Can you speak a 2nd language? How about learning 3 or 4, or maybe 6 languages? Not so easy. Especially as one ages, the learning process slows down. Many westerners that locate to the Philippines choose either to learn to speak, or not learn to speak a dialect or language of the Philippines. When one is confronted with learning a language here, it can be easy or way more complicated than it should be. Here is why: The ‘base’ language in the Philippines is Tagalog and is spoken by around 25% of the population of the Philippines and as a second language by most of the rest. While it is the first language of the region that includes Bulacan and Metro Manila, it’s standardized form is the official first national language. Termed Pilipino, in 1973 the constitution declared the Pilipino language to be co-official, along with English, and mandated the development of the national language to be known as Filipino. In addition to the national or 1st language, there are many regional languages or dialects that are spoken and, depending on classification, number between 120 and 175 dialects.
Many Filipinos can be fluent in several dialects and some folks can understand many more. While I am able to understand the gist of a conversation in Tagalog, I get completely lost when the conversation switches to another dialect. I can sit and listen to my asawa converse with friends and the conversation will include Tagalog, Wary-Wary, English, and whatever. I tease her with the idea that she does this to “keep” me in the dark! Of course this is not the case, but it is a common aspect of many the Filipino conversation. Some days I will hear her talking with a family member and the conversation will be in Tagalog. I’ve asked her before why not speak your native dialect of Waray-Waray and she responded “because!” Just Because? Many times when a word in one dialect might escape someone’s vocabulary, they will quickly substitute a word in another dialect or English. If you have ever listened to any lengthy discussion between Filipinos, you already know that English can be strewn about within the conversation.
.Over the years, I have asked my asawa to help me learn to speak Tagalog and just last week she was saying something to me and she completely lost me. I asked her “is that Tagalog?” and she said “no, it’s Waray.” And sometimes when you ask someone for the Tagalog version of a word, they will repeat it back to you in English. As it happens, there may not be an exact matching word in Tagalog so they borrow the English word and they will say that’s it! Some days I just shake my head and think if I just surrender and give myself up, things would be much easier!
Because we will be living in the province of Samar, my asawa has suggested that I should learn to speak Waray-Waray, the local dialect there, but I stand by my argument that it would be easier to just focus on one language…the national language…the one that most Filipino’s speak. My thought is this; what good does it do to learn speak a local dialect when I know most peoples understand the national language? Being proficient in Waray-Waray will do me absolutely no good when I visit Iloilo in the Western Visayas or travel to Palawan, or Luzon. Me, I will stick to the national language because if I can get by with just one language, why muddy the waters? I mean really…how many ways do you need to say “San Miguel Please!”
I heard of an expat once that implemented a household rule that when in a certain room of the house, a certain language should be spoken. For example, English in the living room, Waray-Waray in the kitchen, and Tagalog on the patio. As a matter of fact, and officially, there are four languages in the Philippines that have NO known speakers. I think I’ll pick one of those dialects as the official language for my man cave and that way I can be certain no one will ever come into my room asking for anything!
Want to learn Tagalog? There are many places to go online and this one is as good as any place to start. Matuto (to learn) here.