How to Appreciate Your Primary Language


Alright, there’s a lot to unpack here now that I’m thinking about it, so let’s get in right to it. Today I’ll be talking about how travelling made me appreciate my primary language. In this article, I’ll talk about Tagalog but my logic, explanations, stories, and insights are probably applicable to your own respective primary tongue/languages. Enjoy!

Alright, Let’s Deconstruct One by One

What is “Primary”?

A couple of clarifications and disclaimers here. I was born in the Philippines and we’ve migrated and are happily living in Canada (so that’s Tagalog language and English/French). The beautiful life of being an immigrant is that it creates beautiful, never-before-existed life stories for you: “which language then are you considering as primary?”. Is the “primary” ness of a language based on where you were born with? competency/fluency? current residence? It’s so intriguing right! I can go deep with these but I’ll simplify it for now since as I’ve said, we have lot to unpack: what your “primary” language is wholy dependent on you; which you pick, which criteria you’re using, etc.

In my head, (I’d like to believe that) my primaries are both Tagalog and English (been speaking this since <10, yup), and my secondary, more like my + 0.7 language is french.

“Appreciate? Why, did you hate your language?”

Nope, not at all. This is another one that’s quite hard to explain unless you’ve lived a similar life than mine (or you have great empathy/outside perspectives skills). I spoke Tagalog natively and fluently for obvious reasons, but I also spoke English at an early age? Why? some were practical, some were circumstancial. We had numerous relatives in the US even before so for me to communicate with my relatives, especially cousins, I had to speak English (no logical/practical reason for them to speak Tagalog, right?). Another is that we were drenched with western media to begin with (I grew up with Barney and Power Ranger folks). There’s also the history with US anyways πŸ˜‚

This is also worth mentioning but before, we actually would prefer western media over local shows. This’ll sound harsh a bit but I’m rolling up to explain everything later in this article ok? Local shows tend to pander on dramas, hardships, someone always crying (and awards are given to the person who cries the best), poverty, etc. Nothing wrong with it but as how my dad would say it: “Why watch it? If you’re into that sort of shit, just go outside and live life” πŸ˜‚. to which I whole-heartedly agree. Compare that to western media talking about success, goal setting, achieving, being the best of yourself, etc.

So anyways going back, I love both! When it comes to the choice of what you want to speak, it’s entirely all up to you. When I was a kid, I liked trying to speak in english, public speaking, etc. Why? I guess for me it’s just like discovering something new. It’s like asking me: “do you like having skulls?” , “well, it’s given, and we all have it, so it’s not really preferential. It’s not like there’s advantages/disadvantages to having one. We will all have it so arguing is pointless lol. It’s just there: blah. Nothing fun”. Then present me with a basketball and I’ll be like “omg this is so much fun!”. Did I make sense. The basketball offered me a new experience while having fun and learning something new. I can then relate and play with my peers but with languages…ooooomg, it opens WORLDS.

When we came to Canada, we spoke more English (also, for obvious reasons). We definitely still spoke Tagalog at home because you get into those situations where you’ve been speaking to your family for years in Tagalog, then you’re just going to change it? It’s weird (at least for us lol).

Outside the home, english of course is default and since Canada is diverse, I would meet Filipinos as well. This I was very cautious with. Every time I hear opening sentences like:

“Pssst, Pilipino ka ba?”

Putangina na lang. it’s a fucking red flag πŸ˜‚ Sorry that sounded harsh. I’d still talk to you but I’m just taking it with a grain of salt. Why? Because based on prior experiences, either you’re gonna try to sell something to me, or get me to fork out money on a fake cause. The other is that, some people mean well. And some people are normal about it. I just don’t like it when–and these people exist–they want to only speak in Tagalog.

This is a big red flag to me. First, it’s exclusionary. We’re in Canada, we’re diverse. So if there are 3 of us in a group and 2 of us Filipino, you’re intentionally and needlessly excluding the other person. I ain’t about that. I fucking hate that. This also applies to any language. I hate doing that.

