Sunday, January 13, 2008

Wikang Sinilangan (Mother Tongue)

These days, all one must do is to blink and it's already twenty six years later. More conservatively, I blinked and then I found myself already in the middle of the first month of 2008. Regardless whether or not you're having fun, time certainly flies with engines roaring at full speed.

My time flew on a positive note, fortunately. My slight hiatus allowed me to end my 2007 completely in the midst of family, friends and loved ones -- surrounded by the holiday ambience. It's not exactly something that happens everyday (not even every year) so rest assured, it has been one hell of a month. I was almost sad to see it end, especially boarding the airplane back to Singapore the day after New Years. However, I knew that I have a lot to look forward to in 2008. I'm not exactly sure what they are but I'd like to say that I have enough faith to know that there's got to be *something* good about 2008.

Being back home after a year has reminded me of a few things -- aside from the fact that it can get very stressful. I remembered who I was in contrast to whom I have become after leaving my domicile since almost nine years ago. Seeing my friends and extended family brought back a flash flood of memories that made up the person that I became. And one of those elements was my mother tongue.

Growing up in a bilingual country can be tricky. I grew up in a society that carries the notion that one's expertise in the English language dictates his or her level of education and skills. Put more simply, the better you are in speaking English, the smarter and better off you are. Granted, it's quite an unfair measure to impose, but it is widely acknowledged.

I don't remember learning English at all. It has always been integrated into my everyday life along with my native language (Tagalog, which is perhaps the most popular dialect in the Philippines). I didn't actively start using it in terms of speaking until later on at fifteen years old but I've always understood the language with little difficulty. I'm a voracious reader, which helped tons, and for once, I may actually have to attribute something good to American media whose influence dominated Philippine channels and publications.

For the most part while growing up, the campaign was always to speak English and to get better at it. The educational system in my school was chiefly operated in English bar a couple of classes which needed to be taught in Filipino. It wasn't until I reached high school that I realized how scheisse I've become in speaking my own language. Sure, I speak it everyday at home and with my friends, but it wasn't until I started listening closely that I realized each sentence that I spoke contained at least one English word in it.

English became my more intuitive tongue.

I struggled in my Filipino literature classes because I was not exposed to the level of Tagalog that the books were using. Hand me works of Shakespeare and Chaucer and we can talk endlessly about it over a mug of mocha. Hand me Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo (Tagalog version, of course, and not in the original Spanish) and we're in trouble. I wouldn't be able to compose a half-decent blog post in Tagalog without anyone mocking it.

How shameful!

Having travelled quite a bit to countries that do not promote English as much as America's/England's former colonies *cough* I began wishing that my country embrace our dying language more fervently. Is it only me who finds it ridiculous that with the seventy-odd dialects existing in the Philippines, I only know one and I know it half-assed at that?

In countries like France, Germany and Thailand, everyone speaks their own language with such passion and gusto. I was eavesdropping (if you can call it that since I couldn't understand a thing) in a conversation taking place between two German girls on a train ride to Frankfurt and seeing the expressions being given away by their eyes and faces, I was dying for some subtitles. In the Philippines, given the same scenario, one can pick out a slight idea on what's taking place because of the loose English words and phrases that probably pepper the conversation.

Sure, it's always good for tourism and business in the country that almost everyone understands English. I only hope that one century later on, we can still keep our identity as a people and that our lips can still perfectly form Tagalog words. I've always prided myself in being bilingual because it's sometimes like knowing a secret language. And I can only wish that I can be good in both.

It disappoints me seeing the younger generations speak even worse Tagalog than I do. Who can blame them though? It's how it has become, sadly.


It's good to be back *cracks knuckles* I hope everyone had a good holiday!

My apologies for the long absence but trust me, it was enough for me to miss being here.


Blogger Gretta James said...

I'd love to be fluent in more than 1 language. I know enough German to get by and if I were to listen to Germans having a converstation I'd probably with a lot of slow thought be able to sentance together roughly what they're trying to say. However, I'm only fluent in English and even that's poor when I get lazy.

Embrace your native tongue.

Gretta x

11:09 PM  
Anonymous Kyla Bea said...

The huge advantage you have is that you can regain and develop your mother tongue now, there's incredible community around that. Maybe once the younger generation reaches a point where they want to stop soaking up the American culture to the same extent they'll get interested and dive into the community.

Glad you had a good holiday, and that you're back!

12:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ha.... i think i am fluent enough in my mother tongue (and Im 'linguistically correct' more than most locals), but i have an accent that puts me to shame... it sounds like a britisher speaking malayalam... but to see the positive side, i can hold my own in english in spite of doing most of my schooling in kerala, which usually doesn happen :)

and yeah, Im having a great year... i feel more focussed positive, and in touch with God, and I feel content and happy, which is a great change from the last year.. long live new year wishes....hehe


2:27 PM  
Blogger Lucid Darkness said...

I share your shame.
I murder my mother tongue with my anglicised "chewing gum stuck in my mouth" accent. Wish I was better though. It's the same when I speak in Hindi. Oh well.

Happy New Year! (Although this is rather late.)

8:38 PM  
Blogger Still searching said...

I felt exactly the same way when I visited France, Germany and Austria, and even looking at the Mexicans here in the US, who refuse to learn English, therefore literally forcing the Americans to put up signs in Spanish, almost like a 2nd language!! That's pride in their own language, at least I think so!

You're right! Blink and its the 15th already!!

6:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well thats the case with people growing up in developing nations competing with the rest of the world.English has been such an essential language that sometime it takes precedence over our mother tongue.

The only thing we can do is fight desperately not to forget our mother tongue and read more etc.. a consious effort

8:05 AM  
Blogger Sling said...

I envy you.
My grandfather came straight from Bavaria,and didn't teach my father German,because he wanted him to be a "Real American"...crap..

11:36 AM  
Blogger thisisme said...

It's great to see you back, and I'm glad you had a good time with your family and friends.

I would love to be fluent in more than one language - understanding French seems so pointless in Australia.

Can you practise Tagalog and improve?

2:25 PM  
Blogger nutty said...

I'm back on your blog after ages! I apologize.

I can completely relate with your post, because it's exactly the same in India. And I share your shame of not being as comfortable with my mother tongue as I am with English. It's great when you're living in UK/US but it's just all wrong!

I can understand why our cultures adapted too be this way too. I just hope we hold on to our true identities too.

6:09 AM  
Blogger Libby said...

pb-glad to see you hone, happy, & healthy!
i really wish i was able to speak/understand more than English! i took 3 yrs of French classes in high school, but...i still suck at it! i want to learn italian, that's a beautiful language!

7:51 AM  
Blogger DHIVYA ARASAPPAN said...

I can relate to your situation because I am also much more comfortable with English than my own mother tongue. This is very common in India! Its very sad

But there is a good side to it and that is that its easier for us to survive outside our country than those who havent grown up with English... I see lotsa foreign students in the US struggling with classes because they dont have a stronghold on English. We don't have that problem so much.

10:13 PM  
Blogger sean said...

Hand me a copy of Bigears and Noddy and I'll talk forever- all the other stuff when someone asks me, "what do you read my lord?
O, words, words words.
I was never fluent in anything - no don't go there - I mean, I've got the not fluent t-shirt; say no more.

2:32 AM  
Blogger mathew said...

Being here in germany for almost a year and a half..i understand what u are talking abt..initially i found it sort of primitive that the germans dont speak english,..but i have realised over a period of time how much they want to retain an identity of own..

6:27 AM  
Blogger Molly said...

When my husband was little, though they had come to live in the US, his parents made him go to weekend school to learn to speak Ukrainian. It is so important to have as many ways as possible to understand your heritage....He was so happy and his relatives were awed when he went for a visit and was able to converse with them and understand most of what they said.
That said, I'm ashamed to say we didn't see to it that our children learned Ukrainian or Irish.
Welcome back, and happy new year!

6:16 AM  
Blogger Jennifer McKenzie said...

You're still better than I am. As an American, I've learned English. In Canada, most Canadians learn French and English. In Mexico, Spanish and English.
Me, I learned English and learned it poorly. I know a few Spanish words and phrases, but not enough to carry on an intelligent conversation.
I envy those who know more than one. And I agree. I think maintaining one's culture/language/heritage is important.
I missed you very much, Princess.

10:10 AM  
Blogger The Mad Girl said...

Hello princess!! long time! but glad to know that you had a lovely holiday.
well the scenario is much the same in my country,India.Here we have so many languages and each has so many dialects that English does serve as the common communicating language apart from Hindi, which is our national language.
But even we speak a hybrid tongue and one can find generous doses of highly accented English words.
It's a shame, I agree. But most of us lack the consciousness.I try to read as much literature in my native tongue(Bangla or Bengali)as I can.
Happy New Year.
A very happy new year to you.

4:30 PM  
Blogger fifi said...

ah, hello, welcome back.

I have tried to learn no less than four other languages and have failed at all of them.

My french is alright, but my grammar is appalling.

5:32 PM  
Anonymous chaitali said...

Nice thought and a very valid one. I know that at some subconcious level I judge people by how good their English is. I can speak my mother tongue but its really not the best and I am not proud of that.
I went to Spain on a holiday and was actually shocked about how hardly any English is spoken there...tourism will figure a way out...I think the question really boils down to how proud are we of our native dialects...

7:35 PM  
Blogger Destination Infinity said...

The importance of your mother tongue could be understood over a period of time. I speak Tamil (Though my mother tongue is Telugu, which I do speak but rarely) fluently. As a part of my job I am having to move to Pune where majority of ppl speak Hindi. I can speak that too, but the problem comes when you want to decide the language you want to speak with your spouse and kids. I could choose between Hindi, Tamil or Telugu. I would choose Telugu as even if my kids move to some other place, they would retain their mothertongue to speak as a common language among the family. Fortunately, English is just a business language and is not much spoken at homes and I would prefer it be that way.

7:12 PM  
Blogger Kati said...

Much luck in your work on your native language. I often wish I could be bi (or tri) lingual. I took 2 years each of French & German while in HS, and barely remember much of either. (And what I do remember tends to be a garbled mess of both.) I was born in Germany (to US citizens serving on an AF base over there), so I always felt a bit like I should know something of the language of the land where I was born. Unfortunately it didn't "take" very well. *wry smile*

It doesn't help that we Americans (as a whole, though not necessarily as individuals) tend to be so protective of our language (as shoddy as it is) that we feel it an impossition to learn another. Of course, it wouldn't hurt for Americans to speak our own language more cleanly & clearly as well.

Welcome Back!!!

9:34 AM  
Blogger nasia said...

yaa.. i know.. but even i judge a person's english dialect as one of my scales to measure their education..
is that fair?

12:19 AM  

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