Over lunch I was talking in the vernacular with my fellow Filipino workers when we veered toward the topic of family life. One of us suddenly and proudly blurted out that in her household, her child is not permitted to speak in Tagalog. She was beaming from ear to ear as she recounted how she had hired a well-versed yaya who used to baby-sit Korean children to watch over her year-old kid. Soliciting laughs from a rather flabbergasted bunch over this sudden departure from a pleasant conversation, she also recalled how she had to correct a vowel mispronunciation of the Visayan nanny.
To my relief, no one else laughed with her. I wanted to drop my jaw but the food allowed me to keep it busy. I continued to mince the meat on my plate as I tried to mince the words that were dying to come out of my mouth. Eventually, I just resorted to saying something like: “Please make sure that her diction comes out correctly since she will be supremely alienated by classmates and good English speakers if she learns in a nonstandard way. Maybe you should just let her watch ‘Blues Clues’ or ‘Thomas Train’ if you really want her to get some accent or something.”
Despite my efforts to downplay, it was still a mouthful that yielded an awkward silence for the rest of the meal. I did not mean to belt out sarcasm. I was genuinely concerned for the little girl. And I was concerned for all the little girls who may be in a similar situation.
Just days ago, a distant acquaintance was heard speaking in her coerced English as she coached her own daughter. Equally proud of her parenting method, she also narrated that her 7-year-old daughter only knows English and failed in her mother tongue and Filipino subjects, disqualifying her from becoming a contender for the class’ top 5. The teacher was concerned. The mother was ecstatic.
The poor daughter continued to play with her iPhone, felt aristocratic, and refused to talk to us Tagalog-spewing “lesser” mortals—her own aunts and cousins included. When given a sample of this “aristocratic” upbringing, nobody at the dining table understood the little girl’s English. Apparently, she meant to say “Stop laughing!” but it sounded like something from an alien language. The English-besotted mother had to translate for her Filipino daughter, who does not know her regional language and Tagalog.
So much for having multilingual skills as a way of building bridges of communication.
Having been educated in a private Catholic school with a speech laboratory and trained through some speech electives in college, I also labored extensively to understand and speak English for my career advancement. I write mostly in English and some of my works have been published. I have been quite keen and particular about grammar, strongly enough to ditch my license and work in a publishing firm for my first job. I edited a school paper and went through those high school journalism contests in the English category. For a short time during college, I wrote SEO (search engine optimization) articles, had a stint in a call center soothing irate billing clients from the other side of the world, and taught English to Koreans. For over 10 years, I have had English to thank for my work experience and manner of self-expression.
Notwithstanding those things, I am close to building a family of my own and I have never considered making English the only language that my future kids will learn. I will join the ranks of mothers, but setting up my kids to hate our own language is definitely not on my list of things to do.
While I had average grades in Filipino and “HeKaSi” when I was in high school, my life was transformed when I met a prolific teacher in Filipino humanities, Eugene Evasco, and later in my first job, Ayer Arguelles, an award-winning poet in Filipino. After those encounters, I cannot ever bring myself to agree with anyone that our own wika is an inferior language that need not be learned properly, especially if it is spoken like it is a form of badge or Nobel Peace Prize.
I know it’s difficult to understand math or other subjects with terms like “tingirin” or “balisultag,” which makes teaching it a bit easier in English. But I have never imagined creating an environment that totally restricts the usage of Tagalog or mother tongue. In fact, I have friends who got to work overseas and build their families there. As far as I know, they need to work well with English but they continue to speak using their mother tongue at home so that their children there will not forget their roots—so that they will know how beautiful and rich our wika really is.
I dream of a time when we no longer have to hear of proud mothers who promote this alarmingly prevalent manner of training kids in our own country. That like other countries, we will possess the pride that our language deserves. In France, they coldly expect you to speak at least basic French when you’re there, and it irks most of them when you have to ask “Parlez vous Anglais?” when you’re lost.
No, we do not ask kids to watch movies that have “Saging lang ang may puso” lines that don’t mean a lot. But at least, please let children be free to speak and be proud of what we have for a language. Otherwise, it’s like we are building little language Judases who manage to be good with entertaining foreigners but are bad with dealing with their kababayan, unable to converse or express themselves just because of a senseless planted notion that English is the only manifestation of intelligence and success.
Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa starts today, and colonial “wika-lity” is still in the Filipino household, its gunk sadly and liquidly flowing straight from the bosoms of well-meaning but misinformed mothers. Newborns are in danger of being reared on this questionable milk of knowledge because they have no other way of knowing the truth. By the time these kids have grown and become tongue-tied as they try to ride a jeepney or buy something from a sari-sari store when their driver and yaya are not around, the hatred for our own language would have taken root and they can only pass it on to their future progeny.
I will continue to hope that all future children will become intolerant to this type of feeding. On the other hand, maybe an Angelina Jolie-like mastectomy will help prevent the viral cancer of Filipino mothers who hate our mother tongue.
H. Labao, 28, is a mapping specialist by profession for local and international projects. She says that in what is left of her free time, she is “an aspiring polyglot who understands Tagalog, English, superbasic Korean, and basic French.”