Raising Bilingual Children

Posted on

I have been struggling to raise my children to speak Tagalog.  I accept my role in teaching them Tagalog, and accept responsibility for not being consistent.  At times, I find it easier to talk to them in English because it seems less complicated.

I have discovered that despite conveying the same meaning, English sentences use less syllables than Tagalog sentences.  Because of this, I am more partial to using English because my message is just delivered faster, and I get a quicker response.

Doing a chore:

Umakyat ka at kunin mo ang maduming damit.  (14 syllables)

Go upstairs and get your dirty laundry. (10 syllables)

Asking about the temperature:

Mainit o malamig  ( 7 syllables)

Hot or cold (3 syllables)

Talking about school:

Anong ginawa mo sa eskwela? (10 syllables)

What did you do in school? (6 syllables)

Both my children understand Tagalog.  It is a stretch to say that they can express themselves in Tagalog, although they know enough nouns and verbs to be able to eavesdrop in Tagalog conversations.

Researchers say that second language acquisition starts at birth, but I am from the school of thought that it is never too late to start.  I will just have to be more mindful of using Tagalog when I am with them.

My plan this summer is to make my children proficient in Tagalog.  As I always say, “Everything is a skill;  if you do it long enough, you will get better at it.”

Here is my 5-step plan.  I created this plan with the basic knowledge of how infants learn how to talk.  Immersing the children in the language you want them to learn is the basic premise for plan.

  1. Read Tagalog Books –Some bilingual books use what I call, Shakespearean Tagalog, or words that are very poetic.  Great prose, but not necessarily used in daily conversation.  Books like these, I would paraphrase using common Tagalog vocabulary.
  2. Play Games–This will help increase vocabulary words.  Games like Bring Me, I Spy, even Memory Game with pictures labeled in Tagalog would be fun, challenging, and entertaining.
  3. Listen to Music–I used to teach in a school that taught Mandarin.  When the lao sher (Chinese teacher) came for class, I would stay at the back of the room and catch up on writing notes to parents.  Fifteen years later, I can still sing the songs in Chinese, and I wasn’t even paying attention.  Because of the melody, the words are remembered longer.
  4. Have a playgroup or someone to converse with–A toddler who is just learning to talk may say, ball, to mean, “Get the ball”.  The adult will be able to help the child express himself better by repeating the word, adding an adjective to the noun, and doing the action. The conversation may sound like this: Child: ball Adult: The blue ball (while getting).  You want the blue ball? (while giving the child the ball)  A regular conversation like this, will teach the child sentence construction, syntax, as well as, more vocabulary words.
  5. Visiting the Philippines–Being in a country where everyone speaks the language is the best way to learn the language, customs, and culture.


Walking the side street of Lipa City



A photo taken by my daughter of Boracay Beach


About Teacher Tina

I have been a teacher for more than 15 years in the Philippines and the United States. Teaching is a vocation that I am grateful to have embraced. It certainly prepared me for motherhood.

15 responses »

  1. manny leston

    May I suggest that if they speak to you in English simply say I do not understand you in English at home only in Tagalog and that you and Chino only speak to each other in Tagalog in front of them.

    • Thanks, Manny. Unfortunately, I am the big part of the problem. I have to re-wire my brain and have the patience to to speak to them in Tagalog–CONSISTENTLY. I tried explaining to them about taxes and public school district, I gave up using Tagalog. I am planning a boot camp this summer. I’ll keep you posted.

  2. Hi, Tina! I am also a teacher and I’ve been teaching ESL students for 10 years. Are you based in the US? If so, what state are you in? My son is three and I would also love for him to learn Filipino. I am a believer of each individual celebrating their own heritage language. Great blog.

    • Thanks for following the blog. With determination and persistence, we can be successful in teaching our children Tagalog. I am now based in California.

      You may find this webste useful—www.sentencecenter.com for your ESL students.

  3. Mylene Noche-Gallagher

    I can relate to your story, Teacher Tina. It is much more convenient and efficient to talk to the kids in English, specially after a long day at work, with homework and dinner to deal with. In my case, I feel that raising biracial kids makes Tagalog lessons at home even more challenging. I don’t like excluding my husband from my conversations with the kids so I translate what’s going on, which creates more work for me. Therefore, English is spoken at home (unless I’m mad…haha).

