Tagalog is my first language. English is my second. I learned Bisaya when I taught for a year in Cagayan de Oro, and Spanish from the required 12 units in the University. Except for a few phrases and some random words in Spanish and Bisaya that I can mutter if someone jars my memory, the only languages that I can truly express myself fluently in is Tagalog and English.
When my children were younger and were just learning how to talk, I made a conscious effort to talk to them in Tagalog. Not Taglish but straight Tagalog.
“Huwag kang malikot at baka mahulog ka.”(Stop fidgeting or you might fall.) I would tell them when they would not sit still.
Right before going to bed, I would say, “Magpalit ka na ng pantulog at kunin mo na ang librong gusto mong basahin ko.” (Change to your pajamas and get the book you want me to read.)
In fact, their first words were: Opo (yes, ma’am/sir), Gusto ko pa! (I want more!), baba (go down), gatas (milk), tinapay (bread), and mamaya (later), just to name a few. I was a stay-at-home mom then and our home was our world.
Fast forward 3 years, the children are now in school and I am back to teaching. Our world has expanded. My 7-year old son fully comprehends what I say in Tagalog but can only respond in English. My 5-year old daughter, I just recently discovered, does not even understand half of what I say. She relies heavily on visual and context cues to respond to my Tagalog commands.
I know what went wrong: I became lazy and failed to encourage them to respond to me in Tagalog. I have not been remiss in exposing them to Tagalog books though. They love reading bilingual books published by Adarna House and Tahanan Books, just as much as children’s books from Random House and Puffin Books. My mom sent them books from Manila all the time.
When I taught in a school in Cagayan de Oro, I was forced to learn the dialect very quickly because I was teaching young children who only spoke Bisaya. As soon as I was back in Manila after a year, I lost the ability to speak it. I had no one to talk to. I know from experience that expressive language can be quickly learned, and just as easily, forgotten if not used.
I realize now that I need to act fast if my children are to be fluent Tagalog speakers.