When Your Second Language Becomes Your First

Honestly, I love the Filipino language. It has its very own unique beauty that we all say about our mother tongues. From its gender-neutral pronouns to its romantic deep words that seem unfit to the current Filipino personality, it does have many charms. But I have to face the hard fact that it has become more of a second language than a first to me.

It feels like a betrayal to my country. I grew up here in the Philippines all my life. And sure, I can excuse not knowing a specific dialect for a certain province but never can I excuse my dwindling knowledge of my mother tongue.

At first, it was only a slight difference. I started chatting with my friends in English and it felt totally normal (even though I know some of my friends thought it obnoxious behind my back). I think it was brought on by the fact that I use Tumblr, whose main language is English.

Then I started reading novels, those thick fiction books for kids and young adults (I still stand by the fact that some of them aren’t really for kids because seriously, people die in those books. It’s quite a traumatizing experience, really). I blame my sixth grade English teacher who introduced The Little Prince. She’s the one who started my bibliophile life.

While the introduction to English books made my grades in English classes skyrocket, it also affected my grades in Filipino classes… something I didn’t really notice at first.

When your Filipino teacher suddenly asks you why your grade on their subject is obviously the lowest on your card, you know something is up. That’s exactly what happened one day. The guilt I felt as I heard her question her teaching abilities, when really she’s one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever had the honor of meeting, was overwhelming. The discussion felt a lot like “it’s not you, it’s me” which I still find a little funny–even now.

Even though I still use Filipino on a daily basis, I know I’m a little weak at it. I find myself not knowing a certain word in Filipino but knowing what it is in English. Reading in my mother tongue is one of the obvious changes (especially when asked to read out loud–I totally sound like a first grader with how slow I do it). My preference for English when in literature and entertainment do not express any heritage or patriotism at all.

The Filipino language still lives–and will live on–in me. Yes, I know how cheesy that sounds but it proves a point. My mother tongue is mine. It always will be.

That overused saying that “first love never dies”? Maybe we can apply it here and tell ourselves now and in the future that first language never dies too.

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