Parenting in the pandemic: Language

I remember swearing to myself that, when we had a child, we would teach them to speak in Tagalog first. “There are so many people who will make sure our child writes and speaks English properly,” I reasoned. I wanted our child to be comfortable speaking and writing in Tagalog, so that they wouldn’t face the challenges we did.

Unfortunately, I completely forgot to take into consideration, well, us.

Oneal and his brother were raised to speak English first. Their mom made sure of it, because she wanted them to be comfortable speaking the language. If I remember the story correctly, she had grown up in Bay, Laguna, and then she moved to Manila to go to high school in St. Paul. She felt embarrassed that she didn’t speak English as well as her classmates did, and she didn’t want that to happen to her sons.

As far as I remember, my parents spoke to me in English and Tagalog. But my mother grew up in Manila, and went to St. Mary’s. At the time, children we encouraged to speak only in English at school, and I think some schools even imposed fines or penalties if you were caught speaking in Tagalog. My mother was also a voracious reader, and an editor and a writer. (I suppose we know where I got that!) She encouraged me to read and write a lot, and I don’t recall having any books that were in Filipino. I did grow up in Saudi Arabia though, so definitely there was no place to get any such books.

And then I went on to get a degree in European literature, so yes that was a big help. Sigh.

Until now, I struggle with reading and writing in Filipino, and so does my husband. Oneal and I primarily speak to each other in English. I think in English, and write in English. Almost everything I read is in English–from the news to Facebook posts to fiction.

So when Lucas was born, we naturally spoke to him in English. When he started talking, it was in English. When our friends talk to him, it’s in English too.

I have little doubt that when he’s fully capable of reading on his own, he’ll have no problem reading in English.

Still, I feel guilty. He is a Filipino, and we are Filipinos. This is his country, and these are his people. I don’t want him to be one of those kids who can’t speak his native tongue, whose Tagalog has an embarrassing twang, who has trouble with words like ‘nakakapagpabagabag.’

So we try. Though we still speak to him in English most of the time, we do our best to teach him Tagalog words as well. Books are immensely helpful in this regard. This is one of his favorites:

Get it from Tahanan Books. It’s really cute, and it also has entries for NG and Ñ.

This next one is super nice because food is another great way to learn about culture. This book is a great help in getting Lucas to try new foods, like bibingka and pastillas. He loves adobo too, and he loves calamansi. And yes, it’s from Tahanan Books too.

Lucas loves animals, and I’m so glad he’s not afraid of bugs. He plays in my mom’s garden, and I’ve shown him caterpillars and higad and snails. There are often white butterflies in the garden, and he calls them Psyche butterflies, after the ones he saw in this book (also from Tahanan Books).

This is not a sponsored post, okay! There are other Philippine publishers that print their books in both English and Filipino, like Adarna House. It’s just that the books Lucas likes all happen to be from Tahanan Books.

I have no illusions that my son will be a great writer in Filipino–or any language, to be honest. I just want him to know Filipino just as well as he knows English. I want him to be able to go outside our bubble of writers and editors and geeks, and be comfortable speaking to anyone–from a store manager to a tricycle driver to a poet–in either language. Heck, if he could learn Kapampangan too (my father’s tongue) and Bikolano (my father-in-law’s), that would be wonderful.

But he is Filipino, and at the very least he must speak better Tagalog than we do.

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