I love arts and culture, so I want to write about them. This category covers light topics such as popular culture, social media, music, and travel and also heavy subjects such as literature, social justice, and politics.
I was doing research for an article when I stumbled upon a job posting from a company in the Philippines saying they are “looking for native English speakers.” I didn’t know what to do, really—to laugh or get angry. I laughed first because of the absurdity of the job ad and got angry because prospective job applicants were out before they can even apply.
Because guess what? Filipinos are not native English speakers, at least the majority of them.
First of all, let’s settle it once and for all by defining what makes a native speaker. Cambridge Dictionary says it’s “someone who has spoken a particular language since they were a baby, rather than having learned it as a child or adult.” It’s someone who grew up learning a particular language at home, in our case it’s English. It’s their language at infancy, and the language their parents taught them. It’s the language they use when thinking and talking in everyday life (outside of work and in the Philippine setting only).
While there are Filipinos who grew up learning English as their native tongue, majority of them did not. Hence, the Philippines is not a native English-speaking country.
But there’s more to the story than meets the eye.
Multilingualism in the Philippines
The Philippines is a multilingual country, boasting over 170 languages. Speaking two or three languages is the norm. In the capital Metro Manila, Tagalog/Filipino is the first language of most of its inhabitants. But if you venture into the provinces, regional languages like Bisaya and Tagalog/Filipino may be both spoken at home. Some only speak their regional language and not the national language. In rare cases, a regional language, Tagalog/Filipino, and English are being spoken as well. Sometimes, only Tagalog/Filipino and English are the preferred languages.
As you have noticed, it’s quite complicated in the Philippines’ case. Can one have more than one native language? And if English is one of them, do they qualify as a native English speaker? ThisStack Exchange forum says so, but I’ll take it with a grain of salt.
If you ask the majority, though, they say no. This absurdity can be easily dispelled when a Filipino applies for jobs or to schools where English is the primary language. Unfortunately, the Philippines is not among the list of countries which are considered native English-speaking countries. And if you want a list, here it is. Thus, Filipinos have to take an English proficiency test like IELTS or TOEFL to prove they have a good command of the language. For a Filipino who grew up with English as their primary language, it’s quite a problem proving they are indeed a native speaker.
English as a Second Language
Don’t get me wrong. Filipinos may be very good at using the English language, but they are still not considered native English speakers. In fact, majority consider English as their second language. While some can really pass like a native speaker, the reality is most of them do not.
So, stop looking for native English speakers from the Philippines unless you’re limiting your talent search to American expats or around 3%* of the Filipino population.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if one is a native speaker or not as long as they can do the job.
One month after its release, I still can’t get enough of Taylor Swift’s newest album Lover. Since last month, I don’t think there was a day I didn’t listen to it. From the shower to commute and work, songs from Lover dominate my other playlists.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going gaga over it. Swift’s previous albums from Reputation to Fearless were good as well. I remember Reputation being dark and mature. It’s perfect for me when it was first released—when I was also feeling “revengeful.” Now that Lover is out, I feel like the theme perfectly describes what and where I am in my life right now: happy and content.
I’ve been a fan of Swift since “Teardrops on My Guitar” era. That’s almost 15 years already! Until today, I still listen to some of her past albums. I don’t know about you, but I like the mystery and the story behind her songs. They are just very lyrical.
The following are my best and thought-provoking lyrics from Lover. Obviously, there are a lot of good lyrics in the album for when you have those darn feelings. But these are the ones that really spoke to me.
I forgot that you existed. And I thought that it would kill me, but it didn’t
They say home is where the heart is. But that’s not where mine lives
Paper cut stains from our paper thin plans
Desperate people find faith, so now I pray to Jesus too
Why’d I have to break what I love so much?
My love was as cruel as the cities I lived in
If I was out flashin’ my dollas
I’d be a bitch, not a baller
They’d paint me out to be bad
So it’s okay that I’m mad
I wanna be defined by the things that I love
Not the things I hate
Not the things I’m afraid of, I’m afraid of
The things that haunt me in the middle of the night, I
I just think that you are what you love
If you love Lover, what are your favorite lyrics from it? Make sure you comment them below!
