Why Migrants Should Know the Grammar of their Own Language

My wife is Filipina and Filipino people have a lot of interactions with foreigners.

Millions of Filipinos live and work overseas and many Filipinas marry Western guys.

Why OFW should know the structure of their own language

I think one of the reasons why OFW struggle with the local language is because they don’t know the basic structure of their own language, or at least the structure of the English grammar, if they prefer to communicate in English, as many Filipinos do and as my wife does.

For example my wife has been working in Italy for 20 years. She is very fluent in Italian and knows a lot of words but she just cannot write a letter, an email or, sometimes, even a text message in Italian without making big mistakes. And it is more or less the same with most Filipino immigrants whom I know.

Whenever my wife or any other Filipino whom I know need to fill out a form in Italian or write something they ask me for help.

I have only spent few months in the Philippines but I can write in Tagalog and if I lived in the Philippines I wouldn’t need any help to fill out forms, write letters or do anything else that entails having a “formal” grasp of the language. I am not perfect but I can manage.

I am not trying to brag, I am just trying to make a point.

The reason why I have learned Tagalog relatively quickly and the reason why I can speak, read and write in this language is because I know the structure of my own language.

One who knows the structure of his/her own language can more easily learn another language to the point of being able not only to speak it but also to write in it, and one who lives overseas needs, as I’ve said, to be able to fill out forms, write resumes and so on, otherwise he or she will always be relying upon local people for help.

A Filipina married to a Western guy can become her husband’s native language teacher if she knows the structure of her own language

One of my favourite topics in this blog is the Tagalog language and its grammar.

The reason why I am taking this topic very seriously is because communication is the key to a happy marriage and, as we all know, most relationship problems stem from poor communication.

Communication in a multiethnic marriage, like mine, is even more difficult. The “Culture Shock Philippines” book by Alfredo and Grace Roces says that native English speakers (or other Westerners who are fluent in English) who interact with Filipinos, who are, in many cases, rather fluent in English, can find themselves in the odd position of “speaking the same language while not being able to communicate at all”.

Westerners who want to have a thriving long-term relationship with Filipinos can’t rely too heavily on the fact that many Filipinos are fluent in English.

To really penetrate the Filipino culture and deeply understand the mentality a Westerner who wants to marry a Filipina or do business in the Philippines or have any other kind of long-term relationship with Filipinos needs to learn Tagalog (in my opinion at least).

The problem is that when I decided to learn Tagalog all that my wife was able to do was teach me a bunch of words but I needed more than that. I needed to understand the structure of the language and, neither my wife nor any of her friends was in the position to really help me because, although they can speak the language they suck at teaching it because they themselves don’t know the structure of their language.

And it is pretty much the same here in Italy: most people here can speak Italian but they have a very poor knowledge of the structure of the language and so they can’t teach their own language to others.

I know Filipino immigrants who have been working in my country for over 30 years and they still can’t write a complete sentence in Italian without making mistakes and I know mixed Filipino-Western couples where the Western husband is neither trying to learn Tagalog nor is his wife actively trying to teach him or even able to do so.

This explains why I think Filipinos who want to live overseas or marry a foreigner would be in a better position to communicate effectively in a foreign environment if they first learned the nuts and the bolts of the basic structure of their own language.

12 thoughts on “Why Migrants Should Know the Grammar of their Own Language

  1. I’m guilty of this! Hahaha! I’m a Filipino but I’m not fluent in my own language (or other dialects that I speak). We’re used to communicating informally that sometimes we don’t care if we’ve committed grammatical errors. For example when texting, we’re used to ‘shortcuts’ like ‘San ka punta?’ instead of ‘Saan ka pupunta?’ Also we’re used to texting/speaking in ‘Taglish’ (Tagalog-English) since English is also widely used in the Philippines.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, almost all natives don’t know the grammar of their own language. I know the English and the Tagalog grammar but I have almost completely forgotten that of my own language.
      I love texting in TAGALOG ….like “kmi dn po sagot kgn meron pa” and similar shortcuts

      Liked by 1 person

    2. …but because I studied grammar a lot in the past I acquired the mental infrastructure that made it possible to learn the structure of other languages. The reason why my wife and other Filipinos I know struggle to learn how to write in my language is largely because they lack this background of deep study of the structure of their language

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with that. When I studied a few languages (right now it’s Russian) and oh boy it’s a struggle. Mainly because I find their grammar… Or structure as a whole, complicated! Plus they have their own alphabets!


  3. You’re absolutely right. I have been teaching ESL to Korean students for a couple years now. It is very difficult to explain English grammar to a student who does not know the grammar of his own language yet. Understanding and effectively manipulating the grammar of your own language makes it much easier to understand and manipulate the grammar of another language you’re trying to learn.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s true. My wife can’t even write a text message properly in Italian while I can write blog posts in her language. She has been living in Italy for 20 years while I have only spent a couple of months in her country. The reason is precisely because I studied the structure of her language in a systematic way while she learned my language merely by living among people who speak it, because she has no background of deep study of grammar in general.
      They do teach Filipino grammar in Filipino high schools but people, including highly educated ones easily forget it. In the Philippines the college system is very oriented toward the study of the practical stuff that will get them a job while here in Europe we have a much stronger theoretical foundation: we study Latin and Greek and the study of grammar is taken very seriously.
      Thanks for stopping by and reading my article


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