know how the Whites say "bat" with a long "a" sound and also "man" with a long "a," hence, "memen." My husband's uncle said, "He must have taken from his Daddy. Ronald was a late talker, too."
I sent Reggie to nursery school, worried that the teacher and the other kids would not understand him. Luckily he learned to talk in straight English soon after he started school. I continued to talk to him in Taglish and it worked out fine. Then came my second child, Ryan. I talked to Ryan the same way I talked to Reggie, in Taglish. I sent Ryan to a family daycare run by a very nice white lady after my 6-month maternity leave was over. Between the nice white lady and Reggie talking to Ryan in English, and watching TV shows that were in English, Ryan's first language became the English language. Same thing happened with my third child Ryland, who also went to daycare. And so it happened that as my three children were growing up, they were talking to their friends in school in English; and at home they were talking to each other in English. They talked to me in English and they answered me in English (they still do) even though I asked them something in Tagalog.
When Reggie was in the 2nd or 3rd grade, they had a routine hearing test at school. He came home with a letter from the teacher advising me that the test results were not good. I made an appointment for him to see a hearing specialist. I thought maybe that he did have a hearing problem. Sometimes at home, he would not hear me when I tell him, "Reggie, lumayo ka sa TV (get away from the TV)," or "Reggie, hinaan mo ang TV (turn down the volume)." We went to see an audiologist and after a few tests, the audiologist told me that his hearing was perfect. She explained to me that maybe he was just distracted at school and didn't hear the teacher when he was called. And since he didn't "hear" me at home either, that was when I realized that he did not understand me when I told him "lumayo ka sa TV (get away from the TV)." But when I told him "move away from the TV," he quickly did so.
Later on I was talking to my kids more in English than I talked to them in Tagalog. Their dad would talk to them in Tagalog and they would not understand him. Their dad would get upset when he'd ask "Reggie, kunin mo ang kamiseta ko sa itaas (get my shirt upstairs)," or "Ryan, hanapin mo ang tsinelas ko (go find my slippers)," and they won't budge from their seats because they didn't understand what he just said. When I told their dad "Don't get mad at them. Translate it in English. They didn't understand you." Ronald turned on me and said, "lagi mo kasi silang ini-inglis (That’s because you always talk to them in English)." I just couldn't help it. My child talked to me in English and my instinct was to reply in English.
I started talking to them more in Tagalog. It was not a piece of cake though. It took a lot of patience. Read more here.