A parenting trend in the Philippines that has become more prevalent in recent years is speaking exclusively in English to one’s children.
We hear this often in malls, parks, and other public places. In my own circle, I know several cousins and friends who subscribe to this approach. With one cousin in Cebu, it has gotten to the point that their daughter, even now at 9 years old, could barely understand Cebuano.
As a proud Bisdak, I find this movement dismaying. Coconuts has an interesting piece on this trend — it seems this English-only practice has now become the norm in upper-class families, and is spreading among middle-class families as well. According to the article, well-to-do kids in Metro Manila these days have such a poor grasp of Filipino that their parents actually send them to Tagalog tutorial centers.
This definitely wasn’t a thing when I was a kid in the 80s — even the rich students in my elementary school were Bisdaks through and through. While I understand parents’ desire for their children to be fluent in English, the world’s lingua franca, I firmly believe it is equally important, if not more so, for kids to be proficient in the language(s) of their community.
I grew up knowing three languages — my native language Cebuano at home, and our national languages English and Filipino in school. Naturally, I want our toddler to be trilingual too.
As my husband and I will homeschool our child, it falls squarely on our shoulders to teach these languages. Our strategy, which we started in earnest when our child was around nine months old, is to introduce all three languages at once. This is called multilingual first language acquisition (MFLA) or simultaneous multilingualism. A popular MFLA approach is One Person One Language (OPOL), where one person exclusively speaks one language to the child, another speaks only the second, etc.
OPOL sounds too rigid in practice, so we’re taking a slightly different approach, which is:
- I speak Cebuano and English to our child
- My husband speaks Tagalog (his mother tongue) and English to our child
- My husband and I speak Taglish to each other, as his command of Cebuano is middling at best
In addition to regular conversation, we utilize many learning tools such as books, music, videos, and toys. Most educational materials available for preschoolers are in English, but we make it a point to also read books, listen to songs, and watch videos in Filipino. There is a glaring lack of material (practically nil) in Cebuano, but I’m not too worried, as Cebuano is the language of the community.
For Filipino board books, we get them from Adarna House and Pumplepie Books & Happiness. Some of these children’s books come with English translations, but we don’t buy these bilingual editions, as we want each book to focus on just one language only. I read the English books to our child, while my husband reads the Filipino ones.
For Filipino nursery rhymes and videos, there are a lot on YouTube. Admittedly, they aren’t as sophisticated as the English ones (I remember watching one video of Sampung Mga Daliri where the rudimentary cartoon character points to his ears instead of his eyes during the “dalawang mata” line). A promising new Filipino YouTube channel for toddlers is Flexy Bear — its recordings and animation, while far from Cocomelon-level, are so much better than those of other local content creators.
Only time will tell if our approach is a success. So far, our child can recognize many objects, including numbers, in all three languages, even though she may not be able to utter all of them. I will write an update in a couple of years, when our child turns five years old.