Learning to Speak Filipino: a Canadian perspective

Learning to Speak Filipino: a Canadian perspective

by: Christine Mazur

As a Canadian-born person of mostly Ukrainian descent, I got a lot of puzzled looks this fall when I tried to explain that I was taking a 10-week Filipino Language class. “Why Filipino?” people asked, and, “Are you married to a Filipino?” “No” and “No” I would laugh. It was hard to explain why I wanted to learn this interesting language that has roots in Malay and is mixed with Spanish (after 300 years of colonization, how could it not?) and some English inherited from the last century’s period of American occupation.

Because I live in a city where 60,000 of my neighbours are Filipino, I thought it made perfect sense for me to register for this free course intended for both non-Filipino and Filipino adults. The course was offered October 18 to December 20 by the Manitoba Association of Filipino Teachers Inc. (MAFTI) with assistance from the Multiculturalism Secretariat, the Ethnocultural Community Support Program – Special Project and the Seven Oaks School Division. The classes took place at the Seven Oaks Immigrant Services and Adult Learning Centre.

Each of the seven students taking part in this free program had different reasons for being there. Two were raised by parents who spoke to them in Tagalog but did not teach them how to respond; one’s partner was from a Filipino family, and another’s girlfriend had immigrated from the Philippines as an adult. Further, he worked with many Filipino customers on a daily basis. One classmate was heavily involved in the Maples community both socially and politically, and regularly enjoyed daily interactions with members of the Filipino Community.

For me, as a musician I wanted to better communicate with friends I have met in both Winnipeg’s and The Philippines’ music communities during the six years I spent performing with Filipino-Canadian music collective, Half Man Half Elf under the leadership of the Filipino Journal’s music columnist, Alfie Vera Mella. My musical adventures have taken me to the Philippines three times where I found it would have been helpful to have had a better grasp of Filipino to do simple things like order food at Jolibee or haggle for the lowest price at Divisoria, the infamous Chinese market. When taking cabs or asking for directions in small towns it helps to know the language for personal safety. Finally, learning Filipino would keep my friends from suffering “nosebleed” when I chatter on in English: “Stop Christine! I’ve run out of all the English words I know and it feels like my brains are bleeding out through my nose! Time for you to learn Tagalog!”

Our teacher, Mr. Merlito B. Garcia, had prepared an excellent series of 10 lessons. One very thoughtful exercise he had us do at the start of the session was to share something we each were sacrificing to be there every Wednesday night. We realized what a gift it was to be able to learn a new language. My friend Gilbert Trillana joined our classes as a volunteer assistant to Guro Garcia and together, they were able to really help us gain a better understanding of Filipino.

In 10 short weeks, Guro Garcia led the class through pronunciation of vowels and consonants (patinig at katinig), got us to try different ways to greet each other, (“Kumusta ka?” “Masaya kasi kasama kita!”), ask questions like “Anong araw na ngayon?” count to 20, 30, 40 or as high as we dare, form adverbs and adjectives, and distinguish between the Past, Present and Future forms of verbs.

At a culminating activity held at the last class on December 20, we sang both Oh Canada (O Kanada) and the Filipino Christmas carol (“Ang Pasko ay Sumapit”) in Tagalog. Each student prepared a greeting for the MAFTI Officers who attended. I sang “Perpekto” by Filipino songwriter/poet Dong Abay, explaining I found listening to and learning Filipino language songs was a great way to work on improving pronunciation and understanding.

While I still cannot speak fluently in Filipino, I know that I will improve with practice and continued use of the new language skills I have learned, thanks to this program.