Like almost everyone in the Philippines, I can speak both Filipino/Tagalog (my native language) and English. But because I grew up in Manila, most people don’t know that I can also speak another Philippine language called Cebuano, which is spoken in Central Philippines. So, this makes me trilingual.
Many of my monolingual friends assume that knowing three languages means that I am equally proficient and comfortable in all of them. That’s not really the case since each language comes with its own challenges. These discussions with my friends made me ponder on which language I’m actually most comfortable with and my struggles in using them.
This is my first language and I grew up speaking it. We also have a Filipino subject in school, so that means I also learned it formally and studied the grammar rules, literature, and other fancy language stuff. Because of my exposure to the language, I can say that I’m most comfortable speaking in Tagalog. But despite that, I still encounter a number of difficulties with this language.
First off, it’s difficult for me to speak in Tagalog without code-switching. Code-switching is very common in the Philippines because there are some English words that are shorter, less awkward, and easier to pronounce than their Tagalog counterparts. Since I grew up speaking this way, it’s very difficult for me to speak in pure Tagalog without code-switching.
Second, I can read Tagalog just fine most of the time. I can read normal texts, signs, lyrics, comics, and messages. But reading Filipino literature is very difficult for me. Sure, I understand [most of] the complex words and sentence structures in many Filipino novels or poems when presented bit by bit, but it takes me a long time to actually comprehend the whole body of a given verse or paragraph. This is why I never read any piece of literature translated into Filipino even if it’s readily available. If I want to read something, I always choose the English version.
And since I find it difficult to read Filipino literature, it’s even harder for me to comprehend academic material written in Tagalog. Heck, even class lectures conducted in Tagalog leave me clueless. Just imagine my happiness when I transferred to a new school in high school… and all the teachers were teaching in straight English! #relief XD
I think this next one has a connection with the previous points: I can write and compose pieces (such as this one!) in English just fine, but I cannot do this in Tagalog. If you asked me to write a blog entry in Tagalog, it would take me forever. I don’t know why, but my writing sounds more “natural” in English, whereas in Tagalog it seems like I’m trying too hard to make it look and sound good.
So, I’m most comfortable speaking in Tagalog, but don’t expect me to do other stuff such as writing compositions and reading complicated material.
Unlike Tagalog, which I acquired naturally, I learned English through many years of studying. In many Filipino schools, English is the medium of instruction, so you’re actually forced to learn it even if you start off in school knowing absolutely nothing. Since I spent such a long time learning English, I can say that I’m very comfortable in speaking, reading, and writing English! In fact, I prefer attending classes conducted in English and reading English materials. English newspapers, books, academic journals, magazines, you name it. I prefer them over Tagalog ones because I read faster in English and I find written English easier to understand than written Tagalog. I can also express myself better when writing in English. I think it’s because I’m more exposed to English writing and literature.
As for speaking, of course I’m going to have a weird accent since I’m not a native speaker, and sometimes I stutter, but overall I can express myself quite well in English. I can speak straight English without needing to code-switch.
But hey, noticed how I didn’t include listening in the list of stuff I’m comfortable with? Well…
It actually depends on the accent!
Filipino schools teach American English, so I’m most familiar with the [standard] American accent. But then again, it also depends on the region! When I travelled to the US, I found that I had a hard time understanding the accent at the Southern parts (hello, Georgia and Alabama!). Other accents I have trouble with are Australian and New Zealand accents.
My parents both speak Cebuano. While I was growing up though, my parents never really spoke to me in Cebuano because we lived in Manila, a Tagalog-speaking community. There was no need for me to learn it. But at home, we had maids from the province whose first language was Cebuano, so my parents talked to them in this language. So, I didn’t really acquire Cebuano through active use, but more through passive listening. As a child, I could understand Cebuano conversations perfectly, and I had no problem reading common signs, texts, messages, comics, and lyrics in this language as well.
Speaking it, though, is another thing!
If I were to evaluate myself, I would say that my Cebuano is conversational, but if a native speaker were to talk to me in Cebuano, they would know that I didn’t grow up speaking it. I’ve got the grammar down, but my accent is very soft, very Tagalog, for a language with such strong emphasis on its syllables. Sometimes, I also take a while to find the right words in Cebuano because there are times when I think in Tagalog and then translate my thoughts to Cebuano.
There are also some funny quirks that I’ve noticed with my Cebuano abilities:
First, I can read Bisaya but I can’t write and spell to save my life. Seriously. I don’t even know the spelling rules in Bisaya, such as when to put a dash in a word and all those things. Sometimes I wonder if my cousins think that I’m not interested in them because I don’t text them at all, but it’s not that! It’s just that I can’t spell! XD
This might be the weirdest of them all: I can understand Bisaya when it’s being spoken, but I don’t understand it AT ALL when it’s being sung. I don’t know why! Even if the singer is enunciating well and putting the accents in the right places when singing, I just couldn’t piece all the words together and figure out the meaning. But when I read the lyrics along with the song, that’s the only time it all makes sense XD
As you can see, I still have areas for improvement in all three languages, even if I already spent most of my life speaking and learning them! Now I wonder if my Chinese proficiency would even reach these levels… Haha!
Do you speak another language? Are you equally proficient in all the languages you know?