“Why is your language and our language so different, well in fact it’s just an hour flight away?” says Mo Twister in one of the radio ads of Magic 89.9, a Manila-based FM radio station and the mother station of Killer Bee 89.1 Davao. True to its sense, the Philippines is an archipelago with nearly 170 languages and dialects, with Filipino as the national and official language. Since the language of “Juan” is dynamic and alive which is rooted from the diverse native tongues, various cultural and ethnic groups remain to be active as well.
Imagine for a moment that you are in a situation where you are surrounded by Filipinos speaking their native language. Perhaps in your Birthday party with your wife’s relatives… All five hundred of them in your beautiful house. Sounds like United Nations all in one place, huh? How would you handle such a case?
Below are some helpful points to remember. However, you should take into consideration your personal goal; either you want to plainly have a productive conversation with them (talking about clear understanding with them) or you want to learn to speak the language or dialect.
Let’s talk with the Pinoy
Known for their endearing, warm and sincere personality, talking with Filipinos won’t be that hard-hitting. Smile and be easy with them. Pinoys are “oh-so-cool.” You may ask why (?!) and that is because the majority of the Pinoys understand the basics of English (that is if English is your primary language). An average Filipino from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao do have a background and basic understanding of the English language. And looking for a translator is an easy job… maybe you can try your wife, or perhaps a professional translator if you don’t mind paying.
Coupled with few hand gestures (a common form of non-verbal communication) and positive attitude and disposition, most likely you’ll have your thoughts (and theirs too) cross the borderline of cultural differences. Establish good rapport, of course. Truthful connection really matters. Now, if you’re having a hard time figuring out what they they’re talking about, just ask (gently) and exert more patience. There’s nothing to loose in asking.
Let’s say you’re in a group of natives or non-English speakers. There’s nothing much to worry since you’ll surely find yourself adapted to them and with the Filipinos adjusted to you as well. That feeling of uneasiness will be evident between parties at first, but with communicative expressions of survival inherent to everyone, one can surely relate with them. These include basic greetings (hello), leave-takings (goodbye), ways of saying thank you and I’m sorry.
As being emphasized by Howard Giles in the Communication Accommodation Theory, people in intercultural situations and encounters who see themselves as unique folks will adjust their speech style, delivery and content to interconnect with others whose understanding and approval they seek. In fact, people who want to establish well-reinforced group identification “will interact with those outside the group in a way that accentuates their differences”.
Aided with few tools to communicate fully such as dictionaries, maps, and sketches, coping tendencies will truly be noticeable in dealing with vernacular speakers.
Learn the Pinoy Tongue
You finally decided to obey the urge in you to learn the language of the Filipinos. Apparently, aural comprehension plays a prominent role in the acquisition of a second language. Listening helps in improving effectiveness in any spoken communication, most especially in terms of speaking the native tongue of the Filipinos.
Again communicative expressions of survival will serve as a jumpstart for the beginners. You may seek guidance from someone who can easily communicate with you for the right and proper expressions you need to use in order to access any public transportation, to eat in any food shop or restaurant, to rent a room, or to simply ask for local directions.
Power tools are one category of the survival expressions in the language that will assist you to learn more of the Filipino language or varieties. Few examples are the following:
“Could you say it more slowly?”
“Could you say it a few more times?”
“What’s this thing for?”
“How do you call this?”
“How do say I love you in your dialect?”
Repetition, role-play and taking-turns with your friend-mentor by some means will allow you to be adept with the native tongue. Perhaps you’ll be surprised that these comprehension learning activities made you acquire these simple communicative concepts.
Here’s a major tip on the right pronunciation of any Filipino dialect: Pronounce simply as it is written. (Kung ano ang baybay ay siyang bigkas.) Thus, it should be phonetically pronounced and of course, no long vowels. Have that mouth muscles work. That’ll be good if you have the basics of the ABAKADA. Now, time to call your best Filipino buddy and recite the following:
a ba ka da e ga ha i la ma na (ng or nga) pa ra sa ta u wa ya.
In its entirety learning the Tagalog, Visayan, Ilocano, Kampampangan and the other dialects, would allow you to do code-switching. Thought to be a major focus of attention in linguistics, code-switching refers to the use of more than one language, dialects or varieties in conversation. Bilingual speakers will have the ability to use elements (syntactically and phonologically) of both languages and varieties when in a conversation with another bilingual. Though it reflects one’s lack of language ability, nevertheless it’s a normal and natural manifestation of an active interaction with shifts of the use of different languages or ethnic/cultural varieties.
Locals will be fascinated to an expat or a foreigner with efforts of speaking the language or dialect. You’ll become more special and remarkable because of your persistence to speak the way they speak. Likewise, they’ll be glad to practice their English or learn your language; a good way of exchanging cultural ideas and concepts.
There’s a lot to learn. It’s bounded within the sphere of communication, linguistics, and language acquisition. But for expats who opted to learn the “Pinoy tongue” with reading periodicals and local publications as a way to understand deeply the Filipino culture, the motivational reality of communication becomes more sincere and truthful.
This article is written by Julius Neil Piala.