When I got accepted into the University of the Philippines, I was obviously overjoyed. I was getting into a great school (the best), and I would learn from and be around the smartest minds in the country. After a while, I would realize a problem that I was soon to have: I have to speak Tagalog with people in UP – and unlike the majority of the Filipino population, or at least the Tagalog-speaking part of it, I find it quite a task to converse in Tagalog. “You’re going to UP? How are you going to talk to people?” a few friends and relatives jokingly asked me the summer before my first semester. Although they all said it jokingly, I knew I was going to have a real problem. Everyone who has talked to me knows I prefer speaking English over Tagalog (although contrary to popular belief, I can speak and understand it – but only to a certain extent of course). “Why,” almost everyone asks “Bakit hindi ka nagtatagalog?” Everyone stresses that it is important and essential to my being a Filipino citizen.Though my main reason for not speaking Tagalog is because I didn’t grow up speaking and practicing it, my reply now would be “Because it’s so ma-difficult” (that was a joke – I’m not that incompetent at Tagalog). Mahirap magtagalog at mayroong madaming dahilan – screw it – it’s difficult to speak Tagalog and there are several reasons why it remains quite a strenuous task to learn how to speak it properly – how was I ever going to finish that sentence in Tagalog.
Being in a position where I’m somewhat forced to learn to better my Tagalog conversation skills, I find several hindrances to this. The first difficulty would be not knowing when an English word has a Tagalog translation. To me, it seems that there’s too many words in Tagalog to learn if I’m only starting now, and people talking in Tag-lish kind of proves it. Even frequent Tagalog speakers insert English words into their own sentences. If my observations are correct, one example would be people preferring to say “Paki-on nga yung electric fan,” rather than say “Pakibukas nga yung bentilador” (as I typed that out, I was actually even confused if “turn on” translated to “bukas”). Even a simple English word like “dress” is more commonly used in the sentence “Susuot ako ng dress,” in place of its Tagalog counterpart “bistida”. The word “rainbow” is more commonly used than “bahaghari”. I have honestly never heard anyone say, “Pagtapos ng ulan, makakakita ka ng bahaghari.”
Let’s say I got past learning how to write, read and understand these numerous deep Tagalog words – I still have to learn how to pronounce them. Saying these words can get quite difficult and tongue twisting. Syllables repeat several times and the placing of the emphases can get confusing. “Bababa ba?” “Oo! Bababa!” A random string of repeated syllables can already form a short conversation, and the changes in emphases of syllables changes the words. The previous sentence wasn’t really a good of example of how difficult pronunciation can be, but think of the popular word “nakakapagpabagabag”. When a single word is enough to be a whole tongue-twister, I think that’s pretty sufficient proof that a language is pretty difficult to speak.
The last reason that I personally find quite a hindrance is the fact that people have been speaking Tagalog for majority of their lives seem to be very judgmental of those who do not speak Tagalog so well, especially in the UP environment. People are definitely more tolerant of those who are terrible at speaking English – even if they speak with horrible diction and a sub-par sense of grammar. When someone slips in Tagalog with wrong pronunciation or accents the wrong syllables, that person must be prepared to be ridiculed – especially if they know that person to be an English speaker. English speakers being the minority in our university, of course, would automatically make them the target of “so conyo naman” jokes. Of course the reasoning behind that would be “He’s a Filipino! He should know how to speak his own language!” Yes, this is a valid statement, but it certainly doesn’t encourage me to practice speaking the language in front of others. It would be much more helpful if my fellow Filipinos were supportive of my struggle to learn the language, but sadly that is not the case in our University. If I’m going to be ridiculed for speaking both “nosebleed English” and crappy Tagalog, I’d frankly rather speak English all the time – at least I know I’m doing it right and convince myself that people who make fun of me are just jealous that they can’t speak it as well as me (Forgive the slight arrogance; people tell themselves a lot of things to feel better about themselves). Being embarrassed and ridiculed is a sure way to be discouraged from trying or practicing conversing with others in the language.
It’s safe to say that I’ve probably given up on learning Tagalog. Sure, it’s a pleasure to learn new words every once in a while, but I’m not really making a conscious and concrete effort to learn more and get better at the language. I still get to converse and communicate with people anyway when I speak English to them and they reply in Tagalog to me. Sure, I kind of regret not learning the language when I was younger – I wish my vocabulary was more broad and the word I used the most often wasn’t putangina (I’m sure there are better Tagalog words out there), but it’s too late now. At this point in my life though, I don’t have the energy, will or “support” from others to “master” speaking Tagalog. Masyadong mahirap, putangina!