One night in San Francisco, I attended a "Tagalog" dinner. Basically, it was a potluck dinner party held by a group of young Filipino-Americans and Filipinos in America, who wanted to practice speaking in the mother tongue. Most of the dinner guests were American-born and had not even visited the Philippines, while a handful were actually born and raised in the Philippines. There was one young man they called "El Professor," who took on the role of facilitator by default. He had moved to the US in his teens and so had some first-hand knowledge of the country. In fact, El Profesor had gone back to the Philippines on a study grant to learn to teach Filipino/Tagalog to Americans.
It was an enjoyable evening starting off with the food --adobo (of course!), pritong bangus, rice, puto't kutsinta. And then there were the conversations. "Bakit gusto mong matuto ng Tagalog?" I asked one attendee. "Kasi," she said with a twang, "Pilipino ako." El Profesor then instructed each person to speak; tell a story about their day or an object they brought. The exercise was fun and educational, even for the native speakers in the bunch. Everyone tried their darndest best and it was interesting to see even the
"insulares" struggle like the "peninsulares." It was easy enough to resort to Taglish.
My husband did not participate in the exercise although I am pretty confident he would've managed a few sentences. Or at worst, he could've sighed "Hay nako!" and said "Ay mali!" Those are two of my favorite phrases around the house.
The group was stumped with translations for wallet and mushroom, so you can imagine the elation we felt when we finally remembered "pitaka" (!) and "kabute" -- but seriously, who even uses those words in real life??
When it was my turn to speak, I looked at my almost-two year old son sitting on my lap and prompted him to count in Filipino. "Isa Dalawa Ta'lo Apat 'Ama." he said. And I beamed proudly. I never sat down to teach him to count in Filipino; it seems to be something he just picked up. What I have done is sang some Filipino songs to him like "Sampung mga daliri, kamay at paa," and "Tong-tong-tong pakitong-kitong alimango sa dagat." One day I will run out of nursery songs to sing to him in Filipino, and maybe I'll have to resort to Eraserheads' lyrics. It is hard to teach or learn a language when you yourself do not use it on a regular basis.
And then came my turn and this is what I said:
"Natutuwa ako sa inyong lahat, sa inyong kagustuhang matutunan ang wikang Pilipino. Dahil kung iisipin niyo, hindi niyo naman talaga kailangan itong alamin. Dito kayo ipinanganak sa Amerika, dito kayo nakatira-- aanhin ninyo ang Pilipino? Mabuti na rin siguro dahil sa pananalita ng Pilipino ay higit niyong mauunawaan ang inyong pagkatao. Sa katutuhanan, bihira lang akong magsalita ng Tagalog/Pilipino nung nakatira pa ako sa Maynila. Nang dumating ako sa Amerika, saka ko lang napahalagahan ang pag-unawa a pananalita ng ating sariling wika." ("I am so delighted with all of you, with your desire to learn the Filipino language because when you really think about it, this is not something you need to know. I mean, you were born here in America, you've lived here all your lives, what will you do with Tagalog/Filipino? I suppose it is a good thing because in speaking the language you will learn and understand more about your own identities. The truth is, I hardly ever spoke in Filipino back in Manila. It wasn't until I moved to America that I learned to value having and knowing our own language.")
The dinner proper ended. With our tummies full, we bonded even more with videoke. What better way to learn the language than through music?
If you have any thoughts on bilingualism or have questions about teaching your child Filipino at home, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org