You know, there are dozens of widely used languages here in the Philippines. Sometimes it seems that every time you make a ride to the next city it’s another language in use! Well, I am exagerating a little bit there, but honestly, there are at least 70 or 80 languages in general use. Thus, when I decided to study a language, it was not an automatic decision on what language to learn.
For me, the choice came down to Tagalog or Bisaya. Tagalog is one of the national languages, the other being English. However, in the region where I live, Bisaya is the most widely spoken language. I chose to study Bisaya for a number of reasons. A lot of foreigners I talk to tell me that Tagalog is the right language to learn, because people all over the country can at least speak some Tagalog. I always felt, though, that Bisaya was the right way to go for me.
This past weekend, I got confirmation, and now I know for certain that I made the correct choice.
You see, Feyma’s family speaks Bisaya. We have been married for more than 18 years now. Over that 18 years, one bone of contention that we have gone through regularly is that I never felt part of the family. When Feyma came to the States, my family welcomed her with open arms, and she really was an integral part of my extended family. As a matter of fact, I often joke that if we were to be divorced, I think that my family would hold on to Feyma, and leave me to go on my own path. But, when it came to her family, I always felt that I was an outsider. I didn’t like the feeling, either. The only person that I felt accepted me was Feyma’s Mom (I am not including her Dad, because he died shortly after we were married). When it came to her siblings, though, I really felt an outsider. This is one of the reasons that I have tried to develop close relationships with my nieces – I wanted to get that “family connection” with the next generation.
As I told you yesterday, over this past weekend, we went to General Santos, where Feyma is from, and attended a niece’s wedding. When we left GenSan, I told Feyma that for the first time in 18 years, I felt accepted by the family. The reason was, because I can communicate with them now! No, I am not 100% fluent in Bisaya, but I’m probably 80% there, and I can hold a good conversation. This past weekend, though, I put the skills that I have developed in Bisaya to good use. I really made an effort to talk with people, and just do the best that I could in speaking their language. It really paid off. In particular, Feyma’s oldest brother, who only has an elementary school education was like my best buddy, and in the past I don’t ever remember speaking to each other! I felt so good coming home from GenSan with these newly developed family relationships under my belt. And, it all comes from spending the time and effort to learn how to speak their language!
When other foreigners tell me that they think it’s best to learn Tagalog, I ask why they think so (I’m genuinely curious). They say that it’s because most people can speak at least some Tagalog. Well, to me, do you want to speak to most people? Or do want to speak to the people that are important to you? Here in Davao, yes the people can speak Tagalog in most cases, but if you go down to the Public Market and walk around, you won’t hear that much Tagalog… what you hear is Bisaya. And, in my case, when it comes to being able to develop family relations, there is no choice!
Don’t take me wrong, I am not saying that people should not learn Tagalog. What I am saying is to look at your local situation and look at your family situation. Let’s face it, if you live in Cebu City, it’s a waste of tim to learn Tagalog, unless you intend to travel to Manila a lot, because most Cebuanos despise Tagalog, and learning it is not going to be helpful to you around town. What does your family here speak? I strongly believe that you should learn the language that the people who are important to you speak. If it turn’s out that Tagalog is the right language for your situation – Hey! More Power! I am not anti-Tagalog, I’m just saying that it’s not the automatic choice, or should not be.
Just my thoughts… but I was really on cloud 9 being able to finally become, and feel part of the family. I am so happy that I made the effort to learn the language!