Even before traveling to the USA, we started teaching and talking to our 1-year old son in English. We thought that doing so will help him adjust more easily to life in America. So by the time he was two, he can converse well in English, but he could also understand Tagalog.
We totally underestimated his ability to pick up languages and his capacity to adjust to life in the USA.
When he turned three, we thought of enrolling him to a Pre-K at the school of the church we go to. He didn’t need to go to school every day. Instead, we opted for the twice-a-week schedule for him. It was a great chance for him to socialize with other kids and give my wife some time off by herself. He also had a view of what it is like to go to school. Preschool in the USA is very different from preschool in the Philippines. It is less structured, there’s more time for play. But that’s an entirely different post altogether.
Because of his exposure to other kids, most of them Americans, he started picking up more English words. He also picked up the accent. He still has a little bit of the Filipino English accent, but he sounds more American and Southern now.
When we noticed that, my wife and I made a decision to use Tagalog at home more frequently so he doesn’t lose his grasp of it. Here are a few things that we are doing to teach Tagalog language to our son. I don’t expect to teach him Ilokano soon. Maybe when he is a little bit older.
Buy and read Filipino children’s books.
Before moving to the USA, we bought several children’s books from the Philippines–a lot of them had Filipino and English texts. So when he grows up a bit more, he will be able to read both texts and understand Filipino better.
It is also a good thing that we instilled in him the habit of reading books early on. Before taking a nap in the afternoon or sleeping at night, we would read a book or two. His bedtime routine is not complete without reading a book.
Speak Filipino at home.
This can be harder than it seems. We have become used to talking to our son in English so sometimes we talk to him in English almost automatically. So we needed to remind ourselves to use Tagalog more frequently. The thing is, even if we talk to him in Tagalog, he would usually answer in English. Then, we would teach him how to answer in Filipino. It is funny how twisted his tongue gets sometimes.
One time, we told him the Tagalog words for spoon and fork. He could easily pronounce “Tinidor” (fork), but for spoon, he said “Curacha” instead of “Kutsara.” We burst out laughing and he laughed with us, too, thankfully.
Subscribe to TFC or other Filipino channels.
One of the best things that came out of our subscription to the Filipino Channel (TFC) is a show featuring kids: Your Face Sounds Familiar Kids Edition. He loved watching the kids impersonate older singers and entertainers. He also learned a lot of Tagalog words because of that.
When I wrote this post, my wife was still watching “La Luna Sangre,” the telenovela about werewolves and vampires. Our son also hears and understands Tagalog words.
Sing Filipino songs at home.
This is something that we should do more of. My wife taught him some Tagalog songs for kids such as “Ako ay May Lobo…” It’s fun to see him struggle, but successfully pronounce the words. He mixes them up sometimes. When he sings the last few words of the song, he says “sa pagkain sana, nabusog ako na…” it should have been “nabusog pa ako.” His pronunciation, too, has become Americanized. Hopefully, as he grows up and he hears us talking in Tagalog, he’ll learn more words and he will be able to pronounce the words the way we usually do.
Image credit: Patricia Feaster via Flickr.