Second, there’s a mental/cognitive thing happening here too. Sometimes some people just really want to stay in their bubble. So imagine that, they’ve forked out a ton of money, went abroad, only to reject all the cool things being offered. I get it, maybe you’re an introvert, maybe you’re shy, maybe you’re working on your people skills. That’s fine, and kudos to you! But if you really don’t want to speak anything else AT ALL, that’s fucked up. That’s when you see news like some elder walking around town harassing someone because they (the entire country) does not speak his/her language. Fuck that.

There’s also the cultural aspect too where if you just want to speak Tagalog, sometimes you also just want the Filipino culture, good and bad. And fuck man, we’re not all about that. That’s why we left loool. Go back. Just think of the local tv show story I had above. I was going to elaborate but I just realized nothing good’s gonna come out of that lel.

“Hmm, maybe this is why some people think I’m a hater πŸ˜‚ “ . It’s about to get better don’t worry. So I just explained my red flags but at this point, I’d like to clarify that I don’t inherently hate the language, nor think anything bad about it. I don’t think negatively on it. I don’t actually think that one language is better than the other (more to that later). It’s really just the people who gave me bad experiences and made me realize things. I speak Tagalog at home. I speak it too with friends and peers where I know they would prefer speaking Tagalog when possible (only if all of us are Filipinos), etc.

Fast Forward to Current Time

So, it’s 2020. I’ve been travelling since 2012 (and I still will in the future πŸ˜‰ ). It’s been a good ride so far. Here are my realizations, my perspectives, and how I view languages in general.

Functionally “Speaking” (ha)

Language is like…cutlery (so spoon, fork, knives…)

You have cutlery. I can use(speak) cutlery. You can go on and on about how you like forks. It doesn’t really make a difference to the people around you. As you grow older and experience new culinary experiences, you’ll discover that there are also spoons. Even with those that you know, there are subsets within those. There are dessert spoon, seafood forks, bread knives, etc. As you even go out more, you’ll realize that there are chopsticks, the chonky soup spoon, and in some cultures, you just eat things with your hand!

So again, you can go on and on with whichever one specifically you like, and it won’t affect other people. You’ll realize that sure maybe you like forks but functionally speaking you’d want to use spoon for soups. It’s stupid to use forks.

You may have started with just having only a fork, but it’s useful, functional, and even fun to know the others!

Rolling Up to “How I Appreciated Tagalog More”

I wanted to data visualize this with graphs but I was lazy. But here’s my attempt in trying to explain “How I appreciated Tagalog more”:

How you think I rank languagesWhat you think I meanWhat I actually mean
(if I even ever rank it)
English: 10
French: 10
Tagalog: 0
English: 9
French: 9
Tagalog: 10
English: 8
French: 7
Tagalog: 6

I’m not about to say “Fuck yea, tagalog the best!” if that’s what you’re waiting for. No.

Here’s my experience while travelling (and omg thank god for travelling). Every time I travel, I enjoy meeting new people, eating new food, and attempting to speak their language, even just small phrases or responses. As I travel, you just hear more and more (actually even just staying in Canada lol).

Here’s the weird thing that I caught myself doing: I genuinely subscribe to the idea all languages are beautiful. They have their own quirks, advantages, and disadvantages. Apart from those, different languages have different characters (both in terms of how to speak the language, but also the cultures tied to them). Here’s the messed up part, I found myself subconsciously exempting Tagalog. I like critical thinking and always challenge thoughts, concepts, people, even myself. What do I mean? It’s like this if I tabularize it:

English: <some-number>
French: <some-number>
Tagalog: N/A

Again, I have nothing against Tagalog, it’s just that I’m not counting it or including it in any comparison because I was born with it. Going back to my example of “do you like having skulls?”, it’s such a given question that I’ve learned to just not ask it.

The effect is that Tagalog usually gets skipped in critical conversations. So when I talk about my travels and I talk about languages and experiences, it gets ignored when I have such wonderful experiences with it!

