How to spark your child's love for Filipino

By Jose Claro – What do you call a person who speaks two languages? A bilingual. How about someone who speaks three languages? Naturally, a trilingual. But what about someone who speaks only one language? An American.

The joke above is a famous one among linguistic students, obviously poking fun at the limitation of Americans as compared to most nationalities who are either bilingual or trilingual. Here in the Philippines though, I’m not sure if everybody would get the joke.

In fact, there is an unacknowledged crisis among our private schools nowadays, especially those that cater to the upper class. More and more, the youth have been trained not to speak in Filipino. A look at the report card would reveal that Filipino is one of the hardest subjects to get a high grade in. Next to Math, perhaps Filipino tutors are among the most sought-after teachers in those ubiquitous learning centers outside school.

The tragedy of being inept at one’s own language takes root at home. Parents, of course, have good intentions when they make sure their children become good English speakers when they grow up. Some take it overboard though. In certain homes, speaking in Filipino is a punishable act. Sadder still, the only exposure children have of Filipino is when they chance upon their yaya watching soap operas. Thus, they begin to have the notion that Filipino is only pambakya.

Fortunately, not all parents are like those. Filipino teachers at Xavier School were pleasantly surprised when they learned that many parents fathers and mothers were willing to volunteer for last month’s Buwan ng Wika activity. The grade school Filipino teachers, headed by Mrs. Ivy Enaje, did not fall into the trap of staging the usual cliché activities of the past. Being grade school teachers, they understood that the best way to promote Filipino was through letting the students listen to the magic of storytelling.

Jackpot. The simple activity was able to achieve a lot of valuable learning objectives. First, they were able to address the language crisis by showing their students that Filipino can sound beautiful, especially when they hear their parents using it. As the children were listening and imagining with their parents, they were able to appreciate as well the power of language and literature in their lives. Third, the activity provided quality time by allowing the parents to prove to their child how important they are to them by participating in school activities. Additionally, the Filipino teachers required their students to create a poster about one of the stories they heard from the volunteer parents to entice younger students to read Filipino folk tales in the library. It provided a wonderful conclusion to the activity by transforming them from passive to active users of Filipino.

If parent readers are still not convinced about the value of the activity, I think this excerpt from Ms. Patti Betita’s reflection should be enough to win you over. Ms. Betita was one of our parent volunteers in the storytelling activity, and she shares in Filipino how her child responded when she volunteered to tell the story of Ang Prinsipeng Duwag: “Tuwang-tuwa ako nang makita ko ang aking anak na nakaupo sa harap kasama ang mga kaklase niya. Bakas sa kanyang mukha ang kasiyahan nang makita niya ako. Naramdaman ko na ipinagmamalaki niya ako bilang ina kaya nasabi ko sa aking sarili na pagbubutihan ko ang pagkukwento.

“Nang umuwi na si Emilio sa bahay kinahapunan, tinanong ko siya kung natuwa siya na nagboluntaryo ako na magkwento, napakalaking ngiti at pag sang-ayon ang ibinigay niya sa akin, sabay yakap nang mahigpit at halik. Sabi raw ng kanyang mga kaklase, magaling daw magkwento ang nanay niya. Siyempre, tuwang-tuwa ako at sinabi ko sa kanya na gusto ko uling gawin ito sa susunod na taon.”

Language acquisition happens during the early years of a student’s life. A lot of researches nowadays have found out that the childhood years are the stage when students are most flexible to learn two or even more languages, as opposed to when they are older and already have a preference for a particular medium. It is, indeed, a big waste and disservice to our children if we limit them to just one language and estrange them from their culture and heritage. And there is no one as powerful an agent as parents who will be able to motivate their children to achieve what they are capable of. Learning our language cannot be done by exposing children to soap operas or Filipino comics. It is only achieved once they start listening to the beauty of the Filipino language as used in literature and as spoken by the most important people in their lives.

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