On Filipino and Sibika

This year, both kids have Filipino and Sibika (Social Studies) subjects  in school. That’s a solid 2 hour exposure to Filipino language.  My 4 year old (yes, she turned 4 last Sunday) is learning to read and write the Filipino alphabet and is doing a wonderful job.  My 5 year old first grader initially has problems with both subjects, complaining that it is difficult so I hired a tutor.  Six weeks into school, he is starting to relax, complaining less and is reading really well in both subjects. I decided he doesn’t need a tutor anymore and I will be the one to teach him.   Then I realized something … he is becoming more bilingual! He switches conversation easily in English and Filipino, depending on who is talking to. The same goes with my girl. They can decipher who speaks what language. At  home, they only speak Filipino to the nannies, English to their Dad and both languages with me, although I always favor speaking Filipino. Lately, I am more careful about topics to discuss at home because they can now understand.  So when my sister and I want to talk important issues in front of them we switch to our native dialect, which is totally different from Filipino.  I can observe that they are also trying to listen well because they know that we are talking something important and we don’t want them to know.  I have a feeling that in time, they will catch up with that language, too 🙂

On the other hand, I met a Filipino mom in their school who complains that her child is having a hard time understanding Filipino and Sibika although he went to a local school since Nursery.  I found out that they speak English at home  (even the nannies) and the school has a strict “English only” policy.  So now he is being tutored in both subjects and has no interest in learning Filipino. I shared that my kids are monolingual when we arrive 6 months ago and now they are bilingual.  She doesn’t believe me until she started having conversation with E in Filipino.  She was stunned. I could not forget the look on her face 🙂 Later, I found out from other Moms that this is a common occurence here in the Philippines.  In their hope to make their children become fluent in English, some parents stop speaking Filipino at home and send them to an English speaking school.  Filipino then becomes a minority language because there’s no direct reinforcement from school and home where kids spent most of his time.  In my opinion, Filipino should be taught at home because the Philippine educational system uses English as a mode of instruction in all subjects, except Filipino and Sibika.  I know it’s a parent’s choice but I feel sad because Filipinos should learn their mother tongue first before they learn a second or a third language.

As Dr. Jose Rizal would say, “Ang hindi marunong magmahal sa sariling wika ay higit pa sa mabaho at malansang isda.” On my part, I hope that we can sustain this language immersion and that one day my children will be able to speak their mother tongue confidently …. and proudly!

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