Precarious or Progressive? | Teen Ink

Precarious or Progressive?

December 19, 2018
By celinedabao BRONZE, Paranaque City, Other
celinedabao BRONZE, Paranaque City, Other
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Favorite Quote:
"The future has an ancient heart."

One of the unfair assumptions about an international school student is that they are unable to understand any language other than English—or if they can, they engage in conversations with a heavy, distinct accent. To those who speak other languages fluently, there is an unfathomable distance between them and these speakers of Anything As A Second (And Minimal) Language. Having graduated from such a school, surrounded by many people who spoke in this manner, I am only all the more aware of how important it is that we transcend our prejudices and unite in a common love of such a profoundly beautiful and unimaginably powerful language: Filipino.

We celebrated it every year in our Buwan ng Wika, our language month festivities: with tables of provincial delicacies lined the patio, dizzying in their varieties of textures, shapes, and flavors; slaps of bamboo sticks on the ground for tinikling; and OPM melodies serenading curious passersby. For most students, beelining towards the food was the main goal of any and every event. For several students, weeks of semi-dedicated dance practice allowed them to focus on the hypnotic rhythm of their feet among the wooden claps. For a certain few, the songs were not just background music—they were reminders that our language is something that can be elevated by means of emotions like love and sadness. It was listening to these very tunes that first piqued my interest in the Filipino language and its breathtaking scope.

Over the years, my dear teacher and mentor, whom we respectfully address as Ginang, has used her Filipino class to engage us in such challenging projects as documentaries, telenovelas, and movies. Unarguably, the most difficult yet moving activity was the song creation and production. As a group, we had to write our own lyrics, match them to a harmony, and film our own video. It was a daunting task, to be the lyricist, but I was able to convey the emotions I was experiencing at the time into an unforgettable memory. Ginang constantly pushed us beyond what we expected of ourselves, and as a result, we were able to understand our feelings and express them in words that we had once considered foreign, mundane, or both.

For the years that we had this daunting task ahead of us, my friends and I decided to remain true to an image that we had adopted and cultivated: ang pulang tali. As I was penning down phrases, bit by bit, line by line, I thought that the red string was pulling me to one boy, or that I was being pulled away from another. In retrospect, I realize that the thread was pulling me to a monumental achievement that will outlast any person I meet and anything I do; this is, of course, language. Specifically, what drew me closer to it was the complex duty of untangling the knots and strengthening the frays of translation between English and Filipino.

To teach a foreign language subject in an international school, even one in the Philippines, is to be reminded of the way that language shapes our thoughts, our cultures, and our mindsets. I originally wrote my songs, papers, and scripts—the foundations of class projects, in other words—in English. The transferral into Filipino changed the connotation of each word irrevocably. In English, we danced around what we were trying to say, hiding behind social niceties and delicate pronunciation. In Filipino, we danced with what we truly meant, revealing the weighty definitions and unmistakeable enunciation. To change from a dainty mindset to a daring one is difficult, and I applaud Ginang, as we fondly call her, to no end, for she was and continues to be able to balance these two traits with untiring grace.

The way that we learned Filipino was, summarily, quite unique. Perhaps we never truly read El Filibusterismo or Noli Me Tangere to its entirety, in the way that some of my friends who went to local schools did. But we learned to love the language that runs through our blood in a different way. Or at least I did. When I am asked what course I am taking in college (secondary education with a major in English, for those who want to know), they may not see the correlation between my passion for English and my love for the Filipino language. After all, the latter and the former often seem to be in combat with each other, putting each other on guard, separating social classes into neat, untouchable rows.

But if you truly try to understand these languages at their core, bypassing the superficial, then you will see that they are not so different after all. We use them to expose our countrymen to truths that they could not otherwise access. We use them to communicate ideas with each other to strengthen the basis of our society. We use them to pledge our indefatigable devotion to causes that promote equality, awareness, and compassion. We use them to express our love and gratitude to those who remind us that joy has no language, but can be shared in a smile.

The way that the Filipino language has shifted and adapted over the years, as we learned in and out of class, is something that never ceases to fascinate me. Having Ginang as a teacher, going through her difficult but worthwhile projects, and receiving feedback on how to better our understanding of everything have all catalyzed my wonder. There are still so many ways to promote our language to every person that we meet, in every word that we write, as we travel from one place to another. To be an international school student never has and never will stop me from destroying unfair assumptions about me. Kaya ko yan. Besides, if there is anything I have learned, it is that the red string will continue to pull me in the direction of my destiny, and my words will trail after me even long after I am gone.

The author's comments:

In the Philippines, being an international student is often synonymous with ignorance, especially  as concerns the culture and the ways that the poor are deemed unworthy and helpless. I believe that language is the bridge between the social classes, and that we are in a position to actively promote Filipino as a means of understanding and compassion. 

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