The tricky business of teaching kids Tagalog

We recently purchased a Tagalog for Kids teaching set for home school. This year, we felt that it’s time to take teaching our children our language more seriously.

In the past few years, we’ve used a few books for Filipino (the school subject) and so far, PACES had been the most workable for us. However, after assessing our progress, I realized that my 8-year old can answer the exercises and ace the exams but he still cannot converse with it which makes all the studying, in my opinion, useless.


So this year, I decided to take a pause from our Filipino workbooks and concentrate on teaching them to learn how to communicate with it.

Dropping Filipino in College

Let me divert a little since we’re somehow talking about Filipino in education.

I’m aware of the ongoing issue of CHED (Commission on Higher Education) pushing to drop Filipino as a mandatory subject in college levels. CHED argues that since the subject is already taken from grade school to high school levels, it no longer needs to be taken in College especially now that we have shifted to the K – 12 system of education.

Different Filipino-advocating organizations wouldn’t have it.  They believe that it’s a betrayal of nationalism.

Here’s what I think.

I agree that our language is closely knitted to our identity. It is important for Filipino families to learn to communicate with it, to know how to use it and to practice it appropriately in our homes and among fellow Filipinos.

Personally, I believe that a person can choose to love his country and be nationalistic even if he doesn’t speak the language, after all, love is an action word,  BUT there is a different emotion that surges from having a much deeper connection to the language.

Filipino sentiment is better expressed in Tagalog. Here’s an example:

Sundan ang bahaghari sa kanyang hangganan

baka doon sakali ulap mo’y magpaalam

at pag napawi na ang sanhi ng kapanglawan

muling buksan ang pusong bihag ng karimlan

(Mahawi man ang ulap, George Canseco)

I, myself, tried my hand in writing lyrics in Filipino once:

Unti-unting nagliliwanag ang aking gabi

pumapatak ang mga ilaw sa ating mga ngiti

sama-sama nating ipagdiwang ang pasko

sa piling niyo ay tunay ang diwa ng Pasko

Translate to English here.

It may have taken a while for me since my first language is English – I think in it, too, but yes, I can speak and write the language. After all, I came from a proud line of Filipino poets, my father being the last “makata” of his line. One of my dreams is to publish a book I’ve written in Filipino.

Although we made a decision to teach our kids English first, I had every intention to teach them Filipino.

Filipino as a matter of identity is more appreciated by Filipinos abroad

In college, I found myself hanging out with a group of  students who were Filipinos by blood but grew up and spent most of their years in foreign countries. Many of them were children of Ambassadors and OFWs. Most of them do not speak Filipino very well, but a good number of them spoke other Filipino dialects fluently such as Visayan, Ilocano, Ilonggo and Pampangueno.

And they are all mighty proud to be Filipinos even though they felt displaced at times. It was the language that helped them appreciate and love their roots.

I don’t think that Filipino should be a mandatory subject in College because I agree with CHED, it’s already being taken up extensively in the K -12 curriculum; but I think that it should at least be offered as an optional course for people who want to dig deeper into it.

Nationalism and the love of language take root and flourish at home. Then it takes flight in practice.

I think the bigger issues are more on employment and budget. Some people cannot afford to lose their jobs or have the luxury of time to undergo training to qualify to teach other subjects.

Why English first?

To be honest, we didn’t expect to still be living in the Philippines today. There…I said it.

When Pablo was born, we planned to be prepared to be sent out to other nations at any time to help reach those who do not know about Jesus yet. English was the most practical language to be armed with.

We were both musicians by profession too. Our hearts longed to go out and use this skill to teach people, both young and old, the gospel through music. We intended to go global.

But our ways are not always God’s way.(Isaiah 55:8)

If you’re wondering what happened to that, we are exactly where we need to be. Raising and training children in worship so that they will be ready to be sent out to different nations to share the gospel to those that need to hear it.

Going back to Tuttle

So at the recommendation of a friend, Pablo and I trooped to Powerbooks at Serendra to look for the Tagalog for Kids set.

I later found out that Tuttle has published other books that teach Filipino. Others came with workbooks and the packaging was really great although I wasn’t able to open them because they were still sealed in plastic.

They had one thing in common: They were all pricey! The Tagalog for kids is already at Php 995. The other books were a thousand bucks up.

I was torn between buying this set or a thicker book that we would probably be able to use for several years but I decided that the flash cards and the poster are what we need at the moment.

