Following in the footsteps of Rizal

This May, 15 non-native speakers from in and around London completed a ten-week beginners’ Filipino language course – Philippine Generations’ second consecutive successful batch since language classes first began last year.

This year’s group got to grips with a range of basic Tagalog vocabulary and dialogue practical for common daily use. Practicing to speak confidently and more at length about themselves or in the context of eating in a restaurant or simply talking to a stranger, were learned at an impressive pace over 2-hour sessions at a time. Though this sounds a little daunting to those who feel ill-equipped to pick up language-learning, this class of adult beginners, ranging from the age of 18 years and beyond, proved there is no challenge of age limit to it. University students mixed together with full-time professionals, which altogether made also for a colourful assortment of nationalities in the classroom. Even if the ethnic mix may not come as a surprise here in London, I still felt a strange feeling of wonder and pride in seeing Brits, a Japanese and an Italian together with 2nd generation Fil-Brits studying Tagalog. I recall in the last lesson, a South African university student also sitting in with fascination.

During the class, there were no less than two volunteers supporting teachers Cathy Frideres and  Dianne Marcos with assisting students in grammar exercises and conversation. There was constant feedback on what was interesting to learn and what was not, students appeared at ease with the pace in which they were digesting their learning. The teachers’ approach was pro-active, friendly and naturally encouraged students to ask questions or simply speak in Tagalog aloud with more confidence – a challenge that many of us Fil-Brits knowingly struggle with. The success of each student’s oral exam at the end of the course was certainly a moment to be proud – and for Cathy and Dianne at least to gush a little.

Tagalog, Rizal and Smelly Fish
Today we celebrate the birthday of a Filipino national hero: José Rizal. Rizal was indeed a revolutionary and visionary on many matters political and social. What some of us might not know is that Rizal mastered in total 22 languages during his short lifetime. He wrote essays and letters in both German and Spanish, his most famous works ‘Noli Me Tangere’ and ‘El Filibusterismo’ were both written originally in Spanish. But he understood above all the importance of engaging with Tagalog most crucially as an extension of the people. There is so much more than we realise which can be uncovered through learning Filipino beneath the surface of verbs and sentence structure. For example I came to appreciate, among many things, Filipino humour through learning Tagalog: a priceless part of the Filipino’s personality and experience of the world.

He who does not love his own language is worse than an animal and a smelly fish. – J. Rizal

 Rizal, a truly exemplary ‘global Filipino’, demonstrated how instantaneous and extraordinary the connection language is when you do connect. He accomplished to reach out to so many literally across the globe with his words. And despite the irony of writing all of this in English, I hope we all can find renewed inspiration and appreciation in the Filipino language through him and through our own learning.

A big congratulation to the entire Beginners’ Filipino class 2011. Philippine Generations are currently the only organization that exclusively offers Filipino language classes in London. Please get in touch if you are interested.


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