What does a second language give you?
Every time I watch a play or musical that mixes two languages like PETA’s “Paano ako Naging Leading Lady” which I saw recently, I become more aware of how grateful I am that I could speak and understand both English and Filipino quite fluently. I felt that I was getting the full force of the performance, understanding where each character, whether they spoke in English or Filipino, was coming from.
I grew up in a household that spoke both Filipino and English in more or less, equal measure. I learned how to sing Kundiman as part of girlhood years of classical musical training. I also appreciated it deeply when my parents’ relatives, mostly from Rizal and Bulacan, spoke with such lyrical words including those that made my brain feel like it was brushing against clouds or painting with raindrops or propping my world a branch at a time. Some words that come to mind: “batis” (stream), “daluyong” (flow) "ibig ko” (I want), “panag-inip” (dream) or “sampay-bakod” (fence-sitter). I am sure those who speak other dialects can saunter in an even richer language terrain. I particularly like listening to Cebuano and Ilonggo.
As for English, we too shook hands quite early in my life. I was obsessed with knowing what the English word was for everything I could think of and see. When I was 3, I remember being very disappointed that no one could answer me right away what the English word was for “sandok”. A story that my parents like to tell others is that when I was around the same age and someone asked me what the English word was for “baboy,” I immediately followed it up with a question: “dead or alive?” I was fascinated by how one thing could gain or lose more precision when translated to another language.
Then growing up, the world of books introduced to me writers both in Filipino and English. These writers parsed emotions and descriptions of scenes with words as master sushi chefs would wield their knives on palettes of delicate flesh and cellulose. They sculpted stories with words that had the effect of souls performing little dramas and pirouettes in my head.
Now that I am much older, I cannot imagine what my life would have been had I only been able to access one side of life through Filipino or English. I would have felt shortchanged or even impoverished.
Studies have previously shown that being raised bilingual increases a child’s reach, not just on language skills. Now, a study has found that being raised in a household that speaks more than one language improves the child’s perspective-taking ability; in other words, the child learns how it is to be in the other person’s shoes.
The scientists tested kids aged 4-6 years old whom they categorized according to monolinguals (those who were exposed to mainly only one language); exposures (those who were exposed to mainly English but also heard other languages); and the bilinguals (those who consistently heard and spoke not just English). They were subjected to a communication game that involved a child and an adult where the adults could not see all the moving objects that were part of the test. It necessitated that the child take into account this “handicap” in the way that adults viewed the objects. It was a test on “reading” the intent of the message – a social skill - and not language per se.
The results revealed that the “exposures” and “bilinguals” rated more than 50% better than the monolinguals in the test. Note that even the “exposures” rated better than the monolinguals even if the former did not even speak but only understood another language! The study proved that learning a language goes beyond boosting your child’s intellectual skills but also, his or her social skills. He or she can now imagine another’s point of view! Even if it does not completely speak for compassion, this is the start of empathy!
We know that little children can learn many languages but eventually only retain those that it uses the most. That is because the brain is always aiming for efficiency. Speaking or even just understanding the native tongue provides a child the advantage in surviving the environment inhabited mostly by those who speak the native tongue.
Given that, it deeply puzzles me when I come across Filipinos who can hardly speak or understand Filipino or any other local language even if they were raised in the Philippines and live here most of their lives. They speak and understand mainly English or another foreign language. How do they cultivate their own sense of place without entering the language? How do they imagine the Filipino’s point of view? How much could they shield themselves from the resulting circumstance of not having taken on the language/s of the land? – Rappler.com