7 Tips on Raising Bilingual-Filipino Speaking Children: Even If You Don’t Speak the Language
I often hear Filipino-Americans apologizing that they don’t speak the language. What strikes me more is the sound of dismay in their voices, expressing further that if they had the choice they would’ve submerged themselves in the language, they now struggle so much with it.
But, I guess if you knew how to change your own diaper by 12 months old, pay for your own preschool at 5 and drive yourself to school at 12 years old, that maybe you would’ve made that choice ( I know, I’m being sarcastic here).
But, you didn’t.
Quite frankly, that choice was a reflection of what your parents thought was best for you.
To be accepted by your friends and doing what others do so that you won’t have to sit at the lunch cafeteria table alone.
Or that, it was a symbol that your family has uprooted themselves from the poverty they knew back home. Whatever the reason may be, it was something that made sense to your folks at that time although it may make zero sense to you now.
The Power to Connect to What’s Said in Silence
As a parent, I had made the choice to encourage my children to be bilingual. I can talk all day about studies on how it benefits the brain, its function, how it’s said to be a protective factor in slowing down the process of dementia and other Alzheimer’s disease. I can also talk about the benefits of scolding your children in public without the fear that someone eavesdropping will call Child Protective Services on you. I don’t need a survey to tell you which benefit among the two, I lavishly enjoy more. Take a guess 😊.
From my vantage point in observing my children speak Filipino fluently, I find that speaking another language gives them not only the advantage to talk and understand what has been said in that native language but equally important is it lends power to connect to what’s not being said.
The tone and the demeanor also vary depending on the language used. Check out this FREE list of ideas: 20 Filipino Phrases to Teach Your Child
I remember when one of my twins was learning to remove her socks and I automatically came to her rescue , she sharply stated in English, “leave it alone, mommy!” I gave her an alternate Filipino version to convey the same thing, “ako na lang po, mommy.” For those of you who at least understand the language, this seem day and night in tone even sounding affectionate without changing the content of the message. Certainly, an English alternative, “ I can do it myself, mommy,” works, too.
Understanding/speaking another language also teaches that interpreting everything verbatim in the Universal lingo is not always feasible or that a joke ain’t funny anymore after the 2nd attempt to convey the punchline in English.
The insight of being bi-lingual goes beyond learning a second language. It bridges cultures and help develop the finesse to swim in two worlds.
1. HANG-OUT WHERE THEY HANG-OUT.
Bring your kiddos to the Filipino grocery stores, we have Seafood City in our area and allow them to explore with their senses. The sight, the sound, the scent instantly lends a nostalgic feeling. Simply, seeing people that looks more like them and the bonus of hearing the language spoken, normalizes weird-sounding words to their learning brains.
You can also bring your children to Fiestas (festivals) and parades, Filipino Bookstores, restaurants, even senior housing apartments, many of which houses a number of our Filipino lolas and lolos (grandparents). Keep researching and add these venues to your list. Make it a Field Trip Day with your little ones, once a month is a good start.
2. USE 1-2 NEW WORDS AT A TIME.
It’s not easy to find books for non-Filipino speaking parents. I have a bunch of bilingual books at home, but my kids are young, and I find the books to be text-heavy.
So, instead, try this:
Choose 1-2 words for the week to incorporate in your everyday English lingo. These days, everything can be web searched (thanks, google!) so use it to your advantage.
For example, if you’re two words are medyas (socks) and sapatos (shoes), print out a photo of each concept to introduce to your children and then practice using them. Instead of saying, “Take off your socks and shoes and put them away in the closet,” you will simply replace the words socks and shoes to their Filipino counterpart. So, it will sound like this, “Take off your medyas and sapatos and put them away in the closet.” Encourage your children to substitute these words in their conversations as well. So, your child will be encouraged to say, “ Dad, I need pair of medyas,” or “ Where did my sapatos go?” Sounds weird in the beginning but I assure you it’s worth the try plus it promotes bonding to learn with your kids.
3. USE TAG-LISH (TAGALOG ENGLISH) APPROACH IN THE BEGINNING.
Using Tag-lish gets a bad rap. But, aiming to teach your child to learn fragmented phrases and sentences they cannot use over and over gain for practice is counter intuitive.
