English vs. Filipino

I finally read James Soriano’s controversial article, “Language, learning, identity, privilege”, that was published on (and removed from) Manila Bulletin Online. (You can find a reposted copy here.) I heard about it because people were posting one of my dad’s old speeches as their angry retort. His speech is all over Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ now — way to go, daddy!

I have to admit, the article didn’t upset me as much as it did everyone else. I, too, went through a similar upbringing. I was trained in school to be good in English; my elementary and high school years were spent training for English writing and public speaking competitions. I spoke English with my friends. I traveled a lot, and still do; English has gotten me friends around the world, a job in Singapore, and hell, even a boyfriend in the United States. I think and speak and write in English, just like Soriano. I love the language.

The difference is, while I am grateful for the opportunities English has given me, I am not as proud. I wish I was better in Filipino. All the damn time. It’s one of my few, true regrets, the fact that I (unknowingly) gave up Filipino as an opportunity cost when I was growing up. Sometimes I wonder if I should study it in school again, just so I could catch up. Do they have refresher courses for adults?

My feelings toward my national language have become more evident here in the States, where I’m confined to speaking in English 95% of the time. Like last year, I find myself slipping into Filipino unknowingly the longer I stay. (Much to the confusion of the Americans I talk to, I bet.) I’ve frequently resorted to telling my boyfriend, “We have a word for this in Filipino; it’s _____.” I hear Filipino so rarely now that if I hear strangers on the street speak it, I have to resist butting into their conversation just to get more of it. Whenever I see my sister, we speak in Filipino as much as we can, regardless of how awkward we might sound. Why? Because it sounds nice. It feels nice, when it rolls off your tongue. It’s home. And you really don’t know how much you miss home until it’s gone.

That’s what I don’t get about the article. Sure, I’m better at one language than the other. But that doesn’t mean one language is better than the other. It’s not a battle; it’s not English vs. Filipino. I’m a child of both; why can’t they just coexist?

Besides, if you really wanted to pick a fight (for example, by saying Filipino is not the language of the learned), then I’ll throw my father at you, and see who wins.

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5 thoughts on “English vs. Filipino

  1. I have the same sentiments as you. This pretty much sums up my feelings towards it.

    And honestly I praise whoever can speak full “nosebleed” Filipino because if you think about it, it’s really easy to learn English because it’s everywhere, but it’s not easy to practice fluent Filipino.

  2. quietly says:

    Dear Moongirl,
    I don’t think this is only a Filipino thing. My father was Portuguese and French-Canadian, second generation in the US on both sides. Niether my French Canadian grandfather or my Portuguese grandmother passed on their language to my dad, because they were the languages the adults gossiped in. Consequently i am confused and jealous on heritage days at school. How do you explain to someone that a dish is Portuguese if you only know its English name? Everytime we go to Canada, the customs officers glare at us because we have a French last name but only speak English. To them we are traitors.
    My grandmother didn’t speak Portuguese in her later years because there wasn’t anyone to speak it to; she still made wonderful roast pork and twice baked potatoes. Her house always smelled of chourice and cigarettes.
    Am I a traitor? I am proud of where I come from even if it isn’t proud of me. I miss the “phantom” languages I’ve never spoken, but I miss my grandparents more. On culture days and censuses I am outside and inside at the same time, but in my grandparents house I always belonged, and in America, free of the cultural ties my grandparents struggled with, I belong too, as they wished thier family to.

    • moongirl says:

      Hi quietly,

      That’s really interesting. In a world like ours where our parents come from different races or heritage, we sometimes think that English is the only language we should speak. I have Chinese friends who can’t speak Chinese, just because they never learned it, and so people think they’re “fake Chinese”.

      French and Portuguese are two of my favorite languages to listen to, actually; they sound so beautiful to me. You’re not a traitor for not knowing them. I’d like to think we can love our own countries in our own way. 🙂

  3. Moongirl, “coexist” is exactly what Jaime Soriano is saying! English is for learning, knowing more – pang-international; Tagalog or Filipino is for communicating to those who don’t understand English – pang-local.

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