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May 10, 2006

My Tagalog Is Only Good for Eavesdropping

I was at the pharmacy the other day to pick up some stuff for Benbo. I came up to the register and there was a little Filipino lady there. I smiled at her and she smiled back. She must have had pretty good Filipino radar because she immediately started talking to me in Tagalog. [Tagalog is the national language of the Philippines] It took me a minute to realize what she was doing, then another couple seconds to figure out what she said. "Is this your first baby?" is what she had asked me. I looked over at Benjamin chilling out in his carseat which we put in the cart, and replied, "Yes, he's our first," in English.

Unlike most other children of immigrant families, most Filipinos that I know don't know a lot of their parent's language. Maybe enough to understand it, but rarely can they speak it well enough to have a good conversation. This is probably because English is so widely spoken in the Philippines (I don't remember American shows being dubbed in Tagalog when I was there). So I grew up not knowing how to speak my parent's language, but knowing enough to understand it. Most of the practice I had was watching Filipino movies on video with my family. My parents didn't even speak to us in the national language - they spoke to us in their local dialect, which was very different from Tagalog (the Philippines has many different dialects). Right now I'd say my understanding of Tagalog is good enough for me to eavesdrop on my aunts and uncles when they're talking to each other and they don't think that I can understand them.

But I don't remember the last time that someone outside of a grandaunt had tried to engage me in conversation using Tagalog.

So this salesclerk was speaking to me, asking me how old my baby was, what his name was, etc, and I had such a hard time trying to understand her, but I was doing my best. I replied back in English, and I don't think she got it that I was hardly getting anything of what she was saying. I felt so ashamed that I didn't know more Tagalog, she was so excited to talk to a customer that understood her native language.

I need to find some learn-at-home videos or something!

Posted by Yano at May 10, 2006 10:34 AM


This Tagalog audio CD course is pretty cool. I have it on my iPod for my train commutes hehe!

Posted by: Mike on May 10, 2006 12:08 PM

wow, that's so cool - I didn't realize you could understand Tagalog!

Posted by: noelle on May 10, 2006 12:58 PM

Just do what I do...Imitate your parents. It seems to work for me. Oh Ano? Fake whatever accent you can and you're golden.
Try and have a conversation with Mike in tagalog. That'll be fun!

Posted by: DMac on May 10, 2006 01:04 PM

A dated a filipina a looong time ago in high school, and of course only learned the really nice things ("mahal kita","maguhnda ka") and the very dirty things ("pek pek") (you can delete that if you want, hehe). Probably not very useful if I ever visited the Phillipines...

Posted by: Karl on May 10, 2006 04:03 PM

My daughter's best friend is Peruvian--well, her Mom is. She claims she doesn't speak Spanish and yet when she goes to Peru or Spain or if relatives visit, she manages just fine. She almost can't tell that she speaks quite well. It is interesting.

Posted by: janet on May 10, 2006 04:15 PM

I can relate, except multiply your situation by 2. I can understand both tagalog and farsi if people aren't speaking too fast, but I can't speak either to save my life.

Posted by: rosh on May 10, 2006 06:27 PM

i got stopped by a Filipina, too, when i was coming out of the apartment complex office... she was getting a tour of the complex... and she asked me if i was Filipino ("Pilipino, ka ba?") and of course, i said yes. then she spoke to me in Tagalog, and i felt so bad when all i could do was reply back to her in English. she wanted to hear if i didn't like the place, but i couldn't say anything like that when the leasing agent was standing right there! of course, the Filipina lady asked me twice. i wasn't going to change my answer.

Posted by: daysies on May 10, 2006 06:53 PM

Whenever I visit my mom, I watch a lot of TFC (The Filipino Channel) with her. They speak a lot of Taglish (tagalog-english) on those variety shows and it helps a lot to understand it. =)

Posted by: Val on May 11, 2006 11:03 AM

Filipinos are really unique in that "half-duplex" bilingualism. So weird! I'm like you -- I know just enough Tagalog to easvesdrop and to get myself in trouble >:)

Posted by: Michi on May 11, 2006 06:45 PM

When i used to be an EMT, i dreaded the convalescent home nurses because they were all filipina. Every single one of them gave me crap for not speaking tagalog and blamed me for being "too ashamed" to speak it. Meanwhile, our patient had to wait for them to get over it, before we could transport to the ER. I don't miss that job at all. Mom's wanted me to be able to speak "perfect english" and not have any trouble in school. My comprehension capabilities limit me to knowing when they're talking crap about me. :(

Posted by: Nino on May 11, 2006 11:21 PM

I came to the states when I was 12 and still fluent in tagalog eventhough my parents spoke to me in Taglish. I know it is weird but I speak perfect tagalog now without any accent at all. Galeng!!!!

Posted by: Arnold on May 13, 2006 09:28 PM

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