Tuttle Tagalog for Kids come with a set of flashcards for different categories: Ang Pamilya ko (My Family), Mga Kulay (Colors), Mga Bilang (Numbers), Mga Hayop (Animals), Mga Pagkain (Food), Mga Damit (clothes), Ang Aking Katawan (My body), and Ang aking araw (My Day).  At the back of each flash card are suggested sentences for usage practice.

For example:

Nanay/Mom

Mahal ko ang Nanay ko.

I love my mom.

Titser ang Nanay ko.

My mom is a teacher.

Note that the language used is not Tagalog which now refers to the traditional, hardcore Filipino language used mostly in the Southern areas of the country, but the emergent Filipino language — which is a combination of Tagalog, Filipino slang, and foreign words that have been integrated into our language through the years.

I wouldn’t say “Titser” is correct although it’s a term used by many Pinoys…”teacher” is more appropriate if we’re referring to the new Filipino rule. “Guro”, of course, is Tagalog.

I also found this:

The Tagalog word for Orange is not Oreyns but Kahel. You can simply use “Orange” if Kahel is too deep for you.

I don’t know where “Oreyns” was based on; in my mind, it would be  people who have pronunciation problems.

The CD

Regarding the CD,  do not expect a Sarah Geronimo-sounding singer with a Gerard Salonga orchestrated music in the background. It’s more like a Kindergarten teacher who doesn’t have much of a music background strumming on a slightly off tuned guitar and singing nursery rhymes to her class.

I would say that the kit is more like a teacher’s reference.

The kit was not produced in the Philippines, but in Singapore, which probably means that it was created for other nationalities wanting to learn our language.

Which also explains why when I went looking for a good Filipino book for beginners several months ago, I found none. There were a lot of books that teach French, German, Spanish and even ESL (English as a second language) but there were no Filipino for beginners . Not until recently.

Why are there no Filipino for beginners in our bookstores?

I guess it’s because local bookstores don’t deem it necessary to have a Filipino for beginners on their shelves.

To be honest, I find it ridiculous that my kids have to learn their own language as any Korean or American student would, and using foreign-produced materials yet.

And just to clarify, I find nothing wrong with teaching children to communicate in English as it is very useful in most  industries and professions. Now whether we should be pressured to keep up with the tedious Filipino exams DepEd requires for our kids to take is a different matter altogether.

My point here is that Filipinos should be who would create and produce technically accurate materials for teaching  Filipino, and I don’t mean the school textbooks, but tutorials for beginners since there is already a need for it.

Do I recommend this?

Yeah, sure, go ahead and get your kids one. Just make sure to correct the wrong words.

You can actually come up with your own sets of exercises at home or make your own flash cards and posters, but if you’re too busy, it saves time to just get the kit and the books.

Tuttle Tagalog for Kids is also available on Amazon.

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36 Comments

  1. I agree, there are so many ways to show that one is nationalistic. But I am a big believer that learning our language is a must for every Filipino. It is part of who we are. At the same time though, I find the Filipino school books nowadays very frustrating to learn. They all use Tagalog not really used in everyday conversation anymore, which makes it harder for kids (including mine) to really understand it. Something must be done about that.

  2. It’s good that you’re teaching your kids Filipino. One parent in my daughter’s class was ranting one time because the kids will be taught Filipino come Kinder 2 (or 3, basta some time in the coming years). She didn’t want her daughter to learn it kasi raw dapat English speaking lang like other exclusive schools. As for me, I don’t mind my daughter learning the language. She still speaks just English now, but we’re slowly teaching her Filipino too. I don’t think there’s anything wrong about speaking our language since we are Filipinos anyway.

    1. Yeah, I would love to see the day my kids can carry a conversation in Filipino as well as they do with English. 🙂 Good for you that you see the value in learning the language. 🙂 Thanks for dropping in, Kim! 🙂

  3. Wow! It’s good that you’re teaching your kids our native language. Minsan kasi parang nakakalimutan na ang Filipino at naka-focus na lang sa English language. Yeah, I agree that we need to be knowledgeable in using English language to be globally competitive, pero sana ‘wag makalimutan ‘yung kinalakihan. 🙂 Good job!

    1. It is expensive. The Amazon version is cheaper but you’ll have to print it….
      It’s good that your son has Filipino classes. I tried letting my son attend a Filipino class with other home schoolers but I think his learning style doesn’t go well with a classroom setup for languages. 🙂

  4. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I’m really, really bad in Tagalog/Filipino. You can’t make me write an essay in Filipino without it sounding like it was written by a preschooler. Super basic words only, no deep words/sentences. I’m actually worried for when we start homeschooling Jacob and we have Tagalog.