At the start of the year when everyone promised to stay committed to their New Year’s resolutions, I decided to do something I’ve always wanted to do—to learn Spanish. If you had asked me to listen to a song in Spanish six months ago, I would have just laughed for the absurdity of it. Six months later, I am now stanning Sebastián Yatra and Morat. My fluency of Spanish even improved from ¿Cómo estás? to trash talking someone who cuts in line at a fast food restaurant.
I’ve always considered myself to be a language lover. I already speak three languages—English, Filipino, and Pangasinan. But with the limited career prospects of the last two, I decided that it’s time to up the ante. Spanish was the obvious choice as it’s the second-most spoken language in the world. But that’s not all there is to it. Embracing my cultural identity—trying not to be white—gave me the motivation I needed to start this journey.
I love Hispanic and Latin culture, and it’s nice to be able to connect to that culture I have been denied of.
If you’re starting to learn Spanish, it’s really difficult to know where to start. Should you sign up for classes? Should you just study by yourself? And if you do, what resources should you get ahold of? These are the questions that plague a first-time learner of Spanish. With the advent of modern technology, it’s really easy to find a lot of resources. The caveat is, where to start?
Language learning is a personal journey. Every learner responds to different learning styles. As for me, I don’t do well with traditional classroom-based learning. This is why I took this journey alone and selected the best resources that work for me.
Below are the resources I use every day to study Spanish. You can try all of them, but you don’t have to keep using the ones that don’t work for you.
I’m not a textbook kind of learner. For me, reading a textbook and doing the exercises are really boring. This app is what I use to learn the grammar and other language rules.
Perhaps Duolingo is the most popular language learning app. And it’s not difficult to see why. Its gamified learning process is engaging and rewarding. While it’s the most popular, it’s not also the most effective.
I read a lot of mixed reviews saying that it works for them and it doesn’t work for others. Well for me, it works as intended. However, I don’t rely on it alone to learn everything.
This is a flashcard app to learn new words. However, it’s not the usual ones as the words are recorded by real humans and not robots. There are also a lot of videos of native Spanish speakers for practicing pronunciation and comprehension.
Memrise focuses on European Spanish. Thus, make sure you know at the outset what variety of Spanish you want to study.
After getting past the elementary level, it’s time to put everything into practice.
In this innovative audiobook and e-book app, you can read and listen to children’s stories, popular stories, short essays, and even news in dual languages. So even if you don’t understand some words when reading a passage, you can look at the English translation below it.
The complexity of the texts can be filtered in three categories: beginner, intermediate, and advanced.
I got addicted to this show when I first watched the English version on National Geographic. It documents the people who were caught smuggling drugs at major airports in Latin America and Spain. The presenter speaks understandable-enough Spanish.
So far, I’ve only watched the show’s other editions that are filmed in Lima, Perú and Bogotá, Colombia.
I think that this is the second-best Spanish podcast available. You can already notice it with their professional-sounding intro and outro. They have 200+ episodes now since their humble beginnings in 2008, and I already learned a lot from them.
They teach everything a newbie needs to know. As the seasons progress, the level of Spanish also gets harder.
Although the main presenter is based in Scotland, he has a native-like command of Spanish.
Per the podcast title, the news coverage is mostly Spain and Europe where the presenters speak in slow Spanish. Not literally slow, but controlled and understandable. No more machine guns! There are two levels of this podcast: intermediate and advanced.
This is by far the best ever Spanish podcast you have to listen to right now.
Mihalis Eleftheriou, the founder, discusses grammar rules innovatively and refreshingly in 90+ episodes. I found the lessons very enlightening because there are some grammar rules I can’t really understand no matter what I do.
And by the way, it’s all free.
Songs in Spanish
This method is the most difficult but engaging method to learn Spanish. It may not teach you the grammar rules but it will train your ears to pick up words.
For the past six months, I’ve been listening to a lot of Latin and Spanish bands/musicians. Some of my favorites are Morat, Sebastián Yatra, Alvaro Soler, and Rosalía. Although I hate its vulgar content, I also listen to reggaeton.
