Speaking Filipino to Today’s Children

Speaking Filipino to Today’s Children

By Maye Yao Co Say

Do you remember the days there was a classroom fine for speaking in Tagalog? This was done to encourage us to speak English more. Today paints a different picture. Many local kids speak English fluently while having tutors in Filipino. In the past, Filipino kids are glued to Batibot (a Tagalog educational show) every afternoon. Today, each child’s first media touchpoint is a YouTube video of a lovable English-speaking character.

This begs the question, “Is the Filipino language still important today?” The basis of this answer is relative to its contribution to his or her child’s future. Do our children need the Filipino language to make their future bright? The answer might not be as evident, but it is a choice. It is a choice of roots and substance.

As our kids grow up in a global environment, they are exposed to different cultures. When our kids face these diverse cultures, what can they bring to the table? What roots them to be proud and not fold?

In 2014, my daughter Meagan was assigned to be the emcee of their Linggo ng Wika festivities. After the program, the teacher and some parents commended her proficiency in the Filipino language. I told them I have always required all the helps in the house to speak to her in Tagalog since she was a baby. I remind my kids the importance of knowing their roots. They are as Filipino as they are Chinese. Chinese is their blood but the Philippines is their home. That’s why I put special importance in having my kids learn the Filipino language.

Below are some stories that explain the roots of my love for the Philippines and the Filipino language:

  1. When the Marcos’ presidency ended and there was so much uncertainty in the Philippines, many of our family and friends started to fix their immigrant status to either Canada or the US. I remember feeling worried and asked my dad if we were going to do the same. I distinctly remember him saying the Philippines was our home.
  2. Before I met my husband, I always dreamed of retiring in the US. When my husband and I got married, he agreed to build our family life in Manila. My husband’s dream has always been to live and help his beloved province, Bicol. So we struck a compromise that we will retire there. Through the years, I have learned to love Bicol. My husband has taught me to speak their language. I fondly see the root of my husband’s genuine and humble passion for agriculture and sports, and the comfort of his lifelong friends.
  3. I never looked Chinese and I was teased by my classmates a lot before for being dark. Hence, I often got the nickname “Negro.” Even my own sisters always teased me about being adopted. This was a bit traumatic because, in many ways, it caused me to feel lost in my own circle. I remember I found comfort in the school help like the maids and janitors, especially Mang Mako, in school who had always been the first to greet me since I was earliest in class. After school, I used to help a lot in our office. I found great company in our employees. At home, my nanny, Manang Eyang, taught me the proper way to eat with my hands, eat tuyo (local salted fish) with crushed tomatoes and shrimp paste. In high school, I developed my love for Filipino literature. My main influence was my teacher, Mr. Cedre. He exposed me to works of Filipino authors. Eventually, he allowed me to write and direct my own play for the school’s Filipino Theater Group. The play was entitled Salamin.

Our kids today continue to live in a world with fewer and fewer borders. It is good to be a man of the world, but I wish for my kids to see the world knowing who they are and valuing the substance of their roots. I believe the Filipino language is something my kids should be proud of. It is important to hone their Filipino identity first, rather than exposing them to international cultures without having that crucial reference point. I know when I see my daughter singing her favorite Filipino song, or when my son respectfully speaks in Filipino with the people he meets, that there is so much beauty in our Filipino language.

Marcus playing with a local boy in Baguio he just met that trip.

In many ways, keeping the strength of the Filipino language is one of the ways I say thank you to a country, which has taken our family in and provided us with the life we have today. It is a country that has personally shown me so much care, from the school janitor, Mr. Mako, when I was in nursery, to my nanny, Manang Eyang, who has been like a mother to me.

About the writer: Maye Yao Co Say is a grateful wife to Vinson and a self-declared ‘fun’ mom to Meagan and Marcus. She is the chief operating officer of a local distribution company. Her lifelong passions are child education, literature, and making a difference.