The struggle of teaching Filipino to our kids

The struggle of teaching Filipino to our kids

- in Opinion, Philippines
Photo credit: Grace Days


I still have a “Buwan ng Wika” hangover.

As a homeschool family advisor, I have heard parents express their issues, concerns, and struggles in homeschooling their children. Among those that parents usually talk about, sometimes with tears welling up in their eyes, is how teaching Filipino has become so difficult and at times a source of conflict with their kids. One time a mother actually asked me if they can take out the Filipino subject in their curriculum altogether. She was disappointed when I said as homeschoolers we should still follow the prescribed curriculum of the Department of Education, and that means Filipino remains among the subjects her daughter has to take up.

As a teacher and a mother, I realized that teaching a language is not just about teaching spelling, pronunciation, and grammar. Language teaching is actually culture learning and values education. After celebrating Buwan ng Wika, I felt there is no better time to write about teaching Filipino to our kids than now. However, I find it ironic that I am writing this in English rather than in Filipino. As I contemplated on whether to write this article in Filipino, I realized that the readers I want to reach are those who would probably not click on the link of this article if it were written in Filipino! Ang katotohanan ay nais kong maabot ng mensaheng ito ang nakararaming mga magulang na Pilipino, subalit maaaring hindi nila basahin ang kabuuan ng aking artikulo kung labis silang magugulumihanan sa wikang aking gagamitin. And so, pardon me if I would have to write this article about our language in what is actually a second language to many Filipinos — English.

My family is a cross-cultural one, my husband being an Indian national. Thus, my kids are growing up with at least four languages spoken at home, but with English as the primary medium of communication. However, my husband and I agreed right from the start that our children should learn the languages of their cultural heritage. And so, when we enrolled with a homeschool provider, we opted for a DepEd curriculum, which of course included Filipino. In teaching our children Filipino, I have personally discovered some principles, which I share with other parents who are willing to take new ideas. I hope one or two of these would help parents struggling to teach their children Filipino.

  1. Teaching and learning Filipino is a matter of attitude. I have observed that many children (both homeschooled and enrolled in conventional schools) who have negativity towards studying and speaking in Filipino have parents who are also negative towards the Filipino subject and language. They argue that it is so difficult to learn, much less to teach. When my kids started to complain about how confusing pagpapantig is, how difficult diptonggo is, and how reciting Filipino poetry is like a tongue twister, I realized that my reactions towards the lessons were crucial. My perspective and attitude on teaching the Filipino subject gets rubbed off on my kids more than the lessons. I realized that I needed to show my children that I value Filipino as a language that is part and parcel of my identity as a citizen of the Philippines. I needed to model for them love for my country, language, and culture because this is not taught but caught. Of course, there is a longstanding debate about the politics of the choice for the basis of the Filipino language (and I do not intend to enter into this discussion). However, there is no debate about loving our country because we were born Filipinos. I tell my children that they may be a product of a cross-cultural marriage but they are as much Filipinos as they are Indians based on how they value their heritage. And they must value their heritage for just like a tree, they cannot grow tall and strong without being firmly rooted on the ground. They will not soar high in life if they’re not grounded in their identity and culture.
  2. Teaching our children Filipino contributes to nation building. When our kids can communicate in Filipino, they identify themselves with millions of other Filipinos. And for as long as we live in the Philippines and hold a Filipino citizenship, our family will continue to teach our children Filipino and speak with them in Filipino as well. This, we believe, is our role in nation building. This is our little way of helping our kids become good citizens of this country.
  3. Teaching our children Filipino should lead towards an openness to the other languages and dialects in the country. My father is a native of Malaybalay, Bukidnon and didn’t speak Tagalog much until he went to Manila in his mid-20s. For more than three decades of living in Manila and being married to my mom, my dad eventually mastered Tagalog and surprisingly could use deep terminology. My mom, whose Tagalog is impeccable having been born of a Batangueño father and a mother from San Pablo, Laguna, translated training materials for American missionaries in the early 80s. And I was educated in Valenzuela (then part of Bulacan) and Marikina, both being very Tagalog areas. I grew up learning and speaking in both English and Filipino with much ease. While in college, I became friends with students from Mindanao and I soon realized that my dad’s mother tongue, Cebuano (or Bisaya for others), and his tribal language Binukid were very much part of my heritage. I then endeavored to learn Cebuano and with my funny accent tried to converse with my dad. Relocating to Davao was like a journey back to my roots. My Cebuano got better, despite the many Tagalog speakers in the city. I was reminded of how in college my Filipino 25 teacher in UP Diliman updated us of how Filipino as our national language has expanded to accommodate terms from the other languages in the Philippines. It is no longer just Tagalog words that can be found in the Filipino dictionary. After all, there are terms in Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon and other languages that are more apt to use because they have the exact intended meaning. Teaching Filipino to my children then gave me the opportunity to expose them to the other languages in the Philippines. Because their grandfather speaks Cebuano and we live in Mindanao, they must also be able to communicate in Cebuano. It is an uphill climb but we will get there, one step at a time.

A mountain is conquered one step at a time. The struggle in teaching our kids Filipino is real but so are the benefits of learning it. In this age of globalization, a person who can speak more than just one language is always ahead of others who cannot.

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