During a recent trip abroad, the kids and I found ourselves in a park playing on the swings and slides like we always do.
Before I knew it, Adriana found herself a new playmate in the form of a 4-year-old Spanish girl who knew not a word of English. Meanwhile, my 3-year-old’s Spanish didn’t go beyond “Hola!” so I wondered how that encounter would go. Funnily enough, they got along just fine. The language barrier proved inconsequential as their laugher rang out, loud and clear.
They figured out ways to communicate on the essentials such as where to play next, whose turn it was and calling attention to themselves when they wanted the other to watch what she was doing. When it was time for us to go, Adriana cried out “Ba-bye!” while the other happily waved back with a matching “Adios!”
It was adorable to watch them and it got me thinking about language. Actually, it got me thinking about one language in particular, our mother tongue, Filipino.
I remembered a conversation I had in a children’s party with a number of friends about speaking Tagalog and the overwhelming consensus was that all the parents could speak it fluently but for some reason, many of their children were having difficulty with it.
We wondered about what was causing this. Did our parents speak to us in more Filipino than parents do to their children today? Or was it because we grew up during a time when Pong Pagong of “Batibot” was just as popular as Elmo of “Sesame Street” is today? “Mara Clara” was on TV every day as well and my friends and I all rooted for Clara because Mara was too much of a pushover though we all cried for Juday [Judy Ann Santos] when Gladys [Reyes] would prove to be too much.
Let me tell you, the new “Mara Clara” didn’t have anything on the original duo. And then of course, there was Little Miss Philippines on “Eat Bulaga” which I watched religiously as a child and where I honed my Tagalog as I practiced my own “Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat….” spiel with the matching wave.
Sadly, my parents never allowed me to join despite my constant pleas. There go my childhood issues!
Seriously, though, what is going on with Filipino and some kids today? There seems an increase in the number of children, who while speaking English fluently, can’t muster up more than a few sentences in Tagalog.
It seems that English is being given priority by a number of parents while Filipino is left in the dust under the assumption that the children will learn it on their own. Except that they don’t.
Please don’t get me wrong, I am not assailing the importance of learning and mastering English and other languages that parents choose to teach their children. It would be foolish to pretend that we don’t need them and the great advantages they give. But in my view, it would be unforgivable if in the process of learning other tongues, Filipino is tossed aside and forgotten.
Can you imagine meeting a French woman in Paris who cannot speak her native tongue? Sacre bleu! Or a Spaniard who speaks English yet stumbles through his Spanish? That would be unthinkable for them. Why can’t it be the same for us?
Failing to teach our children Filipino is more than just taking away their opportunity to communicate in a language that is filled with so much beauty in the passion, complexity and affection of its words.
We have such a long and amazing history of courage and valor in the face of oppression. We have survived numerous calamities through sheer determination and tenacity. We have proven time and again that everyone is a true hero in our readiness to serve and help our fellow countrymen during the many disasters that have struck us. And who can doubt the ability of the Filipino to be truly world-class when we see the likes of Manny Pacquiao, Lea Salonga, Charise and many others, wowing audiences world wide?
What better way to stand tall and be proud of all that we are than through the mastery of Filipino? Our nation’s language is a like a beautiful collection of everything that we are as a people; in it we find our battle scars, quirks and traditions. Let us not give it up so quickly and readily.
We are Filipinos living in the Philippines. Not being able to speak our mother tongue, or at the very least giving it the appreciation and respect it deserves, is like a slap on our country’s face. And sadly, not by someone who comes from distant shores but by someone who should be the first to love it.