Home > Language, Living Overseas, Philippines > Should We Raise Our Kids As Bilingual Speakers?

Should We Raise Our Kids As Bilingual Speakers?

It is naturally a common practice that Filipino expats or immigrants choose to rear their children in the language used in the foreign country they are based.  Like many others, English is our first choice since we live in a country where this is an official and commonly spoken language.  Furthermore, it is a familiarly spoken language in the Philippines and a form of status symbol (deny it or not it is in Philippine context).  Hence it is never a difficult decision for us and many. Even then, I personally value the Filipino language and wish that my daughter would be able to speak it fluently as she grows up.  It is our native tongue and it represents our cultural heritage.  Come to think of it, how come Chinese, Mexican and Indian families whose children were born or raised in a foreign country are able to speak their native tongues? Isn’t it probably because they value their ethnic identities?

Having lived in Singapore for two years and living amidst other cultures outside of the Singaporean blend that is already present, I have learned from other parents that raising children in bilingual atmosphere is quite possible.

Although we speak to her in English, my wife and I speak to each other in the vernacular.  We instructed her nanny to speak to her in English but did not force her as we figured her nose will bleed trying to do so 🙂 .  And finally we have subscribed to The Filipino Channel (TFC).  As such, Yanna was quick to pick Filipino words.   We would hear her say words like “Ayaw” (verb for not liking) or “akin na” (Give it to me) out of an outburst.  But could also switch to the English equivalent when we speak to her in English.  One time in a party, the host said in Filipino “ang init” referring to the weather and she was quick to interpret in English “It’s hot”.  Now that she is attending a playgroup school, her English was enhanced.  So perhaps slowly, we will eventually be able to teach her Filipino.

I guess it’s about time we open our minds and consider, depending on the child’s ability, bilingualism.

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  1. April 30, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    I was born in the USSR, and moved to America when I was just 3 years old (almost 20 years ago). My parents spoke English and Russian in our home, and I had to keep my Russian sharp because my grandparents could not speak English well. Over the years, I have been a translator for many of my family members. At times, I remember feeling odd that I was the only one of my friends who spoke a second language, but now I’m SO very happy that they instilled the value of bilingualism in me. I can speak to each of my family members, I watch Russian television with my mother now – even though we’re both fluent in English, and I really love and admire the Russian culture. I hope to visit Russia someday soon once I finish grad school, and it’ll be that much easier to do so because I already speak the language! I think language is really the key to culture – it opens tons of doors! And there’s no real “downside” to bilingualism – none that I can think of, anyway! – Lena

  2. April 30, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    I have been teaching English as an Additional Language for a number of years, and you would be amazed how quickly children pick up other languages. When they learn two languages at such a young age, they develop synapses in the brain, that actually help them to become quick at picking up other languages.

    I think it is important for your daughter that she also learns your native tongue, as it is good for her to have a solid link to her culture and roots. Talk to her in your native tongue for a while every day, and you will see how quickly she can become bilingual.

    Best of luck!

  3. pinoyleonardo
    April 30, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    @lena: Thanks. It is good to hear from other cultures and is very encouraging.

    @hairyprincess: Yeah. I am beginning to research on the bilingualism subject. I’d be proud if my daughter could speak Filipino when she gets back to the Philippines. I have an Indian colleague whose daughter speaks not only Hindi and English but fluent Filipino! How could this girl speak better than most Filipino kids in Singapore???

  4. Rey
    April 30, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    I would like my kids to be bilingual because it would be a definite advantage later in life. Exposure to the language is key. It might be easier with both of the parents being able to speak the native tongue. If you speak to her in Filipino at home, she will definitely learn the language easier. Since English is spoken everywhere anyway, it would be easy for her to pickup English at the same time. I know of a kid who was raised by his grandparents who are more comfortable speaking in their native tongue. The boy, spoke Filipino as a child. Of course, he was exposed to English as well, watching cartoons and educational shows in English on TV. Now the kid is a teenager, a smart kid who is bilingual, very fluent in both Filipino and English.

  5. May 1, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    Start to teach them early (1 to 5 years old). It is easier for them to learn the language at this age as they are like a sponge who will absorb anything you teach them. I have friends who are fluent both in English and in their native tongue. Their parents speak to them in their native tongue at home while they learned English in school and by watching TV.

