Accountability in student-led language workshops

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For this week’s Kultural Musings, let’s go back to another fundamental component of culture: our language. In my last article, I wrote about new Filipino music ready to wow any music lover, regardless of fluency in Tagalog. If you happened to take my advice or if you’ve ever listened to songs sung in Tagalog or another Filipino dialect, you can have one of many reactions: to the consistent listener of such music, the language might not even catch your special attention; to someone who isn’t familiar with the language, you might be turned off by the music, or have a limited appreciation of the song; to someone like me who’s part of the Filipino diaspora, the language in these songs might have a special effect on you–a kind of nostalgic device that organically strengthens the love you have for the motherland. Whichever category you fit into, language plays a central role in your reaction. In fact, I believe language plays an important role in all circumstances of culture and heritage appreciation.
I know a lot of young second-generation Filipino Americans who feel left out of the Filipino community, as if there’s a part of them that’s missing, because they either can’t understand or speak any Filipino language. In my conversations with other young Filipino Americans, I typically hear something along the lines of: “I wish my parents had taught me Tagalog/Bisaya/Ilocano/etc.” Thankfully, there are different organizations that hold language workshops throughout the year to aid in this demand. On college campuses, specifically, there are ethnic organizations that hold language workshops for their peers. While I’m proud of these organizations’ presence on campus, often the product of those language workshops fall short of expectations. I’m in no way criticizing the intent of the student organizations; I don’t doubt their motivation to help other Filipino Americans. However, as someone eager to spread Filipino culture here in the area, the casual tone often found in these workshops leads to a lack of actual learning of the language. Facilitators, who are often other peers who have some knowledge in the chosen language, do not have a strong resolve to educate their peers; instead, the result of these workshops is an hour or two of silly Q&As on how to say curse words and other words with no potential for further language learning. I pity the students who go into those workshops with notebook and pen in hand, ready to learn the language of their heritage. They leave the workshops with no further knowledge and no increase in determination to learn when they see their peers merely fooling around.
Through this article, I call out to those student organizations who plan on holding future language workshops in their own insitutions. Keep in mind that you are the representatives of Filipino Americans in your institutions, and the events you hold during the year influence the members of your organization, and by extension, their attitude towards our Filipino culture. While fun is definitely an important part of a student organization, purpose is also equally significant. Especially if you’re part of the governing body of an organization, you’ve automatically taken the responsibility of making sure you represent the Filipino culture well in all your projects. If you’re unsure of a part of our culture, don’t hesitate to ask peers who have more background, or older generations who can give you the information you need. When it comes to hosting language workshops, make sure to consult someone who is fluent in the language; ask them to facilitate the workshop if possible. Make sure your purpose for holding a language workshop is to teach others our languages; otherwise, if you plan to mask any casual hangout under the premise of a language workshop, stop. Consider others whose time and enthusiasm you would be wasting.
In a song called “Ako’y Isang Pinoy” by Florante, the Filipino songwriter quotes wise words once said by our national hero Jose Rizal: “Ang hindi raw magmahal sa sariling wika ay higit pa ang amoy sa mabahong isda.” According to Rizal, whoever doesn’t love their own language produces a smell worse than a stinking fish. Language, as a fundamental component of culture, should be taken seriously. Language learning, therefore, should follow suit.
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Editor’s Note: Cheryl is our Team Update newest member. She is a great addition to our hardworking team as she dives into going over our weekly issues. She comes at the right time because most of us are all working (she works too!) and whenever Ferdie or myself cannot write, she makes herself available. What a high spirit within the team! Thanks Cheryl.
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