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. Oh, they already know a lot of Tagalog words, the more common ones we use everyday, like “kumain, uminom, matulog, magsaing, maghugas ng pinggan,” and a lot more. They understand it when I say these words. They don’t say them, though.
The summer when Reggie was 9 or 10, I taught him how to count in Tagalog. We started with “isa” on the first day. I made him say it over and over again during the first day. On the second day, he learned to say “dalawa.” On the third day he was counting “Isa, dalawa, tatlo.” And by the end of the tenth day, he was counting from “isa hanggang sampu.” He bragged to his Lola that he could count one to ten in Tagalog and I was so proud of him. After that we started with the “abakada.” One letter a day. “A E I O U.” “Ba be bi bo bu.” “Ka ke ki ko ku.” He learned the words “bibi, bata, babae, lalaki, ama, ina,” etc. We haven’t gone through the whole alphabet yet, and school started. We were not able to continue with our lessons at home because he was busy learning lessons from school. He forgot what he learned during vacation.
We did it every summer since then. Since Reggie would forget what he learned last time, we always had to start from letter A and we were not able to get through to letter Y by the time school started. Last summer I’ve just had enough. He wasn’t as interested as before. Ryan listened beside Reggie as he read the alphabet book. Ryan always found something funny to laugh about. They both laughed at the words “kabibi, butiki, nguso,” any words. It just wasn’t working and I just didn’t bother anymore to let him read the book. I thought I’d just talk to them in Tagalog and translate it in English if they won’t understand it. It seems to be working. They are beginning to understand a lot more Tagalog than they did. My brother-in-law was surprised when he heard me talking to Ryland in Tagalog one day. “Inaantok ka na ba Ryland? Tulog ka na.” When Ryland answered, “I’m not tired, Mommy,” Francis was taken aback because Ryland understood me. “My kids wouldn’t understand that,” he said.
Every summer, I am always trying to find something exciting but inexpensive ways for the kids to kill the boredom at home. Now that school’s out, our “Word of the day” is something to look forward to. I pick a Tagalog word that they have to learn for that day. I write the word on a piece of paper with the English translation beside it. I then post it on our fridge door. We have a new word everyday and I make them say the word. We started with the word “kumain,” alongside with the root word “kain,” with the English translation “to eat” written beside it. They have to say “kumain” instead of “eat” or they pay a penny which they will put in a jar. They already know the word “kumain” but they have never seen it written on paper, and they have never uttered the word. I told them that I know they can do it because children in the Philippines talk in Tagalog at home and learn their lessons at school in English. Three days after we started, Ryan is already saying, “Kuya, you have to hugas the pinggan,” instead of “Kuya, it’s your turn to wash the dishes.” Ryland is telling me, “Mommy, I know what ‘sipilyo‘ means, toothbrush.” I am so proud of my boys.
They are already excited. So am I. I hope that we can continue doing this even after their vacation. I will let you know by the end of the summer how it works out. Also, if you have any comments or similar experiences, please feel free to respond to this story.
This post was updated on July 4, 2008.
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