“What did you say?” I asked my grandma being a clueless dog after being asked to roll over after she asked me in a language I obviously wasn’t familiar with. For someone being born in the Philippines, I came to the US when I was only 4 months old and English obviously being my first language. I obviously did not come prepared when I came to the Philippines with my grandma when I was about 7-8 years old. I had very limited knowledge of Tagalog, and I only knew basic words such as Lola (grandma), Lolo (grandpa), nanay (mom), tatay (dad), tita (aunt), tito (uncle) and some basic words. I only knew a few words and I didn’t know how to form a sentence or respond. I also knew how to count one through ten. This was before I came to the Philippines. I remember in the 3rd grade, I went to the schools nurse for I think a check-up, the nurse was a Filipino lady and I remember her asking “Do you speak Tagalog?” I nodded my head. She then asked. “Do you know how to count in Tagalog?”. I nodded again. She then decided to teach me how to count. I repeated however she told me how to pronounce to say each word. She then told me to now try it on my own. I remember being nervous trying to say each word and remembering how to pronounce each word. The nurse “Isa” which means one. I repeated. “Dalawa” which means two and so on. As I got to the last number, she told me “Good job”. I felt proud of myself a little bit now that I know how to count. Now I knew how to count in another language. That was really the only time someone taught me a new language at that time before I went to the Philippines later that year.
When I came to the Philippines, I was very nervous because I still had limited knowledge of the language. I didn’t come as prepared to come over me, only thing I really knew that I learned was to count. I was thinking in my mind like, “How was I going to survive?”, “How am I going to deal with school?”. This is where the thoughts that 7-8-year-old me had at that time. I remember when I came off the airport with my grandma and aunt, I was greeted by other relatives I never met. I looked at them frozen not knowing what to say. They didn’t say much, and my Grandma just told them that I didn’t understand any Tagalog at all A part of me was a little embarrassed because I didn’t know what to say to them. While I was living there, I had a hard time talking to others at first, it was either because they spoke broken English to me or I couldn’t understand what they were telling me. I remember while I was living there. I had a hard time interacting with my cousins and only way of communicating was my aunt translating for me, or we only communicated through activities such as coloring, writing, playing games or even reading. When I started school, I felt left out. I was pretty much the only American from my school. Although everyone spoke little English, they weren’t as good. I remember one of my classmates, “Are you from America?”. One of my classmates asked as if they’ve seen shocked seeing me. I nodded and that was pretty much. Gestures and broken English was pretty much the way I communicated with others for a while. One day, afterschool my aunt and grandma took me to the mall, we went to a store that was like target or a Walmart. I think we were getting more school supplies, I saw an English-Tagalog vocabulary book meant for someone who was in primary and secondary education level. I thought to myself, maybe this will be in good use I said skimming through the book. I then asked my grandma. “Mommy, can I please get this book?”. I said showing the book in front of her. She said “Yes, that’s fine”. My grandma was the one who raised me ever since I came from the US. She mostly spoke English to me. But sometimes would speak Taglish to me such as “Jaslene, do you baon school?” which means Jaslene, do you want any snacks for school, or something simple.
As soon as I got the vocabulary book. On this day, it was around 4-5 pm. A few of my relatives who are adults were there, I was born and decided to finally get into the book. I took my pen, notebook and the vocabulary book with me and sat next to my grandma as I began preparing to write. I was frozen still and glued to the chair, focused on the book and started writing down the first word I saw. I wrote down the English word and Tagalog word for it in a column as if I was taking notes in class. My mind was focused that I forgot that I was even outside. I remember my older cousin was taking a glance of what I was doing, and my grandma told me to not bug me in Tagalog. I think I was probably on the E section of the book, whenever I would write the English word and Tagalog word. I would repeat it, write it and then write the word in Tagalog and move on. I felt like I got everything down. I forgot where I stopped, but I’m pretty sure I went through half of the book by the time it was the evening. After that, I felt like I knew everything that I needed to know. Whenever I would watch tv, I was able to understand what was going on I was able to respond to my teachers better at school. Half of the time, they wouldn’t try to say something in English sometimes. I was able to understand my classmates better on what they were telling me or asking me. I was finally able to understand it better, now that I was able to speak to my cousins and almost everyone. I finally didn’t have the problem of having a language barrier with everybody. It took me at least a month or two to be able to speak and understand the language. I watched tv, asked my grandma for help, read books and anything resources I could get a hold of. Although I was able to grasp the language, I remember my grandma telling me “I want you to speak English to me and your Lolo (grandpa) so you don’t forget how to speak English”. It was true, I wasn’t going to forget the first language I first learned. I remember one day, me and my cousin were playing with the other kids, they were surprised that I was able to communicate with them. I remember the kid asking me, “Marunong ka bang mag-Tagalog?” (Do you know how to speak Tagalog?). I said yes of course, and they were shocked because when they first met me, I had very limited knowledge of the language. But now I was able finally be able to understand the language.
Although it took me months and frustration to understand everything. I never gave up on learning. I had some struggles because I basically had books and tv to teach me, with a little help of my grandma of course, But it was worth the time. I was somewhat able to communicate with others. I’m going to be honest, ever since I came back from the Philippines, I forgot how to form sentences. My grandma did the right thing to tell me to speak English to her so I won’t forget how to speak my first language. But I’m in the process of learning again even though it will be a little hard because I’m in my 20s, but I’ll keep trying until I get it. Learning a language can be a struggle, but will be worth it at the time if you put the time and effort.