This method might be challenging for music lovers as well. Listening to songs in Spanish means not listening to songs in English for a long while.
It’s all grammar rules until it’s time to put things in action.
Part of language learning is consistently practicing it. But what if there’s no Spanish speakers in your area? How will you be able to practice what you learned?
Enter HelloTalk, an app that facilitates language conversation exchange with native Spanish speakers. If you’re a native English speaker, there are tons of hispanohablantes willing to talk to you.
The lure of the app is the text correction feature. When you make mistakes in your posts, the community will be there to correct you.
I’ve been using this app consistently to practice with Latinos and Spaniards. So far, I’ve already talked to a lot from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, México, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Spain, and Uruguay. Well, I consider myself a shy person so this app is really golden. When I talk to the hispanohablantes, I really get fascinated by their beautiful accents. Over the course of five months, I developed friendships there that we migrated to WhatsApp.
Just a caveat for women out there. Las mujeres usually receive a lot of messages on this app, and like on other digital spaces, harassment is prevalent. Generally, it’s a safe community. But it doesn’t hurt to be careful as well.
Learning a language is not easy. It requires motivation, perseverance, and patience every day especially if you’re doing it alone. One of the things that I learned in this journey is that you must love the culture associated to your target language for you to easily learn it. In my case, I love Hispanic culture, and so I learned conversational Spanish in just six months.
If you’re learning Spanish, what are other resources you use?
It’s a Monday night at a friend’s house in Manila, a city which still has a strong Hispanic influence thanks to the three centuries of Spanish occupation. The night is warm and restless. And it’s one of those perfect nights to catch up with friends you haven’t seen in a while. Over a hot meal of quintessential Filipino dishes and American pop ballads, a friend suddenly said in jest: “I remember that you are so into music and pop culture. What kinds of songs are you into now?”
To which I answered, with pride and ardor: “I’m into Latinx music now. I’m listening to a lot of songs in Spanish.”
It might have been the bitter tuyo she’s munching that made her grimace, but my frenzied reply prompted her to comment about how I do not give a damn about OPM. That since I’m a Filipino, I should be patronizing and glorifying music from my own country.
I was sitting there mortified with my own preference in music and arts. That my not listening to Filipino music makes me not proud of my identity. That by my listening to Spanish songs makes me unpatriotic. While there’s nothing wrong with her statement, I think that she was heavily alienated by a culture that is so much our own—Hispanic culture. That the only culture she wants to embrace is “purely” Filipino. Is there such a thing? Over the Filipino favorite adobo, I thought about it for a moment and my jaw dropped with a sudden realization. It occured to me that she might be a victim of miseducation. That she and most millennials are victims of miseducation about history and their heritage.
Despite the countless history lessons drilled into them at school, most millennials seem at disconnect with their own inherited culture. More than three hundred years of Spanish colonization and yet they are so much into everything American—music, TV series, books, films, language, and white culture. While the American way of life is also of our own, it can’t just wipe 333 years of influence with just over four decades of propaganda. However, it seems unfortunate that most millennials have already forgotten their Hispanic heritage. Needless to say, the Spaniards left imprints that even survived in the modern society. Think of the way we count (uno, dos, tres, etc.), the way we talk about months (Enero, Pebrero, Marso, etc.), the various loan words in our very own Filipino language and in regional ones (kutsara, tinidor, baso, kutsilyo, etc.), the various festivities and traditions we celebrate (fiesta, siesta, etc.), the localized names of countries (Estados Unidos, Hapon, Tsina, etc.), some names of MRT and LRT stations (Libertad and Buendia), our last names (Cruz, Diaz, Espejo, etc.), and the major religion in the country (Roman Catholic). Everything is very Hispanic.
Language is a reflection of culture, and they are very connected to each other. So why aren’t we, Filipinos, using the Spanish language today as much as English? Why didn’t Spanish survive up to this generation? What happened? Does it even matter now?
