Do they speak Tagalog? – Updates

August 10, 2005 at 10:51 pm 1 comment

Learning the Tagalog language has been an enjoyable experience for my kids and I enjoyed teaching them as well. This past summer, our fridge door was covered with several sheets of paper that list our “Word of the Day.” Each sheet has about 7 to 9 words that my children have learned each week. The penny in the jar did not happen, instead, I gave them weekly reviews of the words that they have learned. As I have said before, they already knew some Tagalog words, and they understood me most of the time when I talk to them in Tagalog. Or so I thought …

I was grocery shopping with the kids one Saturday morning. Ryan and Ryland were running down the aisle when I told them, “tumabi kayo,” when somebody came by pushing a shopping cart. Ryan just stood still there in the middle of the aisle. I pulled him to the side and I asked him why he didn’t move when I told him to do so. “I thought you said to keep still,” he said. He thought tumabi means to “keep still.” The next day, tumabi was our word of the day. A few days later, umaga was our next word. Ryan said, “Oh I thought umaga na means to wake up.” “Oh no, umaga means morning,” I replied, “as in Magandang Umaga, which means Good Morning.” Ever since then, I was greeting them Magandang Umaga when they wake up in the morning.

Sometimes, Ryan picks a word that he wants to learn. Of the three children, Ryan is the most enthusiastic in learning Tagalog. I think it has something to do with his age. Children are very inquisitive at nine years old. They ask all kinds of questions that they could think of … why is the sky blue? what makes a rainbow? who invented the melon? why do I have to go to church? You, my readers, must remember what it was like to be nine. One word everyday was too much for Ryland. I didn’t really expect him to learn as much as his older brothers. After all, he’s only five years old. Saling-pusa lang siya. But he does pick up a few words here and there.

It was also fun hearing them say the words that are not quite familiar to them. It was very amusing hearing Ryan say i-bahn instead of i-bon (bird) and pah instead of pa-a (foot). I then explained to them that the Tagalog alphabet sound the same way all the time. There are no long or short sounds. The letter “a” is always sounded “ah” never “aye,” and so forth. Also, we sound all the letters in a word. There are no silent letters, as in the word folks, which has a silent “L.” Whenever Ronald says the word folks, sounding the letter L, as in “Meet My Folks (a TV show) is on,” Ryan and I exchange smiles. Now, my kids understand that when Lola says “charch,” she really meant church.

One word that I could never get enough of was kayumanggi, which refers to the brown race. I did not intend to teach them any long words. The word just came up after we went to Folklorama and we watched the Kayumanggi Dancers perform. Ryan was saying, “Oh that’s hard to say. It’s too long.” So I’d say the word over and over again, and after hearing the word from me several times, I heard Ryland chanting kuya-mangga, kuya-mangga. It just got me laughing so hard. (For the sake of those who do not understand Tagalog, kuya means older brother, and mangga means mango.)

I 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 native language if you don’t hear or speak it at home. Our 6-year old neighbour, Maria, talks Spanish fluently, although she already goes to an English-speaking school. Her parents talk to her in Spanish all the time.

Another response I received was from Jojo from Manila. She and her husband have plans of going abroad and she’s worried that her kids will have a hard time learning English. I assured her that she has nothing to worry about that. ‘Cause isn’t it true that children who came here (in North America) from the Philippines easily pick up the English language? I actually have a couple of celebrity trivia for you. In an MTV interview, Ricky Martin (ehem) said that he learned English by watching “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Arnold Schwarzenegger also revealed to the ladies of “The View” that he learned English by watching The History Channel and The Discovery Channel.

I also received a response from my niece Agnus. Like Raquel, she also came here in Canada when she was five years old. Agnus still understands Tagalog, but she can’t talk straight Tagalog. I find this interesting because Raquel can still talk in Tagalog straight, although she prefers to talk in English. Well, anyway, Agnus found this website: You may want to check it out. The site has Tagalog lessons. There is a kids’ section with colourful pictures and buttons that when you click will tell you the proper pronunciation of the word.

My kids talk among themselves in English even though they are learning these new Tagalog words. I think they are kind of embarrassed to talk to each other in Tagalog. I do understand that, because I, myself, prefer to talk in Tagalog to other Tagalog-speaking Filipinos. When I hear Ryan asks me, “Ilang gatang?” (how many cups of rice) or when Ryland answers “hindi po” (no), or when Reggie understands the story I was telling Ronald, I can’t help but smile and be proud of my kids.

Originally written on September 2003

Last updated on July 4, 2008


Entry filed under: Raising the 3Rs.

Do they speak Tagalog? Revisiting my cultural heritage

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