What’s So Wrong About That?

In the Philippines, students are often given different messages about which language to speak in this multilingual country.

I’ve been a Filipino since the moment I was born. It says so on my birth certificate. I then went on to grow up in a household where the absence of a rice cooker is as unimaginable as the absence of the huge stash of Dove and Irish Spring products in the bathroom. We kill cockroaches with our slippers, and I eagerly waited for May Bukas Pa and Wansapanataym to air on ABS-CBN every few nights when they were still showing. Naturally, my first language is Tagalog.

When I entered kindergarten, I was thoroughly confused by my peers and my teachers. Why was that the case? Well, many of my classmates spoke to me in a language I knew quite little about: English. All of my teachers spoke to me in said language. Only the foreign language teachers were an exception. I had to stick to English or else my teachers corrected me. Eventually, I learned it, and got used to it. Young minds are malleable that way. Speaking English was part of the culture in the school that I went to, and it was alright.

Note: There is a whole debate about the righteousness of teaching our students in school in English, since we are not English citizens, Americans, Canadians, or Australians, whose first language is English. However, that discussion is for another time.

However, when I was in high school (the same institution), I encountered a brand new dilemma. At the time, my basic knowledge of everything from Mathematics to Science was all entrenched in my mind in English. However, every few weeks or months or so, a teacher or a speaker at school would tell us that we must be proud of our country and our language, and we must abstain from speaking English as much as possible (or any other variation of the sentiment). Abstain from English? Are you serious?

Side note: Is it possible to be proud of your country and to speak English at the same time? How can one express patriotism? Is patriotism something we should place such a premium on?

When I was five years old, I was told to stick to English. When I was fifteen years old, I was told to stick to Filipino.

I can ignore these slight contradictions when people tell me which language to speak. I figured that as long as my ideas and my words are true, and I do not hurt others with said words, that must be alright. Then, I discovered that this kind of problem extends far beyond the walls of my own school.

A few months ago, I visited a nearby institution with a vastly different culture from mine. Instead of urging their students in secondary school to speak in Filipino, like in my school, they urged them to speak in English. The signs reminding students to speak English were very evident, as they were placed above corridors and in the stairways. To be honest, seeing these signs was quite comical. It was such a stark contrast to the perpetual reminders statements like “Be proud of your country! Speak Filipino! You are not a real Filipino if you do not speak Filipino!”

Throughout the country, I suppose that this is possible in some other schools too. The situation might be different whether you’re in a public school, or private school, or even an international private school. I cannot ascertain that this tug-of-war between English and Filipino is the norm in many communities, but that does not mean that there is a slight problem in how we approach language, and the sometimes conflicting messages, that we send to today’s youth.

When I speak English, what’s so wrong about that? When the kids from other schools speak Filipino, what’s so wrong about that?

I am grateful to be able to go to school and learn new languages, of course. I am forever grateful for the chance to study the world and all of its other mysteries. However, I think that schools also play an integral part in any child’s development and sense of identity. Diversity in language and forms of communication is a good thing, as well, of course. However, we must determine the line between diversity and colonial mentality, and determine what kind of society and future we want to have. Do we want the children shaping our future to mostly speak Filipino, or English, or both? Do we prioritize the rise of globalization and the advantage of learning English, or should we shape our youth in order to prioritize their own country, and to speak Filipino, first?

At the end of the day, I believe that it would be best for everyone involved for us to move on from this war of languages and focus instead on what the youth have to say, instead of focusing on the language they choose to express their thoughts, beliefs, and ideas with. The choice is ours.

Thank you for reading! I hope that you learned something new today. Or, even better, I hope you asked about something new today. Make sure to tell me about your thoughts in the comments down below! Let’s start a much-needed conversation in today’s ever-changing world. Adieu.