“Malulugi ako” no more…

“I’m not easily embarrassed, but I joined Philippine Generations’ Filipino language classes out of pure embarrassment. For almost three years I had lived in the Philippines, and I still couldn’t hold more than a casual conversation in Filipino with Ava (my long-term Filipina girlfriend) and other Filipino friends.

In my defence, I’d spent almost all of that time in a very busy job in an English-speaking aid charity office in Manila. Lessons had been snatched in taxi rides or at the end of exhausting days, to little effect. And my colleagues – perfect English speakers all – had limited patience with trying to do business in broken and un-grammatical Filipino.

Philippine Generations’ lessons were ideal for me. Evenings in the centre of London. Materials on the website for the many lessons I couldn’t make. Supportive classmates and a friendly atmosphere. But most of all, the fabulous volunteer teachers, Dianne and Cathy, who worked so hard at preparation, delivery and feedback, with such skill and patience – and all at rates unbeatable by any private sector outfit.

The real benefit came when I got to the Philippines, to stay with my girlfriend’s family over Christmas and New Year. Ava told her family that I was learning Filipino so they all agreed to avoid speaking to me in English. Although there was no need to talk in Filipino, I felt that I had made a little effort, a small payback for the wonderful hospitality I have always been shown.

When I travelled around the Philippines, I made even greater progress. The difference between being seen as a total outsider and someone who might understand something can be as simple as a correct greeting, a short answer or knowing the name of a local food. I found greater camaraderie – and better prices! – from taxi drivers, shop keepers and hotel receptionists. Hearing me say a few words correctly, Filipinos lavished me with their absurdly exaggerated praise, ‘Oh you speak perfect Filipino!’ – and then wanted to know how? why? when? I had been in the Philippines.

I also managed to use my favourite phrase in bartering. Although victimisation is a curse to be avoided at all costs, the lilt and the self-pity of the Filipino words ‘Malalugi ako’ (‘I’m being had!’) can end a negotiation with a smile and often with the last concession that seals the deal.

So, great fun to meet classmates and teachers, a good learning outcome, and a boost to travelling in the wonderful islands that comprise the Philippines. What better reasons could there be to enrol? 

David Hampson


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