Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A Language Pinoys Should Be Proud Of

In the Philippines, because of our colonial mentality, Tagalog-based Filipino is usually considered as the language of the masses while English is the language of the educated and the rich. Hence, it is fashionable to use English even if it sometimes alienates the poor. In some middle-class families, children are trained to speak in English and the help are tasked to do the same when talking to the kids so as to maintain the proper English-speaking environment. Kids, of course, hear their parents speak to the help in Tagalog or notice that the help fumble at English so these children get this idea that Tagalog is inferior to English. Though I believe Filipinos should excel in English since learning any language is a big plus, Tagalog should not be perceived as inferior.
It is a big slap to my face when I hear Filipino kids having a hard time speaking in Tagalog or preferring to use English because English has become sort of their first language at home. I feel insulted when this happens because it makes me feel that being a Filipino is shameful. What's the problem with Tagalog? I know some parents want to give their kids a headstart by training them to speak in English at a young age, but what's the problem with kids being able to use both English and Filipino?
I am not against English per se. I believe Filipinos who know and use English well have an edge over those who are not so good at this language. And knowing any second or third or fourth language is beneficial for that matter. It doesn't mean, though, that using Filipino automatically makes someone stupid. Of course, the general misconception is a Filipino who can't speak in English is naturally dumb. This is so far from the truth.
A lot of Filipinos do not know the edge they have over those who do not know anything about their native language. There is a big advantage of knowing a language that is neither an international one nor something deemed worthy of much notice. What could it be? Well, it is being able to talk about delicate issues or people in a place where Tagalog is not used at all.
When I was in Hong Kong, a place where Filipinos are looked down upon, I was able to use Tagalog to vent out my disgust with the natives right then and there without resorting to whispers or a delayed outburst of anger out of earshot. Together with my companions, I lambasted some of the haughty natives in Tagalog. We talked in Tagalog of how rude one HK salesman was right in front of him. We also mocked in Tagalog those who gave us a bad look. I was so glad then that we could talk in a language they didn't understand so we could hit back with relish.
I was able to use Tagalog whenever I was in a pickle abroad. I used it to warn, receive warnings, ridicule, complain and react. In West Sweden, my fellow Filipinos and I were able to laugh at our culture shock when we talked about the lack of "tabo" and the use of very rough toilet paper in the presence of our hosts. In Amsterdam, my companions and I talked about other nationalities in the area without feeling rude. In the US, I was able to advise my mom on how to behave so she wouldn't make a fool of herself among strangers. In Switzerland, I was warned by my sibling about the do's and don'ts in the middle of a crowded bus, on a train, in a restaurant, and almost everywhere. I was also able to make unflattering comments about foreigners near me like their smelly armpits or their bad behavior towards Asians. In other words, I was able to use Tagalog to ease some of my negative experiences since I was able to talk about them right then and there to my companions.
Yeah, yeah, I know it sounds so petty, but coming from a Third World nation (that predominantly exports domestic helpers, caregivers, mail-order brides and entertainers) has made me defensive of my country's image abroad. Being able to criticize back in Tagalog when I am in their turf can be very empowering. The fact that you can put obnoxious foreigners down or complain about them without them knowing it is so liberating. At least, I am not that powerless and the feeling that I can hit back, albeit in Tagalog, diminishes my animosity towards condescending foreigners.
When I was in Dubai Airport, I got exposed to people from all over the world. Each nationality spoke his/her own language but almost everyone understood English. I realized then that English does help me communicate with foreigners but native speakers of the English language have lost the privacy of their conversations. Almost everyone nowadays will be able to understand the content of their conversations. This is another edge Filipinos have over English speakers. We can eavesdrop on them whether they like it or not. This is another form of empowerment.
I am glad I can use both English and Filipino. I am not glad, though, that Tagalog-based Filipino is still perceived as inferior by Filipinos themselves. We Filipinos should ask ourselves why foreigners trample on us. Could it be they intuitively know that we are ashamed of our culture? Language is part of our culture. English is the second language in the Philippines, not the first. Sadly, as long as we put down our national language, we will never regain our dignity as a people. We will always remain second-class citizens in our own country. Let us not wonder why we are always in a rut and can't move forward. Sometimes, I get this feeling that we deserve it!


Anonymous said...

Koreo ito magaling na magaling!
Just pretending to know Tagalog hihi;-). But I mean it.

Anonymous said...

I met a Pinay here in Switzerland who told me that she used Tagalog only to speak to the family maids (she migrated to Australia with her parents and siblings at age 14). She was proud to tell me that her family speaks English and even Spanish. When asked in our French class here what her nationality was, she said she was "Australian." Funny, I was not able to establish any rapport with her although she was a compatriot just because she preferred mingling with our Swiss classmates in Swiss German. Sad, huh?

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I find this a little sad. Many times I hear people tell me about how they feel Filipinos are very rude by speaking in a language they cannot understand when they are there. And whenever a Filipino speaks to me in a language besides English while someone who is nearby cannot understand, I tell them to speak in English.

It is very rude. Many Filipinos have trouble understanding this.

Opinionated Pinay said...

It is only rude if you have a guest or a friend who cannot understand English. But picture this. If you are talking to a fellow Filipino in your native tongue, what is wrong with that? To heck with those around you who cannot understand you. They are strangers anyway. I mean, I always hear the Japanese talk in Japanese to fellow Japanese. The Koreans, Germans, Chinese, Americans, Thai, etc. do the same thing. And they are not seen as rude (only Filipinos are rude?). It is not our fault that English is widely known so we can understand English speakers. That is their curse, in a way. We, Filipinos, are too accommodating. Why should everyone understand what we are talking about in our native tongue? When I was in Dubai airport, I heard several languages spoken at once. Being rude is one thing, but being too accommodating to people who have no business listening to our conversations is another thing. We should know the difference.