The other side of being “Paeng”

4 Sep

Paeng \pa-’eng\ noun, colloquial, Tagalog. abbreviated version of “Pa-English-English”, speaks predominantly in English. Example: “Nakakaasar yung Paeng. Ingles daw ang “mother tongue” niya. Bugbugin natin.”

I am coming clean. My husband and I speak to our children in English. They speak enough Tagalog to get by; but they can’t get far. They call a “blanket” a “k’moo”. They can’t say “snail” in Tagalog without sounding like they are referring to a woman part. At the wake of James Soriano’s unsavory articles [1][2], which points to his mother’s teaching techniques as the germ of his, um … “singular” sense of self, I am forced to come to terms with how my choices in language education affect my children’s pride in their heritage.

When my non-verbal son was diagnosed with autism almost 14 years ago, his speech pathologist, the amazing Joy Corro, advised my husband and I to chose one language and stick to it, no matter what. We chose English, the medium of instruction of most schools. Raised in multi-lingual households, hubby and I struggled at first as even Tag-lish was a no-no; but fell into a groove eventually. My autistic son soon developed a meaty English vocabulary; but hardly spoke in Tagalog. We were too thankful that he was SPEAKING that we missed out on the opportunity to introduce our mother tongue. When my second son and daughter came along years later, we found it terribly difficult to toggle between English and Tagalog, as it upset our eldest to be alienated from conversation.

We consider our three children’s mediocre command of Tagalog as a handicap we have to deal with everyday. Typical set-backs include being laughed at when they say Tagalog words in a funny way and being called names they cannot understand — like “Sam Milby”. Such seemingly minor acts of meanness diminishes the Tagalog-speaking confidence we are trying to build. Studying for school subjects like Araling Panlipunan and Pilipino involves a thick English-Tagalog dictionary, drawings and hand gestures. Introducing anything Filipino — music, theater, politics, etcetera — has to be a deliberate effort on our part as it would mean building interest in something they may not understand as easily as the Disney Channel.

So how Filipino are my kids? My 7-year-old daughter has a crush on Rizal because “he is good in P.E” and can name the sports he is proficient in, including the obscure martial arts. My 10-year-old son is fascinated by the Aguinaldo’s 19th century kitchen, when we visited the Kawit Shrine. My eldest thought it was cool how names of family members were on the wall at the Death March Monument. Two week-ends ago, my little one threw a fit when bad weather threatened the cancellation of our trip to Fort Santiago and Casa Manila. They are all looking forward to our next “akyat-bahay” adventure — the Nakpil House in Quiapo. Our bed time stories are about dead ancestors I research on and national heroes. When asked their nationality, my children may speak with an alien accent; but their answer will be “Filipino!”.

Not all Paeng’s are like James Soriano. Some of them want to proudly wield the mother tongue in intelligent company, as well as you and I. They are just not there yet.

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