  5. Great post, May! It is such a challenge to ‘teach’ the Filipino language. And yes, Filipino and Tagalog are two different things. Tuttle should’ve labeled it ‘Filipino’ instead of Tagalog since Filipino is more of a tag-lish friendly language that incorporates different dialects. I love reading Tagalog poems though, and even enjoyed reading Filipino translations of Noli & Fili in High School!

    May, I think I told you about this already but you also might be interested to buy this booklet I got entitled Bagong Alpabeto: Mga Unang Hakbang sa Pagbasa – it’s not colorful and aesthetically formatted as other materials but it’s a good beginner book to use in conversing and teaching Filipino. I’ve introduced words like magkatulad, magkasinghaba, and many words using this booklet. The best part is it’s only P8.50 in National Bookstore. Found this blog article about it too – http://mystories.info/tag/mga-unang-hakbang-sa-pagbasa 🙂

    1. Hi Chame! Yes, you did mention it to me and I am very much familiar with the book since I grew up seeing it around the house. My mom bought his apos a copy although I’m not so sure if it’s still around because I haven’t seen it in a while. 🙂

  6. Ughhhh Filipino. How I wish I had taught my son how to speak the language when he was younger. It’s hard though, coz we really speak English at home. Thankfully, MrC is super patient in trying to teach the little boy, and buti nalang din the kiddo picks up fast.

  7. We used songs to teach Filipino, it’s more fun that way. We speak fluently in Hiligaynon (Ilonggo) but we need to expose our son to the language.

    I agree, the materials we have in our bookstores are very limited and we should double check ALL before we give them to the kids.

  8. I remember as a student,Filipino is one of the complicated subjects for me.Its rules and usage are interesting to learn.

  9. I agree, being a Filipino does not always mean we need to speak. As a teacher though of NSTP i find that sometimes speaking Tagalog emphasizes my point better especially if its about citizenship.

  10. My co-teacher and I were just talking about how Filipino as a subject will be taken out of College. I think they have good intentions with that move BUT ONLY IF it is properly taught in the K to 12 Grades. I really think that we as Filipinos, especially in the Philippines know about our own language. At home, we intentionally talk to our 2 year old both in English and in Tagalog so he wouldn’t have a difficult time learning both in the years to come.

  11. Hi! Enjoyed your article. I homeschool my 6yo son and I have no clear idea until now how to teach the Filipino subject (I would appreciate learning centers that could do that). I cannot engage in a debate about the Filipino subject being dropped from college, about nationalism, DepEd policies, etc, etc cuz I don’t have any strong argument. All I can say is, we are BISAYA. We are proud to be Bisaya. That makes it doubly hard for us to study Tagalog. Many of us find it tiresome (and sometimes pointless) to deal with Filipino/Tagalog lessons. Not all of us are interested to learn Tagalog. When it comes to speaking, we’d rather converse in Bisaya or English. Sure, learn how to speak Tagalog to be able to communicate/converse with non-Visayans but that’s about it. Study it in-depth? I don’t know. Can it be optional as a subject and not required? 🙂 I don’t mean to be disrespectful but I think that if they require kids to learn Filipino, there should be certain changes in how the subject is taught so kids will better appreciate the “national language” and perhaps appreciate great works written in Tagalog. But until that happens, kids (especially our Bisaya kids) will continue to have a hard time studying it (and the subject is not even going to be that useful in the future).

    1. Hi Allison, thank you very much.

      I agree with you. The way Filipino subjects are taught make it too difficult for students to appreciate it altogether.

  12. Interesting post! Though this got me thinking, that “Tagalog” is the “hardcore Filipino language used mostly in the Southern areas of the country.” There is truth to that (or maybe Southern areas of Luzon?) but I’d say that it’s the other way around. “Filipino” is the less “hardcore” version of Tagalog spoken in these regions.

    We don’t speak “Filipino” first but “Tagalog” first. Tagalog came first before Filipino. I’m sorry if it sounds like nitpicking (I don’t mean to!) but as somebody from the Tagalog region I felt a bit sad lol. I don’t know if I made sense!

  13. Great points raised here. For kids, i would recommend The Learning Library, especially if we want their Filipino language learning be supported beyond what they learn in school. They also have a partnership with Adarna so they have a wide selection of Filipino books!

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