Why its important to teach my daughter Tagalog.
Ever since I was pregnant with Isabelle, I made the decision to teach her Tagalog. As a young mother I read a lot of baby books, parenting books, anything that I could get my hands on during my pregnancy. They all say, that teaching a child a second language improves their critical thinking skills and cognitive abilities. So of course, as a first time mom, I only want the best for my baby.
During my hour long commute, I either listened to audio books or sang old Tagalog songs. Sharon Cuneta, Gary Valenciano, MYMP, were on my playlist, and of course the classic children’s songs. So you can say that Isabelle has heard "Bahay Kubo" and "Leron-leron sinta" since even before birth! I read in Magical Beginnings, Enchanted Lives by Deepak Chopra MD. the “unborn child becomes familiar with his mother's voice long before he emerges from the womb. A baby learns to associate sounds in the womb with sensations of comfort or discomfort. The emotional state of his mother is communicated to the fetus through the molecules that she secretes. If Mother is engaged in a loving, nurturing conversation or listening to enjoyable music, her brain triggers the release of chemicals that reflect her calm, comfortable condition.” I’m not surprised that Isabelle, now 2-- loves singing!
As a first generation Filipino-American, I came here when I was 11 years old and inside our household, we spoke Tagalog at first. I am the eldest of 4, the “Ate” (big sister) of the family-- so I had the responsibility to be a good example to the rest of my siblings. When we came here, we were fascinated by the American culture, we loved watching TV, playing video games, and before long, we were speaking English only between each other. However, when we were among relatives, and when my grandma came to live with us, I was obligated to speak Tagalog again. This is out of respect, and to be more “magalang” (respectful) to the elders. I think its common for Filipino-Americans face this struggle with cultural identity. On one hand you want to be as American as your peers, but when you're home and with your family, you are expected to maintain the characteristics of being Filipino.
I think what’s unique about being Filipino-American is being able to combine and identify with both cultures. And being bilingual and knowing Tagalog, gives you a greater intellectual flexibility. You can see the world through a different lens; and being able to speak Tagalog, you are able to have a deeper meaning of the culture.
There is a lot to gain in learning more than one language. Language is one of the most important bridge to the culture. It gives you a sense of belonging, identity and common ground. I can’t tell you how many times I got the “filipino discount” just because I spoke Tagalog. Or that I was immediately accepted to the group once they learned that I’m from the Philippines. I actually got my job through a Filipino colleague, who was kind enough to forward my resume to the partner of the firm. Even though he was Ilocano and I’m Batangueno, there was an immediate sense of family because we have the same origin.
Now that I’m a mom, and raising a 2nd generation Filipino-American, I want to cultivate a diverse cultural image for Isabelle. Starting with teaching her Tagalog, so that she can communicate and relate to her family in the Philippines. I think today it's even more important to teach our children cultural diversity and tolerance. For me, I have a stronger sense of identity to know where I came from, my history and my family origins. Now it's my responsibility to pass on the knowledge to my daughter.