Learning about our Hispanic heritage does not mean relinquishing our nationality as Filipino. After all, part of our culture, customs, and traditions is based upon it. It does not mean that we have to abolish the Filipino language just because we have Hispanic roots. It’s just a way of us paying homage to a lost language and embracing our heritage. As I have written in my previous post, I have been religiously studying Spanish. The language that played a huge part in the independence of this country from colonizers. I dedicate roughly three hours of my time every day studying the grammar and conversing with our hermanos from the Latin America. But before I tell you why it means so much to me, let me walk you through a brief history of the Philippines under three colonizers.
A Walk Down the Memory Lane
Many historians claim that the Spaniards did not teach Filipinos the Spanish language. They insist that the Spaniards did not want Filipinos to learn it for the fear of retaliation. Various accounts, however, are in contrary to that statement. Despite their cruelty, the Spaniards made efforts to educate the Indios. One of their contributions is the introduction of the public education in the Philippines. They taught ordinary Filipinos the Spanish language with the help of the friars. It was even required by the Spanish Royal Decree to teach the language to the natives. In his speech for the Philippine Assembly at the US Congress in October 1914, former president Manuel L.Quezon acknowledged the influence of the Spaniards to the literacy of Filipinos. He even said that he was educated in one of the schools built by them.
Digging deeper, the use of the Spanish language by the Filipinos goes further than the 19th century. In 1610, Filipino printer, writer, and publisher Tomas Pinpin wrote his famous book Librong Pagaaralan nang manga Tagalog nang Uicang Castilla, that was meant to help Filipinos learn the Spanish language. I have a digital copy of the said book but the Tagalog used was very challenging.
Tomas Pinpin’s efforts must have been worth it. When the Filipinos were made aware of the atrocities of the Spaniards with the help of the Illustrados, it seems that they were already speaking Spanish. Freed from the clutch of the Spaniards, the revolutionists and Illustrados wrote ¡Viva la Republica Filipina, Viva! on our flag to finally proclaim the independence in 1898. Then, they penned the short-lived Constitución Política de Malolos (Malolos Constitution), the basic law of the First Philippine Republic, in Spanish.
Even when the Americans came in the early 1900s, the use of Spanish language even became more prevalent.
The infamous betrayal from both Spain and America made the usage of Spanish fluctuate in the early 20th century. The massive propaganda of America to wipe out the Spanish influence in us became successful. They exceeded what the Spaniards did in terms of education by bringing native English speakers to teach us a new language. The extent of the American influence was almost genocidal as it painted a bad image of the Spain. Eventually, the use of Spanish diminished over the years. Add that to the Philippine-American war that killed hundreds of thousands of Filipinos. In the end, the Americans were very successful in bastardization of our inherited culture.
Ironically, Filipino literature during the American occupation flourished. Writers like Teodoro Kalaw, Claro M. Recto, and Francisco Liongson wrote heavily in Spanish. Newspapers such as the Philippine Free Press were also written in both English and Spanish.
However, there came a movement in the late 1930s. To foster identity among the Filipinos and to unite the country, Filipino was declared the official language in 1937. Local languages such as Cebuano and Tagalog were also strengthened. Then-president Manuel L. Quezon didn’t want either Spanish or English to be the national language. This was yet another major blow for Spanish.
Nearing the middle of the century, the Philippines suffered a huge loss of its peoples. Imperial Japan came in the 1940s and slaughtered a million Filipinos including the remaining Spanish speakers in Manila. The survivors then migrated to the US or Latin American countries.
After the three periods of colonization, the Spanish language became irrelevant over the next few decades. As a matter of fact, the 1987 Constitution put the final nail in the coffin by dropping Spanish as one of the country’s official languages.
Resurgence of Spanish
The turn of the century brought a lot of changes in the way of Filipino life. One of them is the cultural awareness. The next 20 years made some Filipinos interested in their lost language—there was an interest to revive Spanish. Language schools such as the Instituto Cervantes de Manila and Berlitz were established. The Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day is also being celebrated every 30th of June to commemorate the cultural and historical ties between the Philippines and Spain.
