Mother Tongueless

Last week I was browsing Reddit like I usually do in my free time, and wandered into /r/Philippines, a subreddit populated mostly by people who actually live there. There are some Pil-Ams representing though, and I found an interesting topic someone posted. A Pilipino husband and wife grew up with the Philippines and were wondering how to tackle teaching Tagalog to their young children. Their seven year old has developed English skills, while their two year old is still in the formative stage, and they were wondering how best to go about it. My response, in a nutshell: TEACH THEM!

I was born and raised in the States. Many of my peers are surprised when they learn I don't speak or understand any language other than English – they just assume that because I'm so involved in the scene, I must know Filipino. Some people even go as far as to say that I'm not really Pilipino because I don't, which pretty much offends me to the point where I stop listening to them. Anyway, my parents faced the same crossroads that I'm sure many other immigrants have to make with their children – do we or do we not teach them the mother tongue?

Yes, there is a lot of colonial mentality going on behind this decision for Pilipino parents. But my parents' reasoning was a simple and common one that I hear – they didn't want me to get confused in school. I've even heard cases of the educators of multilingual students asking parents to stick to just English at home. Of course, when you look at kids in other countries who effortlessly speak more than one language, it's easy to be jealous when you only speak one.

What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. One language? American.

Of course it's not too late for me to learn, but it's a lot harder for me now than me as a baby. Learning happens much more rapidly at a young age, and I think I had a lot more free time when I was a few months old. The key, as many of my friends have pointed out, is immersion. Unfortunately, I don't have the time to move to the Philippines or enough co-workers who speak it to really get into it. I guess I could watch Pilipino shows and movies, but that takes time too. And I've tried Rosetta Stone, but that's just as time consuming.

Do I have the mental capacity to learn it? Sure. Do I have the desire? I think so. But do I have the time? Sadly, I don't think so. Not now. But if you think that makes me less of a Pilipino, I think I do enough to more than make up for that small deficiency.