For example, if you teach your child to ask, What’s your name in Filipino, ” Anong pangalan mo, your child can only use the sentence in one instance-when they are asking someone their name. If you teach your child to say name-pangalan and incorporating it in everyday English conversations, they will remember the word better. In turn, your child can say a few things using the new word-
What’s your pangalan?
My pangalan is Isabel.
What’s my teacher’s pangalan again?
My pangalan is my grandma’s middle name.
As your child learns a new word, you can certainly move to phrases and then to the whole sentence, in this example, Anong pangalan mo? The key is that your new word should be functional to your child right away. To learn more easy Tagalog Phrases to teach your child, check out our free 20 Filipino Phrases to Teach Your Child list.
4. USE SONGS & RHYMES FOR EASY RETENTION.
Your kids don’t have to be in preschool for you to be able to use this technique. This works with adults, too, that’s why that commercial jingle made you choose that fast food chain for dinner over the fancy, healthier restaurant around the corner.
If you’re learning the different body parts in Filipino, you can try using the “ Hokey Pokey” tune to reinforce the words you’re learning. For example, “ Put your kamay (hands) in, put your kamay out, put your kamay in and shake it all around. We do the Hokey Pokey and we turn ourselves and that’s what it’s all about” …and so forth. I’ve used this with my children and in my classes and I know it works both for the young and young at hearts. Let your creative juices flow here.
5. FOCUS ON SPEAKING NOT ON READING. To speak and read in a 2nd or 3rd language is the ultimate fantasy but teaching to read especially if you are a non-Filipino speaking parent is a tall order in the early stage of your teaching.
When you’re teaching a new word, say, kamiseta (shirt), simply print a picture and the word KAMISETA underneath. Some parents might point out the word kamiseta with their fingers while they are introducing this new word. Don’t worry about this part yet, simply focus on teaching the child (and you 😊) that this picture is a kamiseta. I also wouldn’t recommend writing the English version under the Filipino word (you can write it on the back for your own use) so that the eyes won’t have to travel to that added distraction. So, I will simply say the word and move on to the next photo.
Learning should be fun and not forced. You don’t need any expensive craft materials to accomplish this. I usually just head to my local dollar store and move on.
Let’s say your teaching your child how to count from 1-10 in Filipino. You can simply write down the number on a cube/dice. Let them roll the dice and asks them what number they landed on by responding in Filipino. So before you began this game, you can do one of these: hide plastic eggs around your house, blow up balloons, or hide a number of their stuff toys. So, if your child landed on the number 6, you simply ask your child to tell you that number in Filipino. Your child with or without your help will respond, ” anim!” You then tell your child to either find anim na eggs or pop anim na balloons.”
You can be really creative here. The point is, the more fun the activity, the more they retain the new Filipino word(s) you’re teaching.
7. CONNECT WITH YOUR BILINGUAL FRIENDS/FAMILY.
Hanging out with loved ones who know the language shows your child the benefits of speaking the language without you having to shove down the reason(s) why, down their throats. Forcing our children to speak another language reaps the opposite effect, they become allergic to speaking the language. Stay natural and open in this process. Also, as mentioned in #1, it normalizes speaking it as sounding like you are from planet mars. Have you noticed kids who were bilingual quickly lost there 2nd language upon entering school? It’s because we all have a deep need to belong, to be in the “in-group.” Choose positive role models for your kids who are bilingual and somewhat “cool” in their eyes. It would be easier for them to follow suit.
I hope this was hopeful. Again, I wrote this with you in mind. If you haven’t SUBSCRIBE, please give us some Pinoy/Pinay love by clicking here.
These writings are heart-crafted by me and if you can share it with others, I will be most grateful.
Sa uulitin (until then),
P.S. don’t forget to grab your Free 20 Filipino Phrases to Teach Your Child Today.
Roanne has been a Psychotherapist for more than 12 years. She has frequented at least 400 Filipino homes and counting. She is the author of the Ebook: 5 Pinoy Love Languages and the creator of the presentation entitled: Filipino Core Values & Considerations in Culturally Responsive Care.
Roanne has been a Psychotherapist for more than 15 years. She has frequented at least 500 Filipino homes and counting. She is the author of the Ebook: 5 Pinoy Love Languages and the creator of the presentation entitled: Filipino Core Values & Considerations in Culturally Responsive Care. To access self-paced courses and other resources, enter the Kalamansi Juice Academy.
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