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.

How Migrants Can Learn the Local Language

Filipinos buying groceries in the largest multiethnic food market in Rome: Filipino immigrants, as well as other ethnic groups, hardly widen out and reach out to local people

I am Italian, my wife is Filipina and we live in Italy.

Because my wife is Filipina I have been interacting with the Filipino community of Rome since my wife and I started getting to know each other, I am talking about January 2000.

In this post I will mainly be talking about the Filipino community but the habits and the patterns that keep Filipino migrants here in my country from learning the local language are pretty much similar to those that keep other foreign communities from learning it.

Also, what I mean by local language is any language spoken in rich countries that are not English-speaking, as Filipinos and many other ethnic groups are generally fluent in English, so what I am talking about in this post is migrants who work in non English-speaking countries.

What I have noticed during these past two decades is that the vast majority of Filipinos, as well as other immigrants, who have been living here for more than 10-15 years, find themselves in the very difficult position of having children, or even worse, teenage sons and daughters, whose native language is the local language while their parents struggle to engage in a meaningful conversation in the language of the host country.

For example I know a single Filipina mother who has 3 sons who are in their early 20’s and who were born and raised in Italy and they have never been to the Philippines, not even once, in their entire life.

This means that they speak nothing but Italian and they can’t even speak English (the official language of the Philippines, Tagalog is the national language).

Their mother’s Italian is way too basic and therefore this hardly gives her the possibility to have deep conversations with her sons.

Over the past 20 years I have witnessed hundreds of similar situations.

In some cases the children of immigrants do speak the language of their parents to some extent but the big problem is that their parents’ language is not the language of their “heart”, so to speak. It’s a language they more or less know intellectually but it’s not the language in which they express their deepest emotions and feelings. And the language of their parents’ heart is their native language!

It is way too easy to imagine what kind of communication gap this creates.

Make learning the local language your top priority…at least for the sake of your kids

What I find rather appalling is that many Filipino immigrants don’t seem to view learning the local language as their top priority. Their focus is too scattered in way too many directions.

They work hard to buy a mansion in their homeland, a SUV or an otherwise expensive car.

They also try to provide financially for the extended family, and the Filipino concept of extended family is very broad.

In other words many of them seem to be more concerned with material goals than with finding ways to bridge the language and the cultural gap between them and their kids.

On top of that Filipinos, as well as other migrants, do jobs that hardly give them the opportunity to interact with local people.

For example many immigrants clean their employer’s house while their employer is not around, others clean their employer’s office and so on and so while they work they usually don’t interact much with local people.

These jobs are certainly not the ideal setting for learning a new language.

And on top of that most communities of immigrants in my country hardly widen out, as they are pretty much stuck within the circle of their fellow country people.

And yet learning the local language is absolutely indispensable for them, at least for the sake of having deep conversation with their children.

Being busy is not a valid reason not to learn the local language

In my opinion being very busy, as most migrants undoubtedly are, is not a valid reason for not even trying to learn and, if possible, even eventually master the local language.

I became fluent in Tagalog in a couple of years, during one of the busiest periods of my life in which I had zero free time, and I think that foreign migrants can do that too, and all the more so because most of them have high school or even college degrees so they certainly don’t lack the intellectual ability to learn another language. In most cases it’s just a matter of motivation and finding the right method.

As far as motivation is concerned, as I have said, what motivation could be greater for overseas workers than investing time and energy in becoming able to communicate with their children whose native language is the local language?

What about the methods?

Widen out

Let’s face it: most Filipinos who live overseas, as well as other migrants, form a very closed ethnic enclave within the boundaries of the host country.

Here in Italy Filipinos only associate with other Filipinos, Bengali people only associate with other Bengali, so do Chinese, Indians, Arabs, Africans and so on.

Back in the early 2000’s when there were no smartphones and internet was not as widespread as it is now, you could easily spot where a foreign family lived: if you saw a satellite antenna on a balcony you could be 100% sure that immigrants lived in that house. This means that Filipinos and other immigrants watched nothing but TV programs in their own language.

Now that internet is much more widespread opportunities to watch the news, teleseries and so on in their native language abound for immigrants.

This immensely limits their possibilities to ever become fluent in the local language.

There is no way around it: one can only become fluent in the local language by practicing it and this requires widening out and looking for ways to get past the habit of associating only with the immediate circle of fellow countrymen and opening up to watching the news, movies and so on in the local language.