  6. pinoyleonardo
    May 2, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    Thanks to all the comments. Suddenly, I realized I should be taking this seriously as in having a “plan”. I’d like to hear Yanna learn fluent Filipino before she’s 5. The thing is, English here in Singapore is also localized and we need to somehow inculcate the standard English. Hence, English must come from us parents. So it would be somehow a reverse- Yanna would be learning Filipino from TFC, nanny and our conversations.

  7. May 4, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    My wife is fluent in Spanish and she has told me even thought I won’t know what they are talking about she is going to raise the chipmunk to speak Spanish. Hopefully they don’t talk to bad about me right in front of me!

    • pinoyleonardo
      May 5, 2011 at 12:42 pm

      @bjbillinger: Your kid would be lucky to learn another language- and Spanish at that- this is one of the more widely spoken language in the world.

  8. May 8, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    Living in Southern California (Los Angeles), so close to border of Mexico, we have a large Hispanic community. I should have taken Spanish as my course in Jr. High, High School, and College. Instead, I was more fascinated with French, and it didn’t really matter, as most of my friends that did study that language, never ended up speaking fluently as adults, and can only understand words here and there.

    Also, I dated someone for 4 years, and got to know his Mexican family rather well. I couldn’t believe he didn’t know a word of Spanish, even when, his parents spoke it fluently to one another in the household. In fact, his DAD didn’t really speak English, only when necessary. When I inquired just HOW that happened, his mom explained she didn’t want her children treated differently and be at a disadvantage like when she came moved to the states and how she was treated. So she made their lives easier, except by the time we were grown, her children missed out on all the Bilinqual jobs that are so necessary now. In hindsight, it was a MISTAKE!

    I believe Heritage is important, especially if they will be hanging out with others that speak the language. English is a Universal language. Oh, by the way, there are different dialects of the Spanish language. I think there are 10? Those from Mexico, have a difficult time communicating with someone who speaks Spanish from Chile or Spain. We see this all the time in Southern California. “But I don’t speak THAT Spanish” 🙂

    Lake Forest, California USA

  9. pinoyleonardo
    May 9, 2011 at 7:14 am

    I’m not surprised that some immigrant parents choose not to teach their kids their language because of fear of discrimination. In the Philippines, you are frowned upon if you could not speak good English- at least in the “educated middle class”. My only hope is that Filipino language is also taken seriously.

  10. checkayism
    May 11, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    You’re a pride of our country :o)

  11. Ben
    May 12, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    Personally, I think it would be big deal to raise adult and kids to be bilingual. Almost all worldly pleasures are in least common denominator: English. Most popular and the most helpful are in English. Most funny Shows/Movies are in Filipino. If a person don’t happen to speak such language, he will be deprived in the trend.

    Is it a must? I think so. English Language is richer than Filipino Language thus we can communicate ourselves much better.

    BUT I would never let my son learn English without learning the Filipino Language. It is not about for the country or for the pride but the language itself resembles who we are.

    PS: What do you mean by Filipino Language? I doubt if there is since Filipino is a disguised tagalog. It is no different than Tagalog. They just named the language so FINALLY our nation can have a unified language.

    Keep it up. Nice post :]

    • pinoyleonardo
      May 12, 2011 at 7:41 pm

      The post was in the context of living overseas and as such: English is a survival language and Filipino is optional; Regarding English as “richer”, I think a better term is “more advantageous” ; Lastly, I’d teach my kid Filipino for cultural identity. Thanks Ben 😉

      • Ben
        May 12, 2011 at 8:27 pm

        Could you edit my post? :] I have a mistake.
        “Most funny Shows/Movies are in Filipino” is supposed to “be Most funny Shows/Movies are in English”


        I don’t know. See when you describe an event in English, you can picture in vividly while in Tagalog it is not. English have many word/terms that fits to almost all of the objects. So I would still use richer haha

  12. Roi
    May 14, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    Bilingualism is really needed in this competitive world. But we still need to treasure our own cultural language.

    (Share) I have relatives in New Zealand and I really love hearing my younger cousins speak in English (with the accent). But it’s more fascinating to hear them speak in Filipino and they are very curious of the language. What’s more lovely is that they call their parents ‘Nanay’ and ‘Tatay’. It’s sweet to hear the word ‘Kuya’ from them.

  13. August 31, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    i think yes! how can knowing two languages be harmful. Its great that you’re starting your daughter young. 🙂

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