In terms of arts and culture, various Latin American telenovelas also captured the hearts of Filipinos. Shows like Marimar, Betty La Fea, and Rosalinda were such massive hits in the Philippines that local TV networks even franchised them. Now, you’re wondering why Filipinos are so into them? That’s because Philippines and the Hispanic countries share the same culture being all children of Spain.
Don’t forget the anthem of the traditional Filipino line dance during fiestas in the barrio: Todo todo todo by Mexican singer Daniela Romo. “Esos bellos momentos, todo todo. Tus lindos ojos verdes, todo todo. El fuego de tu cuerpo, todo todo todo todo . . .” Filipinos in this generation don’t understand the lyrics but they still love the tune of the song.
In spite of these initiatives, activities, and traditions, most are still not aware of their own heritage.
I’ve written before that I am embracing my cultural identity as a Hispanic-influenced Filipino. I am studying the Spanish language because my cultural identity is very important for me. I don’t know about you but hearing Spanish being spoken by anyone makes my ears prick up. It feels natural to hear the words. I felt connected whenever I hear a Spanish song or hear someone speak it.
I’m also studying Spanish to get to know more about the rich history of the Philippines. You may be wondering why learning a foreign language makes me know more about the country. If you’ve been doing a lot of reading, Spanish was the official language in the Philipines during the Spanish régime. Our ancestors spoke it along with their native tongue. Filipino, as we speak it in this generation, was only spoken by inhabitants of Manila, Rizal, Cavite, Bulacan, and Batangas. Parts of the archipelago didn’t know Filipino/Tagalog yet, and Spanish served as a link to communicate with one another.
The Hispanic influence is both apparent and underlying. Despite hating the Spaniards, Illustrados such as Jose Rizal, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, and Graciano Lopez Jaena spoke and wrote in Spanish. In fact, Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo were written in Spanish. Our national anthem was originally written in Spanish—Marcha Nacional Filipina/Tierra Adorada.
These are all very fascinating. These are the things I want to delve myself into: the lost connections to our Hispanic culture.
Knowing the country’s rich Hispanic history, it made me appreciate the beauty of the Spanish language. However, the same cannot be said for most Filipinos who would rather not go overboard. Learning Spanish for most Filipinos is not practical and is only a waste of time in this English-speaking country. Let’s face the reality. Most will not study for historical and cultural purposes.
Good thing that Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry acts as a bait for Filipinos. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world. No wonder BPO companies are answering the demand to employ Spanish-speaking agents. Few key strokes and Google searches show that BPO companies in the Philippines pay PHP60,000 to PHP90,000 for foreign language accounts. That’s twice or even thrice the amount English-speaking call center agents earn in a month. Learning a foreign language such as Spanish won’t be a waste of time for Filipinos after all.
The Future of Spanish in the Philippines
Despite the movement to reintroduce Spanish in the Philippines, its future to be one of the national languages seems far-fetched. The loss was so deep that it will require reworking of an entire nation.
First of all, a widespdead cultural awakening among Filipinos is needed for them to be interested in it. It would be a great deal of an education reform for this to happen. Moreover, this can only be possible if the 1987 Philippine Constitution will be ammended to reinclude Spanish as one of the official languages.
In this day and age, it’s very important to know and embrace our cultural identity and heritage. Looking back and delving deeper into our rich history and inherited culture makes us feel secure of our own place in the world.
Learning Spanish and the Hispanic culture does not make us less Filipino. In fact, it makes us otherwise. It enables us to feel connected to our ancestors who fought for our freedom. It makes us appreciate what we are and what we have become. It gives us a sense of interconnectedness of all things. Lastly, knowing our history makes us prepared for the worse things we might still face in the future.
Kumusta ka ey? Kumusta? Hello, how are you? ¡Hola! ¿Qué tal?
The world is getting smaller thanks to the advent of modern technology. Definitely, one of its advantages is bringing different world cultures closer than ever before. Learning different languages has never been easier. Culture mixing has never been more prevalent. But, at what expense?
