Skip to main content

Knowing the Language


Nearly 35 years ago, a college professor, who hailed from Australia, told me if it weren't for the awkwardness of my writing, I would've got a higher score on my paper. She forgave me for some of my usage and grammar because, according to her, "English is your second language."

For once, I kept my mouth closed rather than enlighten her on how wrong she was.

English is the only language I can read, write, speak, and understand fluently. Proficiently, too, except for the lapses in awkward writing and the proper use of grammar, word choice, and cliches. I'm especially good at forgetting articles (the, a, an, and so on) and getting prepositions mixed up, which, I think is because the Ilocano language has no articles and, as far as I can tell, one preposition.

As I was growing up the parents mostly spoke Ilocano to me while I spoke English to them. I still do that with the Mama, and the Husband finds it very strange. It's really not unusual with immigrant parents and their American-born children. Once, I tried talking to the parents in Ilocano, but they couldn't figure out what I was saying. "Your accent is funny," said the Mama, after she and the Daddy stopped laughing.

When I was a kid, many Filipinos who just immigrated to the U.S. thought I couldn't understand Ilocano. After all, I greeted them in English when they came to visit the Mama and the Daddy. It was inevitable when the parents weren't around that a visitor would say in front of me, but in Ilocano, "My, the daughter is fat!" Another visitor would respond, "She probably can eat a whole pig by herself." And, they would all snicker.

I pretended that I didn't understand, although when I became a teenager, it was very difficult not to put them in their place. But that was okay. I just waited for the moment when the Mama would ask me to serve refreshments. In Ilocano. Then, one of the visitors would ask awkwardly, "She can understand the language."

"Yes," the Mama would say. "She was born in the United States. Even though we speak to her in our language, she can only speak English."

The visitors always cringed and fidgeted.

As I write this I wonder if the Mama may have also overhead the visitors say rude things about me, and that was her way of getting back at them. After all, I rarely saw any visitors who talked "behind" my back come to the house again.
I'm participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge this month. To check out other participants, click here. See you tomorrow.  

Comments

  1. HI Susie - returning your visit ... I love languages ... I had never heard of Ilocano before ...itsn't it brilliant to be able to understand when the listener thinks you can't ....I'm sure your Mama was definitely getting back at them. Have a great week.
    Fil at Fil’s Place - Old Songs and Memories

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Fil, thanks for dropping by. Ilocano is one of the hundreds of languages spoken in the Philippines. Some people say it's a dialect of Tagalog, the national language, but it's not. They're quite different.

      Delete
  2. Great Post - Thank you for sharing so beautifully.

    Isn't it odd how some people try to demand adherence to their preferred ways? Language is always morphing - always has, always will . . I wish people had taken time to see your heart and learn from you . . . AND - what about those with no understanding of compassion - seems they had some "stinkin' thinkin'" going on . . I'm glad you could hear and understand - Because - WOWZER!!! What a dynamite human you have become. I am already looking forward to my next visit. Love to YOU!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Maggid. I appreciate the kind words. :-) "stinkin' thinkin'", LOL, love that phrasing.

      Delete
  3. people can be cruel and downright stupid. They underestimate strength and endurance and beauty. I love it that you understand the language even if you can not speak it fluently. It happened to me once with German. My cousin, we were much younger, didn't know what to do so my uncle said Why not play Tennis with your cousin, meaning me. He said no, didn't want to as I am not good in playing tennis and didn't want to be around me. Of course he said it in German thinking I didn't understand him. I shot back that I don't feel like playing with him either and I know I am not good at tennis but who cares and his face turned several shades of red. My Uncle smiled and I walked away:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing your story, Birgit. Good for you! :-)

      Delete
  4. A teacher should never make a comment to a student about how English is their second language, and "that is why you scored this". It is very disrespectful to say the least. I know plenty of native language speakers who do not even bother to spell correctly, or proficiently, and why call out someone's identity on this? People are all in different places with writing and spelling abilities, and denigrating someone's language usage does not inspire people to learn. I think that professor would have some major issues with people who have learning disabilities, and wonder why many people he discouraged from wanting to learn more. The thing is some people can be discouraged easily, and just imagine if a kid who was just finding their proficiency or becoming brave enough to pursue learning encountered harsh comments like this. Not helpful at all. Some people are bad teachers, just saying.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Totally agree with you, J. Fortunately, for me, I was in my mid-20s, focused on a particular goal then, and also had life experience to shine comments on like hers. One positive aspect about the professor's comment was that it did make me look at my writing and start seeing what I was doing wrong.

      Delete
  5. I only speak English, but I learned enough Spanish and French in high school and college to understand what people are saying in Spanish. On a couple of occasions I understood a rather unflattering comment a couple of women made about me in Spanish, so I responded in English politely in a way that let them know I understood what they had just said. They looked a little startled after that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. :-) I've caught rude people speaking Spanish behind my back, too. I have to say I find it satisfying when people are brought down by their own arrogance.

      Delete
  6. This is very interesting about the language differences. A number of years ago I had two children originally from the Philippines in my class of first graders. Both families had arrived at the same time. If I remember correctly the girl's family learned English together and spoke it at home, and her English was very good. The boy's family spoke Ilocano (I'm assuming?) at home, and so did he, with some English probably thrown in. His English had missing articles, prepositions and letter sounds. I always found that to be interesting and wondered why the difference in their speech and writing (aside from the fact that they were just different people!). Now it is clearer!
    Donna Smith
    The A-to-Z Challenge
    http://mainelywrite.blogspot.com
    Mainely Write

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Philippines has many different languages. Tagalog, which I think is also called Pilipino, and is the national language. I have no idea if it--or other Filipino languages--have the same thing on with them in terms of articles and prepositions, but I would think they would since they're from the same family of language.

      Delete
  7. I'm glad to meet you...I can't imagine how strong you had to be to listen in silence when people spoke about you. Intriguing story!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Liza. I never thought of it that way, but I certainly like thinking that those experiences made me a better person. :-)

      Delete
  8. How rude! The teacher especially!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Oh my! People can be so rude and hurtful! My grandmother once told me I was putting on weight but she didn't say it behind my back or in another language. She just said it to my face. I imagine your Mama was a bit hurt and annoyed by the words of the visitors, on your behalf.

    One of my sons is very forgetful when it comes to using articles, and the only language he speaks and understands is English. I am sure it's just a matter of rushing. He sees them in his mind but skips over them when he writes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My writing does get mangled when I rush--and back then I rushed a lot. To this day, I still drop the articles, even though I've gotten better.

      Delete
  10. The ways of the Mama are mysterious.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Ha, you realise most Australians would consider that Americans speak English as their second language, because American English is a whole other language :)

    I used to have fun in Japan with people not realising I understood the language. They'd get so embarrassed and apologetic when I'd reply in Japanese but really they should not be saying rude things in the first place, whether I understand them or not.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly. People shouldn't be rude in the first place. Silly people. :-)

      that's funny about the Aussies thinking we, Americans, are ESL speakers. So, then, logically, my professor should've said that I speak English as my third language. How smart am I!

      Delete

Post a Comment

Thanks for the good cheer. :-)

Popular posts from this blog

Things I Know About Daddy’s Younger Years

Rambling x 13

Treasures

Ordinary Days

The Power of Three