Since most subjects in school are taught in English and the Philippines have become increasingly globally competitive, more and more parents are choosing English as their child’s first language (L1). But isn’t it more appropriate to teach the mother tongue first before learning the lingua franca?
For Daisy Jane Cunanan-Calado, Filipino language advocate and center director of ReadPlusPh, it doesn’t matter which language children learn first. The elephant in the room that needs to be addressed is how to give equal footing to our national language. How can we promote Filipino and emphasize its value beyond a mere school requirement?
First, we must remember the significance of advocating what is ours. “Learning your national language gives you a unique sense of identity. It can be considered as an initial step to establishing nationalism or one’s love for the country,” Daisy explains.
According to Daisy, it is acceptable to teach kids a different language, say English or Mandarin, Cebuano or Kapampangan, as their L1. The important thing is, parents should focus on that one language initially. L1 must be thoroughly established with a child for them to absorb and comprehend other things clearly in the long run, which includes other languages they will study and learn in the future.
You then gauge if your child is ready to learn two languages at the same time, at which point, you guide them to speak formally or in the proper way. Daisy recommends extreme code-switching like letting kids speak sentences in straight Tagalog or plain English. She highly discourages Taglish or mixing words from two languages in a sentence because it is counterproductive for young learners to become fluent in both languages.
Daisy adds that assigning people to communicate strictly with the child in one language, for instance, the mother for Bicolano, the father for English, the guardian for Filipino, could help a child master code-switching and avoid confusion on language structures.
After teaching the region’s mother tongue, Daisy also sees nothing wrong with prioritizing English over Filipino, which modern parents are currently doing. Then again, she points out that we must not give less value to Filipino, because whether we like it or not, parents, as well as children, have the responsibility to learn the national language of our home country.
As a child’s first teacher, parents should note that teaching kids Filipino should be experiential, functional, conversational, and not too academic or grammar-based. “They [parents] should develop a fond experience in learning and using our language, so they [kids] would find it interesting,” the Reading subjects educator, Daisy, advises.
The sad reality, however, is that we don’t have enough reading materials and productions showcasing our culture, nursery rhymes, and children’s literature. “There are some curriculum and publishing houses that attempt to immerse our children in learning our national language, but still, it’s limited in engaging in Filipino literature. Then, sometimes, it’s not accessible. Oftentimes, it is only meant for lower levels,” Daisy says.
“And, it’s even sadder that Filipino subjects were no longer required in College. What does it say about us? It just shows we lack so much love for our language,” Daisy voices out her grievances. “It’s actually a slap in the face that some foreigners are more eager to learn Filipino than we do.”
“According to my Russian sister-in-law, who tries very hard to speak our language, Filipino sounds very nice to the ear. It’s very sweet and melodic,” she continues. “I really hope that Filipinos would have the same appreciation because most of us would think it’s difficult to learn since words have too many syllables, and some are too deep or archaic. But those things are what set us apart from other countries.”
Daisy also points out that we should learn from our neighboring countries how they used their language to be known. “Take for example Koreans, they are studying English but they’re still passionate about learning their own national language. They were even able to make the world listen to their music and watch their soap operas without dubbing them in English,” she says.
In fact, even young Filipinos are so hooked on Korean entertainment to the extent that they want to learn Korean more than improving their knowledge in Filipino. If the parents of today won’t instill in their children the importance of our national language, it will continue to die.
The Filipino language advocate believes that it’s high time that we should free our children from the misconception that they have to learn our national language only to pass Filipino and Araling Panlipunan subjects. “It could be the missing link to our progress. Once we completely establish in our children, at a very young age, our identity as Filipino citizens, beginning from our language, we would develop their passion to make our nation great,” Daisy ends.