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It's Also Fun If Our Kids Speak Filipino

January 16, 2012 2 comments

Bilinguals tend to perform better than monolinguals on exercises that require blocking out distractions and switching between two or more different tasks. (www.sciencedaily.com)

Parents living overseas contend with raising their kids speaking the language where they are based. The practical reason is survival. On the contrary, is it really necessary to give up teaching the parents’ mother tongue to their kids if only to ensure that the kids learn the local language (where they are based) more effectively?  It has been a general perception that teaching kids two or more languages early in their childhood can confuse them.  However, many experts have challenged this belief.  The Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington D.C. even claimed that there is no existing evidence that hearing two or more languages in the environment can become a cause for delay or disorder in language acquisition.

In the Philippines, growing up as a child, I learned Tagalog first and later English- partly by media exposure and education.  It was not difficult to learn the language then, given that English was the medium of instruction and the official language.  Furthermore, I grew up watching English cartoons (as there were no Tagalized cartoons then).  I was also int he environment where grown-ups watched local news in English as well as English TV programs.  From the different parts of the world, we know of Spanish-speaking kids growing up in the U.S. or Chinese and Indian immigrants speaking their native tongue elsewhere in the world.  So why in the world are many overseas Filipino parents afraid to teach their kids the Filipino language? When I say teach the language, I mean to speak and write proficiently.  And not just mediocre “marunong ng konti” (know a little bit).

I would not be wanting to “attack” the guilty parents. I do not think anyone intended to abandon the native tongue for their kids intentionally.  I understand that the easiest route to do is to teach their kids the local lingo.  I can guess that most of these parents did not have the awareness of what is possible.  That was why, I have posed the question months back: Should we raise our kids as bilingual speakers? I asked this for myself and for all the overseas parents out there.  For one, I am not an experienced parent myself, for I am just in my first three years of the journey as parent.  I could only try and see what other expat colleagues have been doing.  And there are two basic things I have learned:

1. It is possible to teach kids more than one language early in their childhood.  A former Indian colleague has a daughter who can speak Filipino, apart from Hindi, English and Chinese.

2. Give the kids some borderline in order not to confuse one language for the other.  For example, a French colleague speaks to her daughter in French and leaves the nanny to speak to her in English.  This way, the kid clearly knows what is French and what is English.

My wife and I have started to speak to our daughter in English and therefore have learned to speak using the language.  In the beginning she could utter some Filipino words picked up from our conversations.  But eventually, she learned to speak with English.  When we have seen that she was already stable in expressing herself in the first language, I started talking to her in Filipino and eventually teaching her to try some first words.  To apply #2 above, I exercised her in the native tongue at a certain time of the day only- in the evening before we sleep. She started learning the language using the conversations of the evening such as about sleeping or the things used for sleeping such as bedsheet, blanket and pillows.  As our daughter Yanna liked bedtime stories, and repeat the same ones all over, I started to say this in Filipino.  In no time she started to ask me to tell her stories in Filipino, “Tatay, kuwentuhan mo ako tungkol kay Dorothy”.  Interestingly, she started picking up the native words and started to speak on her own albeit some grammar lapses- of course.  Now, she can easily pick up some words and start talking in Filipino. Although it is too early to claim success, I am confident that she will be able to speak (and eventually write) proficiently in our mother tongue.

I think that learning the language does not all come by just merely teaching.  As we spoke in the vernacular in the house, she somehow understood the conversations such as when she would panic when she felt we would leave her to the nanny.  I guess that’s the start.  For many of us, this is also the beginning and it should not stop there.  I think that when we start encouraging and teaching kids how to speak a new language, they gain confidence in doing so and become bold enough to try go further.  I believe this is part of the process of learning any language.  Even among adults, we only start learning a new language if we speak among those whom we know are supportive in this exercise and so we do not hesitate to make mistakes and be afraid to be corrected.  I could only see why this works with kids as well!

With the continuing diaspora, we cannot care less about preserving the Filipino identity. Let us be proud of our heritage.  Let us teach our kids our culture, values and our languages. After all, it’s more fun speaking in the native tongue.

Categories: Language, Living Overseas

Should We Raise Our Kids As Bilingual Speakers?

April 30, 2011 18 comments

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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