07 November 2010

Grasshopper Day

Kobe, Von-dot and I were walking back to school from Rob when talk, for some reason, shifted to how Filipinos raise their children in the countries where they had migrated. Kobe volunteered that some nephews-in-law, born and raised in New Zealand, understand Tagalog but are reluctant to try speaking the language.

They are no different then, I told him, from my own nephews in Houston. My brother tells us often enough that the two boys can understand Tagalog. It is just that, excepting a few common enough words, they are reluctant to try speaking it.

It appears to be a matter of confidence, I told Kobe. Of course, whether in Wellington or in Houston, the language in the streets is English. Percentage-wise, this is the language that the children are obligated to learn to use more as a matter of necessity, as opposed to the parents’ native language – assuming that both mother and father are Filipinos – the necessity of which pales in comparison since both parents speak the adopted country’s language, anyway.

Unlike the Chinese, Japanese and Korean migrants – who tend to struggle with English phonetics, let alone learn the language to any degree of real fluency – Filipino migrants tend to have so much more exposure to the Queen’s language long before they even think of leaving the beautiful islands. It is never any trouble, therefore, for most Filipinos – when they do migrate to English-speaking countries – to quickly pick up not only the local accent but also the local slang.

Communicating with the next generation, therefore, does not become as problematical as with their counterparts from the East Asian countries. While the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans may need to insist on the use of the language of the home country within the confines of the home, the same need to force the use of Tagalog within the Filipino household does not appear to exist.

It becomes a matter of choice, then, for Filipino households. Patriotism aside – and even that notion seems, these days, so nineteenth century – and assuming that most Filipinos still have this age-old fascination with the English language, it is still worth keeping in mind that knowing a second – or a third, a fourth, a fifth – language is always an advantage in this shrinking world of ours.

Ironically, it is those who have stayed in the beautiful islands who now have the luxury of taking this advantage so for granted. The simple truth of the matter is that even the simple man-in-the-street speaks Tagalog – or Ilonggo, or Cebuano, or Chabacano or Ilocano – and can also make himself understood by a native English-speaker.

Language is, after all, no more than a skill that can be learned and nurtured. Or used to great advantage…

A few years ago, I took guests from California out to dinner in a Filipino restaurant uptown in Lipa City. Trying to be the perfect host, I would talk to the Americans in English to ask them for any preferences, and then quickly turn my attention to the waiter to give him instructions in Tagalog.

It was just one of those things we do as a matter of course, hello!!! I noticed that one of the middle-aged American ladies was staring at me while I gave instructions to the waiter. It was only after the latter had left that she told me how fascinated she was at how effortless I seemed at speaking to them in English and then shifting without missing a beat into rapid-fire Tagalog.

She was so envious, she confided. Aba nga naman…!!! Talk about turning the table on the great American colonizer. Sino ngay-on wari ko ang napaglamangan? Kasabihan ngâ, grasshopper day I will giant you!!!

Yah see what I mean…???





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RELATED STORIES:
Joe
Thinking Like Americans

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