BAYANG Lualhati Flores, a college freshman and only daughter of fellow journalist Nelson Flores, speaks Tagalog like she just stepped out of a plane from Manila. When she speaks English, you’ll know she’s from Texas.
That is a great achievement from someone who came to the US when she was still a grade schooler and had to grow up with so few people to converse with in Tagalog. But she has to share the credit with her dad who banned English in their household as soon as they settled here.
Migrant children will learn English even without help from the household, Nelson noted.
“ Kasi ‘yan ang lengguwaheng gagamitin niya araw-araw paglabas niya ng bahay. Imposible na hindi siya matuto,” Nelson explained.
What is harder for migrant children, Nelson believes, is for them to keep their proficiency in speaking their native language without help from their households.
Wait, before I proceed. I will use Tagalog and Filipino as if they mean the same. Technically, they are not. Tagalog is a distinct dialect by itself, although it does constitute the big part of the national language that is widely spoken by Filipinos. But that is another story. For the purpose of telling this story, I will proceed like I don’t know about it and I apologize to the guardians of accuracy.
Now, proceeding to my story: My niece, Maria Karizza Vitan, a background painter at Nickelodeon, also came here as a grade schooler. She has lost her proficiency in Filipino by about 20 to 30 percent despite her family speaking Tagalog at home.
Bayang, better known in her Texas hometown as Biel (the sound of the first letters of her first and second name), and Maria both have circles of friends who are non-Tagalog speakers — which mainly happened as a matter of chance than by choice.
The little difference between these young women is that Bayang is obliged to speak Tagalog only when she is at home while Maria could talk both in English and Tagalog when at home. She could talk to her family in plain English or talk to them in plain Tagalog or she could mix up the languages in a speaking style called “Taglish.”
For Maria losing some of her ability to speak Tagalog appears to have no bearing on the strength of her connection to her Filipino ancestry, in fact, not even to her love of the Filipino language. She vowed to keep speaking it and to pass it on to her children when she got to that point in her life.
For Bayang or Biel, her skills alone make her a compulsory ambassador of Tagalog among Filipino-Americans.
Of course, between these two young women, no one is better than the other as far as the question of who is more “Filipino.” We may prefer one over the other, but largely for the community here: They are simply bilingual Americans.
Rewards of being able to speak Tagalog
There should be no pressure for young Filipino-Americans to learn the Filipino language. There is absolutely no guilt for those children we brought here and who later lost their ability to speak Filipino as they grow up. Filipino patriotism does not apply to them because they are Americans.
But if we could encourage them to speak Tagalog, why not? I mean, Fil-Ams who speak Tagalog would tell you it is fun. For one, imagine that you were in public somewhere and your parents or siblings were “misbehaving” and you can shush them without anyone getting embarrassed.
Well, that’s just for starter.
For those who haven’t spoken Tagalog, did you know that Tagalog pronouns have no gender and therefore you can talk about someone for lengths without giving away the gender of that person?
Is that cool or what? That trait is potentially useful for something, right?
On a more serious note, learning to speak Tagalog is really a significant step for young Fil-Ams who want to find their cultural identity in this very diverse environment. As in the words of the three young people from the Filipino Cultural School (FCS) whom I recently met: If they want to go beyond adobo and pansit.
One of them, Kristine de Austria, having a good command of your native tounge helps one to fully enjoy the culture that comes forth with it.
It is certainly more fun for kids learning to sing Bahay Kubo if they know what a bahay kubo is and all the vegetables that are enumerated in the song.
Another FCS volunteer, Cheene Bustos added that during the recent summer school conducted by the FCS, there was strong clamor from among the Fil-Ams children (most of whom could not speak Tagalog) to learn the language apparently because it gave them better appreciation of the songs and dances that were taught to them.
Paolo Roca, the incoming president of the FCS school board which operate largely around the Bellflower-Long Beach area, pointed out that being able to speak the language also build up a character that is distinctly Filipino.
“Growing up speaking the language, natutunan ko po na pag nagsasabi ka ng po at opo, nagpapakita ka ng respect at the same time ng pagmamahal sa mga magulang mo. I don’t think it is being submissive. But only makes you conscious na alam mo kung saan ilulugar ang sarili mo, na alam mo kailan magsasalita o hindi magsasalita (when in the company of elders having conversation),” Roca said.
The youngsters also said that being able to speak Tagalog also help them connect better with the members of the Filipino community, particularly the older generation. While most Filipinos can understand English, a sizeable number are not fluent in speaking it.
There is a relative ease when these different generations of Fil-Ams meet and speak in Tagalog, they noted.
Outside of the family and the Fil-Am community, being bilingual actually is a plus when submitting a resume for employment. Many companies, especially in California where diversity is regarded as strength, give extra points to bilinguals when hiring people.
In a recent New York Times article written by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, the author claimed that researchers have found out that learning at least two languages “can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.”
Research suggests that an interference happens in the brain when a bilingual uses one of his languages which “forces the brain to resolve internal conflict, giving the mind a workout that strengthens its cognitive muscles.”
Well, that should be argument to convince even more Fil-Ams parents to put on some more efforts into getting their children to learn how to speak and love Tagalog.