Pamilya: The Reason I’m Learning Filipino

A look at Burnham Park, located in Baguio City, Philippines*

If I could have any superpower, I’d want the ability to understand and speak every language in the world.

I recently read Nataly Kelly’s Huffington Post interview with author Michael Erard, who examined the lives of extreme language learners in his new book, “Babel No More.” The language capabilities of the people mentioned in the article blew my mind. There’s Emil Krebs, who reportedly spoke 68 languages. Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti, who learned to speak 39 languages. And then there’s Elihu Burritt, who could read 50 languages. Emil, Giuseppe and Elihu are hyperglots. While they aren’t necessarily fluent in each language, they “keep a certain set of languages ‘on ice,'” in case the need arises. Can you imagine what it would be like to know that many languages?

In my case, I’m fluent in English (of course), conversationally fluent in Spanish and keep my beginner Italian “on ice.” Since last month, I’ve been working steadily to add yet another language to my repertoire, and I’m doing it because of…

Familia. Famiglia. Family.

Let’s add one more: pamilya, which is the word for “family” in Filipino, the official language of the Philippines.

My extended family who live in the province of Pangasinan played a major role in my decision to learn Filipino. Through the years, I haven’t been able to communicate with my mother’s family as much as I’d like, all due to the language barrier, cost of international calls and the difficulties that arise when it comes to time zones — the U.S. and Philippines are on opposite sides of the world. In the last year though, Facebook and Skype have played a major role in boosting the frequency of our communication (thank goodness for Facebook and Skype!).

…But I still don’t speak Filipino. Granted, my family in the Philippines knows a great amount of English. That has made our recent online conversations much easier, but the depth of our discussions is always limited. I long for the day when I can have a full-on conversation with my family in Filipino. After all, it’s  the language we share on a cultural level, not to mention that I also want to keep the language alive for when I have my own family and children.

So in earnest, I’m finally beginning to learn the language. I received the Rosetta Stone set as a gift for Christmas and am practicing diligently every day. It’s like I’m taking a college language class again, furiously writing out flashcards and notes to help me study. Better yet, when I hear myself slowly spitting out phrases to my mother like, “Nagugutom ako” (I’m hungry) or “Nagbabasa ako” (I’m reading), I sound like a toddler speaking her first words.

But for those who know me well, you know I’m enjoying every step of the way. I’m happy to say that after just two weeks, I’ve far exceeded my expectations when it comes to how much I’ve learned so far. I think it’s safe to say that I’m on to a great start to reach one of my goals for 2012: mastering Filipino at the intermediate level.

I’ll post periodic updates on my progress. Until then, paalam!

*Photo credit to Karen Mendez


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