When I was a kid, it was not difficult to learn Filipino. I was using the language at home. My mom and dad talked in Filipino aside from English and their native Bol-anon. My playmates and I used Filipino as we played patintero, agawan base, and other Pinoy games. That was in the 80s though.
Urban raised kids in Metro Manila have had a different experience growing up, and a different orientation about our national language. Most children in the metro who study in private schools today are not usually raised with Filipino as their mother tongue. They did not have the home and community environment kids in the 70s and 80s used to have.
Their parents had grown up in a time where English proficiency was a priority for many reasons. For one thing, you had to know English so you could have a competitive edge in school and career. In fact, a friend recalled that her grade school in her home province required the students to talk in English as long as they were in the school premises. If a classmate caught her speaking in Filipino or the provincial dialect, she had to pay up (it was 25 centavos, which went to the class money jar).
So it's not so surprising why many students today are struggling with their Filipino subject. I have asked three grade school Filipino teachers -- Janine Abalos, Anne Felias and Marigene Gallarin -- from three different Metro Manila private schools about their experience with kids today and their parents.
“I am competing with a lot of things to be able to address the need for these kids to learn the Filipino language," Teacher Anne says. "With various television shows and materials that mainly use English as a means to communicate, children’s exposure to Filipino as a language is limited.”
“Ang talagang magaling at nakabibilib ay kung matatas ang bata sa parehong wika - Ingles at Filipino.”
Teacher Janine further adds in Filipino another important observation: “Sa aking palagay, ilang magulang sa panahon ngayon (na lumaking magaling sa paggamit ng wikang Filipino) ang pinipiling makipag-usap sa kanilang mga anak sa wikang Ingles dahil sa pag-iisip na ang pagsasalita ng Ingles ay mas 'magaling' o 'nakakabilib.'
"Posible ring ayaw ng mga ganitong magulang na mapag-iwanan ang kanilang anak sa Ingles lalo na pagdating ng panahon na papasok na ang kanilang anak sa paaralan. Kaya sa murang edad pa lamang, Ingles na ang natutuhan ng bata. Ngunit hindi ito totoo. Ang talagang magaling at nakabibilib ay kung matatas ang bata sa parehong wika - Ingles at Filipino.”
Teacher Marigene, the more seasoned teacher among the three and a nonpurist, adds a more realistic viewpoint about the use of Filipino in our culture. She observes that our daily conversations are not purely spoken in Filipino. We only do so if we are Filipino teachers or are asked to speak in straight Filipino in our public speaking engagements or other similar situations.
Teacher Marigene prefers to help kids comprehend and express themselves in Filipino using borrowed words rather than have them dislike the language for the difficulties they encounter. While she does not promote the use of Taglish in her classroom, she believes that Filipino can be learned encouragingly. How do these three teachers do it?
1. They set up an enjoyable Filipino class. Teacher Janine says, “Sinisikap ko munang magkaroon ang bata ng positibong pananaw tungkol sa wikang Filipino. Ginagawa ko ito sa pamamagitan ng mga kapana-panabik at kawili-wiling mga kuwento at gawain. Kumbaga, hindi nila namamalayan na natututo na pala sila ng Filipino. Naniniwala akong ang batang may magandang pagtanggap sa wikang Filipino ay bukas na matuto upang mas maging mahusay pa sa wikang ito.”
Teacher Marigene adds that there should be comprehension and appreciation of Filipino literature and Pinoy media. Letting them see and enjoy the beauty and relevance of the language is so important to provide them context and motivation to learn.
Teacher Anne's favorite classroom activity is to hold a "cooking show" where a lot of her students get to ask and learn unfamiliar Filipino words.
2. They use tools like books and games to develop communication skills. Teacher Marigene says kids in her class listen, speak, read, and write in Filipino. She entices the children with stories, a movie clip, a song, a poem, and even a television commercial.
Teacher Anne who teaches younger kids loves to use songs and games in class where they take active part in the learning process. The use of actions in a game of Charades for instance helps unlock words in Filipino.
3. They introduce unfamiliar Filipino words to widen the children's vocabulary. In Teacher Janine’s words, “Ang pagpapaunlad ng kanilang talasalitaan ay mabisang paraan upang mahikayat silang gamitin ang wikang ito. Magagawa ito sa pamamagitan ng araw-araw na pagsasalita ng Filipino at paggabay sa mga bata lalo na sa mga salitang hindi pamilyar sa kanila. Dapat natin silang bigyan ng konteksto upang mas maunawaan nila ang ilang salita sa ating wika. Sa ganitong paraan, nagkakaroon sila ng bilib at tiwala sa kanilang kakayahan at naiisip nilang, 'Kaya ko!'"
Teacher Anne echoes the same thought. She allows for translation as needed when kids cannot find words to express themselves. She coaches them by making them repeat the newly learned Filipino words.
It is important for kids to have parents who not only model the love for Filipino as a language but who are also fluent in its use at home. Here is a collection of various tips from all three teachers:
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Achieve a good balance between the use of Filipino and English at home.
Talk to kids in Filipino i.e. giving simple instructions (“Kunin mo yung baso sa mesa.”)
Do not leave kids with gadgets as these do not promote socialization which is crucial to language development.
Include prominent cultural places in the country in their travels as a family.
Kids usually learn Filipino through their drivers and yayas. Help them practice by making it a point to converse with them in Filipino during the day too like during dinner or over breakfast.
Read Filipino stories to the kids but use stories that they can understand.
Have Filipino speaking time at home for around one to two hours every day and have everyone in the household cooperate in doing so.
Use available apps for interactive storytelling in Filipino.
It is possible for kids who did not grow up singing “Bahay Kubo” or enjoy a game of “Pitik Bulag” not only learn Filipino but come to love it well. English may be a universal language that can do more in helping them learn in this multicultural world. But proficiency in Filipino should be seen as an important means of instilling Filipino values, and it is vital in the cultural identity of children. The Filipino language keeps our kids grounded to their roots, and can help make a connection among their fellow Filipinos across social classes.
The child whom we can truly admire is one who can speak ever more fluently in both. Let the value we give them in making kids learn Filipino be at par with the value we give in making kids learn English.
Previously the chairperson of the Department of Child Development and Education at the College of Education in Miriam College, Therese Pelias continues to teach in the same department and is currently the project coordinator of the Growth, Upgrading and Resource Office.