To speak or not to speak?

Met my sister by chance the other night. She said I got bigger; I said she got thinner.

We boarded the same jeepney that would take us to our homes in the city. It would take just 20 minutes, too short to catch up on each other’s lives.

Maybe not. Her baby daughter occupies much of her time these days. She’s gone bigger, too, and loves to smile. She’s thinking of speaking to her in English, so she would grow up fluent in it.

I felt my ears flapped, my eyes bulged, my blood simmered. Where’d you get that idea? I just had to ask.

From her officemates and sister-in-law, mothers like her. They said she would learn Tagalog in school anyway.

Whoa, so the world has gone topsy-turvy. In our days (not so long ago, mind you), we learned English in school, and spoke Bicol at home.

Turning to my sister, I said: So your daughter, my niece, would grow up with a blank face every time a Filipino like her converses with her in Tagalog?

My sister laughed.

So she would become like those children who look Filipino but cannot speak their language? Those children that you found maarte?

She laughed again and said she did think about that.

If you decide to do this, I said, I’m telling you now that I will speak to her in Tagalog whenever I’m with her. If I had my way, I would even prefer speaking to her in Bicol. That way, she would be multi-lingual like us.

I proceeded to tell her about studies that found children learn a second language best when they have mastered their first language to the point of critical thinking.

Besides, I said, our parents only spoke to us in Bicol when we were growing up. We learned English and Tagalog in school, and we speak both languages well. So, what’s the rush?

She just smiled, and agreed with what I said. It’s just that being able to speak English nowadays is an asset.

And she will learn that, I argued, because you will send her to a good school. You only want the best for her, after all.

She smiled again.

I do hope she followed my advice. I understand the preoccupation with English (just look at this blog) and the wealth of opportunities it brings, but I say, not at the expense of our native tongue.

I would be mightily disappointed if I have to ‘bleed’ to put into English a good ol’ Tagalog joke just to make my niece laugh. Language is, after all, for us to understand and communicate with each other first. What good would my niece’s grasp of English be if she cannot understand the Tumbang Preso instructions her Pinoy playmates are trying to tell her? And they sound so much better in Tagalog or Bicol, too.

Our parents never had my sister’s dilemma. They both cannot speak English; my mother finds Tagalog difficult. Beyond that, it was simply speaking Bicol because we were in Bicol. It would have been a funny concept to my father if his kids couldn’t speak the language of the land.

Thus, I entered school not knowing a single Tagalog or English word, and I did fine. I even picked up a few Chinese words along the way.

So, Sis, relax and tell my niece to stop eating her fingers…in Tagalog. Kita mo, sumunod agad.


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