I always say things like: “French is beautiful, German’s useful, <insert-language> is <insert-adjective> , etc” but I never catch myself talking about Tagalog in either good or bad terms to non-Filipino people. So then this also translates to missed stories because here you have me, a person who speaks 2.5 maybe 3 language, and I’m only talking about 2 of them right?

While growing up and maturing I also made it a point to not ‘weaponize’ the language. You may experience this in your own languages too. Wherein sometimes the language is used to “other” people. Think of:

  • some people with the posh British accent (Received Pronunciation) thinking less of the other UK regional accents or
  • some parts of America making fun of the south or
  • some (France) french-speakers thinking less of French in Quebec, Swiss, Belgian, etc.
  • or in Philippines, equating Tagalog as the lesser language or language of the masses

It’s not to point fingers don’t worry. We’re all guilty of this. I would like to believe that I don’t do this, but I know I’m not perfect so I’m pretty sure I’ve been guilty of this in the past so either way, it’s a constant effort of dispelling it out of my body when I get the chance, ever since.

The Final Test of Resolve

Recently I was invited to do a segment (is that what you call it?) in Filipino TV. They invited me to do an interview of my experience travelling. It was so fun! Before coming in though, this entire article I’m writing was on my mind. The question of: “do I use English or Tagalog in this show?”. Of course it’s a Tagalog show so most likely they prefer Tagalog. I just wanted to double check because maybe it’s a cultural show/channel, but it’s more outward-facing (like tourism) so you want to invite other cultures to experience it (so english).

But luckily my buddy there explicitly told us that Tagalog is encouraged for…well for obvious reasons. I was totally fine with it and I was excited to! I think this would’ve been my first “broadcast” level type of conversation where I spoke Tagalog! Fun! I was just cautious of myself where, “will I revert back to english?” (since it’s my default and I rarely use Tagalog for any form of broadcasting). Is that going to project the wrong image? Is it going to look like I’m a conyo? Fuck I don’t want that. I am not like that. So it was a funny situation where before I was cautious of slipping Tagalog in my english sentences, here it’s the opposite πŸ˜‚ .

I did the interview and I think I can gladly say that I spoke Tagalog maybe 80-90% of the time! wooo! Success!

This was important to me because I wanted to speak in Tagalog in broad form because this was me challenging myself. “Am I going to eat the shit I’m selling and walk the talk?” or am I a fraud? Am I going to be weird about it? If so, one has to critically think, why are you feeling weird about it? Should you be weird about it, right?

Wrap Up

I’m happy to report that I’ve come out right on the other end. This outlook in language, specifically Tagalog, is an ongoing upkeep though. One can change perspectives any time. I open that since that normally comes with critical thinking. I just have to make sure I’m on the (morally) right side.

I have been doing this the past years too where I’m actively trying not to skip Tagalog. It’s like when I started travelling. When I did, everywhere else BUT Canada was interesting. Why? Nothing bad against Canada, it’s just that it’s ‘your own backyard’ so you’re used to it. What’s the negative effect? Every time I travel, I learn about new things from new people in different countries but when it’s time to describe Canada, it was hard to get past poutine and maple-anything right? What ends up happening is that you’re not doing justice to Canadian tourism and people now think that Canada is just meh lol.

I knew there was nothing wrong with Canada and we’re sure as hell one (of the many) beautiful countries and people in the world, I just had this weird outward-facing perspective.

After a string of travel, I was looking out the backseat of a car while driving by Eglinton in Sauga and I thought to myself: “I know Canada is beautiful. I just can’t see it with the same wonder because I’m from here. I’m not a tourist”. Since then, I made an active effort to see Canada through a tourist’s perspective and I loved it even more. That’s when I also learned and embraced snowboarding πŸ˜‰

It’s the exact same logic, explanation, and perspective about my outlook for the Tagalog language.

Be happy, go travel, learn new things, learn languages, love your own (language, culture, identity, etc).

Just don’t go full extremist, isolationist, nationalistic, or terrorist lol. That’s bad.