“Bakla” is the Tagalog Word for Boat or How to Teach Your Child to Speak Filipino

Once, while watching “Batibot” on TV, I heard my then four-year-old son say, “bakla.” He uttered it three times, as if trying out the word. Stunned, I hesistantly asked him, ”What’s bakla?” He replied, “Bakla is a Tagalog word for boat.” While he must have heard it wrong, I also realized we had a problem.

I raised my son to be fluent in English, knowing that mastery of the language would give him an edge when he becomes an adult. I had assumed he would learn to speak Filipino outside the home. But that didn’t happen. Apparently, other parents like me also had the same idea. And our children ended up speaking only English to each other.

Though only 5, my son has a reading Lexile score of 318, based on Scholastic’s reading assessment. That means, he can read books meant for children in Grade 2! But his Filipino is worse than that of a toddler just beginning to talk. If we talked to him in Tagalog, he would completely ignore us because he wasn’t even aware we were speaking to him!

So, a few weeks ago, I embarked on a mission to teach my son what should have been his native language.

As suggested by Vanessa Bicomong of the Learning Library, I enforced a new rule in our household: every Saturday, we would speak only in Filipino. (Quite a turnaround from my childhood days when English was forced upon us in school and we were fined P 0.25 for every Tagalog word spoken.) Of course, my son railed against it! Even now, he’d pester me why we have to do it.

storytelling at the learning library

My son at The Learning Library

Since books were instrumental in building his English vocabulary, I thought to give him Tagalog books as well. So, off we went to the Manila International Book Fair held two weeks ago and to my surprise, discovered the many wonderful, beautifully illustrated Filipino children’s books!

My son with author Eugene Evasco

We got several and even had a few of them signed by the authors who were at the Fair.

Author and publisher Segundo Matias

I especially liked Tahanan Books’ “Ay Naku!”, a story about a boy told in 65 simple Filipino verbs, perfect for beginning Filipino readers. Tahanan’s editor Frances Ong told me they will soon come out with an electronic version or ebook so that is something to watch out for.

filipino books

Some of our book fair finds!

 Just the other day though, I found my son thrashing one of his Tagalog books. He was venting out his frustration and told me he didn’t want to read any more Tagalog books.Once again, I explained why he needs to learn it. I also reminded him that books should be treated with care.

AY NAKU children's book

But in just few short weeks, my son has gone from zero Tagalog words to now being able to construct simple sentences in Filipino. He has even started calling me,”Nanay”, though the accent is on the second syllable.

If your child speaks Filipino poorly, here are a few more tips from Vanessa:

1. Be consistent. Decide who will speak Filipino to your child – if it’s the caregiver or yaya or the entire family.

2. Label objects in your house in Filipino. Print the names of common household items on index cards and attach these to the objects they represent, such as “bintana” for windows.

3. Use Filipino in your daily routines, such as getting ready for bed or doing household chores.

4. Use books, songs, and TV programs to expose your child to the language.

5. Sign him up for a workshop. The Learning Library has its “Wika’y Galing” program, developed, Vanessa says, after parents started asking for a program that teaches kids Filipino. Kids are taught the language through literature-based activities. They also do other activities like cooking with the instructions given to them in Filipino.

Admittedly, it’s sad that a growing number of Filipino kids born and raised here, like my own son, need to study Filipino. But we parents shouldn’t get discouraged.

As Vanessa says, if Dora can teach you child to speak Spanish, surely, we can teach our children our own language!

  • romeo Erece

    Maganda ang programang ito pero medyo takot mga mahihirap kasi they cannot afford to buy books.Paano kaya kung ito ang topic sa Batibot?Tignan mo si Jessica Sanchez,di man lang tinuruan magPilipino ng mom niya.Paano masabing Pipilino siya?