    It is hard work…it takes time, discipline and patience but I know it can be done. My cousin was 2 years old when she moved to CA. She now lives in Switzerland and has two girls who speak fluent Tagalog, English and French. I don’t think I or my kids will reach that point nor am I suggesting that you do the same. However, I want to let you know that YOU are doing a great job and your kids are very lucky to have you and your husband who are working together to provide them the love, time and patience to teach them about the Filipino culture. Keep it up!

    PS. Can my kids spend the summer with you? LOL!

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence. Raising bilingual AND biracial children has its own set of rules. You are right, keeping your husband who does not understand Tagalog in the loop is challenging. I’ll keep on blogging about this and hopefully, you’ll find something that would work in your household.

  4. i remember nung dumating kami dito, 5 years old pa lang si michael ko. that was 1998. Ayoko talaga mawala ang tagalog niya kaya sa bahay, tagalog ko siya kausapin. syempre tagalog din siya magsalita. i was reading to him fables and short stories in tagalog (subtitle in english) na binili ko non sa tatak pilipino sa serramonte. then i make him read it to me too. i remember him saying “mommy, bakit ang daming “a” and vowels sa tagalog?” 🙂

    we listen to the music of eraserheads, rivermaya, parokya ni edgar, and apo. years went by, i hear him speak fewer and fewer tagalog words, but it was very evident he still understands.

    umuwi kami sa pinas after 7 years. to my surprise and to the surprise of his cousins, titos, titas, lolo and lolas, he spoke to them in tagalog very fluently. i was very, very happy.

    • I can only hope that when my children get to be Michael’s age, they are able to communicate as fluently as he can in Tagalog. Job well done, mom!

      • I agree. It is never too late to start.
        My two sons though having different order of preferences, speak French, English and Arabic with almost equal ease and proficiency. I speak to them only in English, their father speaks to them only in Arabic, and they go a French school. Even if they speak to us in French, I always respond in English and my husband in Arabic. In this way, they learned to associate English with me, Arabic with the father, and school and academics with the French language.
        And when they were able to coherently write their thoughts, i encouraged them to write their journals in the three language. In the beginning, reading materials in these languages were also read alternately.
        Although their Japanese is slowly getting left behind, and may not be able to sit down in the same classroom of their Japanese friends of the same age, I am more than happy that my eldest has the equivalent level of a grade four Japanese elementary student, and my second, a grade two Japanese primary student. This include reading and writing Chinese characters. And of course they are able to function in Japanese comfortably.
        Of course I take the blame for their inability to speak Tagalog as fluently as I wanted them to be. Parokya ni Edgar and the eraserheads are much better teachers than I am. This does diminish their respect and appreciation of their Filipino roots. They call me nanay, their grandmothers and grand fathers lola and , and they address each other kuya and ading (the Ilocano term for a younger sibling). They are very familiar with the sound of the Tagalog language and they are always quick to call my attention whenever they hear Tagalog in shops, restaurants and airports.
        My daughter will start going to school in September. I hope my husband and I can still keep the same effort and discipline as we did with our boys.
        Raising our children in multi language environment was a conscious decision and a constant effort. On the other hand, out of luck and necessity to function effectively in various contexts, the kids were exposed to different languages from birth.
        With this, my husband and I hope to raise children who take pride in their roots while appreciating the society that hosts them. But obviously, I still need to work hard on their Tagalog (and Ilocano ) 🙂

  5. Major syntax error. I meant, despite my children’s inability to speak Tagalog fluently, this does not diminish their respect and appreciation of the filipino culture and values. They are actually constantly exposed to the various realities, both positive and negative of the Philippine society.

  6. You inspire me! Here I am struggling with two languages, and your kids can do 4! There is definitely no excuse for me.

    I don’t think you have anything to worry about with your daughter learning the languages. In fact it might even be easier for her. She’s got extra teachers–her two older brothers. You just have to make sure that the older ones don’t falter and make it easy on her.

    You are one exceptional mom!

  7. Teacher Tina – please connect me with Ime. I foresee needing advice when my little one grows up as I intend to have my child learn English, Filipino and Serbian (dad’s language). Thanks


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: