In a country like the Philippines where many languages are spoken, there are often interesting issues in relation to language. Often times, when we are talking with a Filipino, we will learn that they have some experience in spending time in a different region. For example, you are talking with Carlo and he mentions that he spent a few years living in Ilocos Norte. When I hear some thing like that, I always ask, “So, Carlo, can you speak Ilocano then?” It is just something that is of interest to me. The most usual response that would come from Carlo is “I can understand Ilocan pretty well, but I can’t speak it.”
Well, doesn’t it seem that if you can understand a language, you would also be able to speak it as well? I mean, you must know what the words mean, or else you would not be able to understand it. If you know what the words mean, you should be able to say the words yourself, and thus speak the language.
What I suspect, many times, is that the person can actually speak the language, perhaps not perfectly, and is actually embarrassed to speak it, fearing that others may laugh at him because he makes small errors in pronunciation or grammar. I know the feeling myself, as I used to be that way about speaking Cebuano. Also, I know that many Filipinos are “embarrassed” to speak English because they fear that their skills are not good enough.
My problem is just the opposite, though. When it comes to Cebuano (Bisaya), I can say more things than I can understand!
Bob, that doesn’t make sense! How can you speak more than what you can understand?
Well, it’s actually true. Let me try to explain.
Think about it, using English as an example. If you have a certain piece of information that you want to convey to others, there are lots of different ways you can say it.
Bob might say:
Steve has a blue car.
Richard might say:
Steve’s automobile is sky blue.
Jim might say:
Steve owns a vehicle which is light blue.
Basically, each statement means the same thing, but each is just said in a different way. My problem in Cebuano is that sometimes I will say something to somebody, and they will reply in a way that I can’t understand. Maybe they will use a word that I don’t have in my vocabulary yet. Perhaps they will use a different grammatical way of saying it, something which I have yet to learn. There are two problems which can be quite common:
- They speak in a very slang way, shortening words by half, or
- They simply speak too fast for my brain to be able to process it.
So, as I said, I can speak more than I can understand. You see, of course, if I have information that I want to convey to somebody, I can easily say it in the way that I know to say it. I many not know the other ways to say the same thing (like the sky blue automobile, or the light blue vehicle, I just know that Steve has a blue car). Of course, this is normal when learning a new language, you have to start at some level and gain more confidence, better vocabulary and such as time goes by. I started studying nearly 3 years ago, and I can say pretty much anything I want or need to say. It’s the understanding that can be a problem from time to time.
Still, though, if such a problem arises, where I don’t understand what somebody is telling me, it usually is easy to resolve. I will ask “unsa na?” (what is that?) and they will rephrase. Or, I’ll just say “dili ko kasabot” (I don’t understand) and they will say it again, or maybe even switch to English to respond to me. So, it will all work out in the end.
Learning a language is an adventure, and a fun adventure. I suspect that I will always be learning more of the language. That only makes sense. After all, even in English, I still learn new words from time to time, things that I didn’t know, or a new word that has crept into the language. Same will be the case with Cebuano, although to a greater extent!