Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Paa, Tuhod, Balikat, Ulo*

"Feet/Toes, Knees, Shoulders, Head"

Diana and I have a morning ritual after her breakfast in which I name her body parts in both English and Tagalog [the predominant Pilipino dialect], from head to toe. There are times when I think the English language should be taken out to a cornfield and shot, like in the case of comb, bomb, tomb: the only thing that changed was the first letter, so why are there three different pronunciations?! But sometimes, English gets it right.

In Tagalog, nose is ilong (ee-LONG), eyes are mata [mah-TAH], mouth is bibig [bee-BIG], ears are tenga [teh-NGAH], and so on. Maybe it's just because my brain is slowly leaking out of my tenga these days, but it seems to me the one-syllable feature of English body parts makes it easier to digest and retain.

Even before I found out I was pregnant, I intended to speak to my children exclusively in Tagalog. Diana is the product of two distinct cultures, so I want to make sure she has an understanding of both languages. As with most things I had intended to do with my children, the daily reality is a little different from what I had imagined. Some days I struggle to remember even simple phrases like "Let's change out of our pajamas." Part of the issue is that there is no Tagalog equivalent for "pajamas", but most of the issue is that I don't have enough opportunities to practice my native tongue. In the Philippines, English is a required second language taught in school, and pretty much all business is conducted in English, so most Pilipinos speak Tagalog [or one of the other 70 Pilipino dialects] and English equally well. Even my parents find it easier to talk to me in Taglish, since it sometimes takes me 44 years to come up with the right Tagalog phrases. I fear Tagalog is going the way of Esperanto, and I'm helping to kill it.

Now that Diana is becoming more responsive and talkative, cooing and vocalizing, I'm also trying to decide whether or not it's worth it to teach her baby sign. On the one hand [Literally, because it's sign language! Thank you! I'll be here all week.], it's a language that she and I can learn together, and its proponents say that baby sign is a great way for both babies and parents to reduce frustration over understanding baby's needs. On the other hand, it's yet another language to learn and Diana will only have me to model the language for her. At least with Tagalog, I have my parents, plus story books and music CDs, to help me expose her to other instances of the language. One of her favorite lullabies is "Puno sa Gubat" ["Trees in the Forest"] by Joey Ayala.

I know this issue will heat up anew when Diana starts school in a few years. Because Canada is AWESOME, all three elementary schools in our neighborhood have language immersion programs. Our next-door neighbors had the choice to enroll their kindergartener in French, Ukrainian, or Chinese immersion. I'm sure it won't be long before I hear him call his little brother a stupidhead en fran├žais. If we move back to the U.S. before Diana starts school, we will most likely not have such a wide variety of choices. I definitely want to make sure she speaks at least one language other than English; the world is getting smaller every day and I think it could only help her to be able to communicate with as many people in the world as possible. So I hope my humble efforts to teach her a little bit of Tagalog will at least make her generally more receptive to learning other languages.

There is no one right answer, but I'm curious what other people's experiences have been with teaching their kids a language other than English, whether that's baby sign or Tagalog or Chinese or something else. What has worked for you?

*It's basically sung to the tune of "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" but with the order of body parts reversed.
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