Language of the Heart

By Ruth Manimtim-Floresca

Recently, a newspaper article posted online caught the attention of many Filipinos and caused a lot of debates in cyberspace. The writer talked about preferring the English language because, according to him, “while Filipino may be the language of identity, it is the language of the streets. It might have the capacity to be the language of learning, but it is not the language of the learned.”

How sad that this person, who happened to be a Filipino, could belittle his own country’s mother tongue! Yes, it can’t be denied that we should know how to speak, read, and write in English because it serves its purpose when it comes to having a good education and better employment. But to point out that learning Filipino is only important because it is practical; that it is simply what you need to use when you are “forced” to relate to the tinderas, the manongs, and the katulongs of this world, is highly insulting.

I am not against children learning one or more languages. Learning other languages can have its advantages. In fact, since we now live in multicultural societies and are also citizens of the world, we need to be able to communicate with people from various geographical locations. Nevertheless, it is important for Filipinos to develop literacy in our mother tongue as well as take pride in the culture of the country we call home.

In my opinion, learning new languages should be viewed as a means to become more aware and respectful of other people’s beliefs, customs, and culture; not as a reason to turn one’s back to where one has come from. Parents thus need to encourage their kids to keep and improve literacy in our mother tongue while teaching them to respect other cultures too.

Here are some ways parents can promote Filipino literacy in their children:

  • Even if you want your children to be fluent in English, don’t ban the use of Filipino in your home. For instance, avoid requiring house helpers to only speak to your children in English especially if the helpers are not well-versed in the foreign language in the first place.
  • Spend time every day helping your child read and write in Filipino. I usually hear a lot of parents complain that their kids always get low grades in subjects that use the mother tongue. Why not do something more concrete about it?
  • Expose your kids to high quality Filipino movies, TV shows, and children’s books written in Filipino. People who say there are no good Filipino films or shows apparently haven’t seen a Cinemalaya film or watched excellent documentary series like i-Witness or Storyline. Buy children’s books written by Filipino authors. Many of these come with both English and Tagalog versions in the same volume.
  • Share stories of your childhood including traditions and customs you grew up with. Encourage children to ask questions and find out more interesting things to talk with you about.
  • Have kids spend time with their grandparents for more stories. Periodically bring them to your family’s province and meet distant relatives. Visit historical sites around the country so they could learn our country’s origins first hand.
  • Teach children old songs from different regions. Bring them to concerts (e.g. Ang Bagong Harana) and theater plays (e.g. Noli Me Tangere or Rizal X) with Filipino themes. Do not discourage them from listening to OPM music with Filipino lyrics because we have so many talented artists who write beautiful words and melodies.

Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”  Our native language connects us with our society’s culture and shapes our identity. It is one of the best instruments that preserve who we are as Filipinos. May we never forget that.