Throughout my teenage years, I struggled a lot with my cultural and regional identity. I didn’t know where to belong and how to belong. Growing up with a Pangasinan-speaking family, I experienced a major culture clash within me. Growing up learning and speaking Filipino at school, I became confused even more. Growing up consuming media in the English language—books, music, and movies—I became a different person altogether. Growing up in a society and a community with a strong colonial mentality wherein everything American or white is venerated, it made my situation even worse. I didn’t know how to identify myself.
Learning all these languages at a young age, I became trilingual. This however, came with some underlying effects that will scar me later in life. Back then, I was young and naïve. I didn’t know how to respond to the “bastardization” of my cultural and regional identity. I was unfortunate for not having someone to explain the cultures and histories of these languages before learning them.
Cultural identity, as defined by this paper by Nina Martin, is “the extent to which each individual person attributes certain views and beliefs to him or herself, and to the feeling of affinity this person has towards a distinct cultural group of people.” The paper also discusses how “bilingualism consequently affect a child’s cultural identity development.”
When I was in my primary and secondary years, my classmates used to ask me where I was born. I have always answered Manila to some and San Carlos to others. I was afraid to identify myself as a native Pangasinense for the fear of being frowned upon. That being a native is inferior compared to being born in urban places like imperialist Metro Manila. Some also mistook me for a “foreigner,” a dialectal term, because of my Caucasian features. What’s so unacceptable is that I didn’t let them know what I really am. Remember, this is in the early 2000’s wherein colonial mentality is strong among the provinces. During those years, I was responding in a way that I can and I know. This led me to be confused of my own cultural and regional identity. Who am I and where do I belong? What language should I speak? Am I a true-blue native? Does it even matter?
My cultural turmoil followed me even in my 20’s. Recently, when I was speaking to a friend in my native tongue, I was horrified that I have already forgotten some of the words. I was floored. I wanted to pull my hair out to puke out the words. I was experiencing what linguists call a language attrition. Wikipedia defines language attrition as “the process of losing a native, or first language.” I think that this was brought by my moving to Metro Manila after graduating from college. Because I didn’t know someone who speaks in my native tongue, I learned to survive with speaking in Filipino/Tagalog or English. I also patronized consuming media in a foreign language that is English. My situation became even worse than before. I was becoming a lost cause.
A Wake-up Call
Due to my mission to improve every aspect of myself, I started learning Spanish this year. A month passed and I started noticing something incredible. It felt a bit of a cultural awakening in me. Like a veil is being lifted. Learning a foreign language makes me appreciate more my native tongue and my culture. I was not afraid to identify myself anymore. Since then, when I’m elsewhere but Pangasinan, I often steal opportunities to speak to my family members and relatives in the native tongue. Since I’ve read in the news that Pangasinan as a language is dying, I felt committed to save and preserve it.
You wonder why I’m writing about owning my identity but I am learning a Spanish. I have always known that my family is of Spanish descent by genealogy—that we have a pint of Spanish blood running in our veins. And what a shame it would be if no one stands up to own that culture? If no one in this lifetime embraces our “otherness”? This is my way of paying homage to my roots. I am owning everything that I am made of. Besides, Spanish is part of our culture as Filipinos.
The Importance of Cultural Identity
The importance of cultural identity has never been stressed enough. Simply put, it makes one feel belonged. It makes him know his place in the world. That’s why it’s very important that we push diversity in various forms of media—books, TV series, movies, songs, etc. When a person sees or reads about a character who looks like him, he may not feel alone in the world. He will feel represented and included. There will be a sense of belongingness and security. More importantly, it will break toxic social norms that bound individuals in the society.
My upbringing, education, and experiences led me to question and embrace what I really am. Now that I am acknowledging my Hispanic influence and learning a language that colonized my ancestors, I won’t let it shroud my true identity. No matter where I go or no matter what language I speak, I will always identify myself as a Hispanic-influenced Filipino—specifically Pangasinense. I will always bring with me the native language, tradition, and customs my ancestors fought to survive. I won’t deny myself anymore.
Copyright 2020 by Arvyn Cerezo
All Rights Reserved.