All my life I have been surrounded by bilingual people.
My mother speaks Ilocano (Tagalog dialect), my step-mother speak Tagalog, my step-dad speaks Bosnian, my partner speaks Fijian-Indian, my last flatmate speaks German and even my best friend in primary school could understand Dutch.
I have always felt inadequate.
My only language is English and I can’t even get that right. So, I have always been envious of people that can speak more than one language as I feel that they have achieved something that I cannot.
To top it off, I work in a Pasifika school where most of our students can speak Tongan, Samoan, Rarotongan, Fijian and Niuean. I have to applaud anyone who is bilingual as I can’t even imagine two sets of dialogue running through my brain, let alone more.
I remember when I was young, I had a whiteboard in my room. I use to write down my goals for things I would like to achieve by a certain age.
I remember one year I had “get driving licence” and “learn to play the guitar”. I attempted to learn to play but one of my lovely brothers decided to break the strings. But, every year I would have the same goal “learn Tagalog” and every year I would fail to do so.
My mother and step-mother attempted to teach me but I just couldn’t take it in. I always felt that I had missed the age window. Each year I got older, the less likely I was going to be able to learn.
It wasn’t until I went to the Philippines for the first time in 2012 that I started appreciating the language. Most of my family were bilingual; English and Tagalog but many of them were not.
I found it very difficult to communicate with my grandfather which broke my heart. He is my only grandfather and we couldn’t even have a conversation. I couldn’t find out about his life or ask questions about how my mum grew up. I was missing out on forming a relationship with someone important in my life.
The language barrier was also a struggle with young children. I couldn’t understand my youngest cousin and the conversations were translated through a person. It was then that I knew that I had not fulfilled my responsibility of being a Filipina.
Years passed, I got caught up in my degree and starting my professional career as a secondary teacher. I am now at a stage where I am fully qualified and have handed over my Miss Universe NZ responsibilities.
I have time to do this. This is my time to do this.
In the last 12 months, I have travelled to the Philippines three times with plans to travel another two times before the end of the year. I love the Philippines, and I love the people.
I have discovered a rich heritage and finally understood the world in which my mother was raised in. In January, I asked Philippines Ambassador, Jesus S. Domingo, if he would be able to find me a tutor. We had a discussion on one day implementing Tagalog into our New Zealand education system. If I had that when I was in high school, I’d know more Tagalog than I do Japanese.
The ambassador found for me Roy Boquiron, a successful Filipino businessman who promotes the Philippines community and entrepreneurship in New Zealand.
Over that last couple of months, I have been having lessons with Roy and Pearl Nacario over cups of tea and doughnuts. It started slow, learning the basic and I am now up to the stage where I can greet in Tagalog e.g.
“Kumusta! Ako si Tania Dawson. Ikinigagalak ko po kayong makilala”. I am making progress, so make sure you check on how I am going in my next blog and let’s do this together!