Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Do they speak Tagalog?

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.


Sidney said...

Till 12 years a child learns a language naturally (he doesn't need to do any effort to learn it).

I am a Belgian and married to a Bicolana.
We lived in Belgium for almost 10 years. We have one son.
At home we spoke Dutch and our son went to a Dutch school. During his summer vacations (every year) he went TWO months to the Philippines with his mother. There he learned to speak fluent Bikol just by playing with the other kids.
My wife speaks 50%Dutch/50% Bikol with him and all her family 100% Bikol.

Many of my family members are native French speakers and my son got some French basic knowledge from them at an early age.
To boost his French I switched from Dutch to French a year ago.

Three years ago we moved to the Philippines and he is going to an international school where they speak exclusively in English.
My son's English is already much better than mine (but that is not difficult to achieve :-).

Conclusion: he speaks almost 4 languages (Dutch, Bikol, English and French) without having "learned" it the traditional way. Just by playing...
Of course don't ask him about grammatical rules.
And I forgot to tell he is 12 years old and a normal student.

I am sure he could have learned a few more languages if he would have been exposed to those languages.

Morality: if you are a mixed couple or if you live abroad let your children PLAY (not learn ) the other language(s).

niceheart said...

Sidney, it's cool that your son can speak 4 languages. My kids also study French in school, as it is one of the official languages of Canada. But of course, they only speak it in their French class.


I remember having those books when I was a kid, to really be good at Tagalog. Now my mama bought my daughter Adarna storybooks for kids, Englis with Tagalog translations, and she likes them especially the dwende.

I am guily of not blog hopping for quite sometime now. Busy with trainings. But I am coming back more often here soon. Take care!

Analyse said...

hey there. just bloghopped from pinoyblog. im just about to be a mom (5.5 mos on the way) and my frenchguy and i are already having this language question in our mind. im keen on teaching my future children my native toungue but frenchguy's afraid of the confusion i could cause our baby. so we decided that i use english and him french..i hope it will be a good solution for us...

Pinoy Teachers Network said...


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