Do they speak Tagalog?

August 9, 2005 at 10:59 pm 11 comments

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.

Related post:

Do they speak Tagalog? – Updates

This post was updated on July 4, 2008.


Entry filed under: Raising the 3Rs.

What are real matters of consequence? Do they speak Tagalog? – Updates

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sidney  |  August 10, 2005 at 1:02 am

    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).

  • 2. niceheart  |  August 10, 2005 at 11:37 pm

    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.

  • 3. TEACHER SOL  |  August 11, 2005 at 6:21 am

    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!

  • 4. ANALYSE  |  August 12, 2005 at 4:57 am

    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…

  • 5. Pinoy Teachers Network  |  August 14, 2005 at 7:28 pm


    We’re one month old now! Thank you for helping us disseminate the information about our global pinoy teachers’ network. We are professional Filipino Educators. We are going to inspire, be proactive, give hope, and go the extra mile.


  • 6. niceheart  |  July 4, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    Raquel from Winnipeg replied on the original post on July 1, 2003

    It is very difficult for children who are born here or who just grew up here to learn or keep their native language. I came here when I was about 5 and I still know how to speak the language but I prefer to speak english. My younger brother understands the language but cannot speak it in straight sentences. My youngest brother who was born here, can understand some words, but cannot speak tagalog at all. I think it has something to do with how much tagalog you speak at home. With my parents learning to speak english they would speak to us in english. Now with my two children it is even more difficult to try to teach them tagalog. My husband and I often speak to each other in english even though we know how to speak tagalog. The only time we actually speak in tagalog is if we didn’t want the children to know what we were saying.

    I think it’s important for children to know another language and I applaud your dedication in teaching them to do so.

  • 7. niceheart  |  July 4, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    Agnus from Winnipeg replied on the original post on July 2, 2003

    Maligayang araw, Tita Irene!

    I wish that I can speak Tagalog straight, and sometimes I think I know more French than I do Tagalog. Nanay’s kinda busy as it is so she only has time teaching us Catechism rather than Tagalog. And the kids are restless and are always arguing with each other when she teaches.

    When I was trying to find the lyrics for my poetry book, Sa Ugoy ng Duyan, I came across this website: It’s a really good website, it includes everything you wanted to know and knew about the Filipino culture. It even has a Tagalog-English dictionary and Tagalog Lessons that includes a audio clip of how the proper pronounciation is. It’s a very good reference and a great site to visit.

    Paalam po!

  • 8. niceheart  |  July 4, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    Jojo from Manila replied on the original post on July 4, 2003

    Your story brings back to my mind what my naughty daughter told me when she saw someone speaking in English. The story goes this way:

    Last May, my mother-in-law’s sister and her husband (a true-blooded American) came for a two-week vacation. They are based in Florida, USA. They arrived at midnight so nobody saw them as everybody was sleeping. The following day, I saw them in my mother-in-law’s house exchanging pleasantries. I told my children to go there, kiss their hands and say hello. My eldest Mikey did just that while my youngest Nicky came back to me and said, “Mama ayokong magpunta dun. Hindi ko naiintindihan ang sinasabi nung maputing mama. Pag nagpunta ba tayo sa Amerika, ganun na rin tayo magsalita?” (She meant we have to speak in English also and I said yes.) “Ayoko ng magpunta sa Amerika. Hindi ko kaya yun.” And then she left without going to my mother-in-law’s house. Nangapitbahay na lang siya.

    Baligtad tayo ano? While you wanted to teach your kids some Tagalog words, ako naman wanted them to speak in English fluently because I know mahihirapan silang mag-adjust when our plan to settle in US materializes. Baka hindi sila makahanap ng kalaro although my sister Evelyn said madali namang nakapag-adjust ang mga anak niya at ngayon nakikipaglaro na sa mga batang Kano at Mexikano. Well, let’s see what’s gonna happen.

  • 9. Do they speak Tagalog? - Updates « n i c e h e a r t  |  July 4, 2008 at 10:59 pm

    […] received a few responses to my original article, “Do They Speak Tagalog?” One of the responses was from Raquel. I agree with her that it’s hard to keep your […]

  • […] On Ellen, Melina Kanakeredes was on. She said that she speaks Greek to both her children. But her youngest daughter is kind of confused because her oldest daughter talks to her in English. That was the same experience I had. But Melina was more determined to speak only in Greek to her kids at home. I do speak Tagalog to my kids but sometimes I still catch myself using the English word for a word that they understand in Tagalog. I talked about this before in my post Do they speak Tagalog? […]

  • 11. Summer lessons « n i c e h e a r t  |  July 9, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    […] serious in teaching not just Reggie, but also my middle son, Ryan, how to speak Tagalog (read here the reason why and how it went) so we had this “Word of the Day” lessons and I tested them at the end of every week.  Well, we […]


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