Going to Filipino gatherings as well as watching Filipino movies like “All My Life” or “Anak”, listening to Filipino songs like “Magdalena” by Freddie Aguilar, “Himig ng Pag-ibig” by Asin etc. proved to be great needle movers for me in the direction of learning Tagalog, as busy as I was to really study the language. By simply widening out and being on the lookout for all opportunities to be exposed to the language I made a lot of progress.

Learn everyday vocabulary

Because, as I said, at the beginning of my journey with Tagalog I was way too busy to really study it, the idea of getting myself a grammar book (which by the way was very hard to find in Italy in the early 2000’s) was overwhelming.

So what I did instead was learning as much vocabulary as I possibly could, I mean the most basic vocabulary, the set of words that we use when we deal with the necessities of life.

Everyday we need need things like sheets, blankets, towels, pots and pans.

So what I did, and what foreign immigrants can easily do, and all the more so because they can now do what was not possible for me to do 20 years ago, namely do some little Google searching, is turn dealing with the necessities of life into a language school.

What I used to do was literally sticking post-its on pots, pans, cupboards, walls, doors, windows where I would write the corresponding term in Tagalog.

Only after spending something like 6 months doing that did I begin to glue words together with basic verbs.

Although my native language is extremely tricky, as far as verbs and tenses are concerned, there is the possibility for learners to only use the infinitive of each verb while speaking.

If you speak Italian by only using infinitives, although it sounds terribile, Italians can easily understand what you are trying to communicate.

I think the same can be done with most foreign languages.

So by widening out, by getting curious and by starting out with everyday word groups like parts of the body, articles of clothing, sizes, shapes, textures, colors, directions, familiar animals and birds, parts of a house and its furnishings and all this sort of stuff and only few months later glueing them with very basic grammar, one can at least get started and gain momentum.

You won’t become proficient this way but you will at least gain momentum and eventually your learning process will snowball and snowball and, over time, you will become fluent and proficient, I promise you.

I started out small but, eventually, gained so much momentum and motivation that I got more and more curious to the point that, under many aspects, I can now speak my wife’s native language even better than she does, at least in terms of the grammar.

So, if you are an overseas worker and you struggle with learning the local language, my message is simply this: no matter how old you are or how busy you are you have chosen to move abroad to provide for your children.

The best way you can provide for them is by building a bond with them and if they were born and raised in a foreign country and you struggle with the language you just won’t build a meaningful bond.

When it comes to learning a foreign language age and a busy schedule are challenges that can successfully be met with the right motivation and the right method.

If you make learning the local language your top priority and gain momentum by starting with baby steps you can and will definitely make it.

Domestic Job: Diretso ang Trabaho sa Kabila ng Lockdown

Dito sa aking bansa mayroon humigit-kumulang 200,000 mga Pilipino at ang karamihan ay nagtratrabaho sa domestic sector.

Dito sa Italya ang lockdown ay nasa full force at maraming mga trabaho ay bawal.

Sarado lahat ng mga bar, restaurant at karamihan ng mga tindahan at factory.

Bukas lang ang mga negosyo na itinuturing essential.

Ang mabuting balita ay na ang mga katulong, baby sitter, tagalinis at iba pa ay ligtas, sa diwa na ang kanilang trabaho ay nasa kategorya ng mga trabaho na essential, kaya diretso ang trabaho para sa mga Pilipino.

Bukod dito, dito sa Italya, mayroon din maraming mga Pilipina na nagtratrabaho bilang nurse at iyon ay lalong higit necessary sa panahong ito.

Ang nagiging problema lang ay:

  • Ang mga Pilipino na walang papel o permit to stay na, dahil dito, walang regular na kontrata sa trabaho
  • Ang mga Pilipino na may papel ngunit walang kontrata sa trabaho.

Dito sa Italya mayroon mahigit 2,000,000 katulong, subalit 48% lang ang may regular na kontrata sa trabaho.

Karamihan ng mga Pinoy na nagtratrabaho bilang live-in o full-time sa isang amo lang ay may kontrata, ngunit ang mga Pilipino na nagtratrabaho sa iba’t ibang mga amo at nagtratrabaho isang oras dito at isang oras doon ay, sa maraming kaso, may kontrata sa isa o dalawang amo lang at ang mga iba ay di-regular.

Kung minsan ito ay nangyayari dahil ayaw ng amo magbigay ng kontrata (dahil napakataas ng mga buwis dito) pero may pagkakataon na ang mga trabahador mismo ang may gusto na iilang oras lang ang regular para makakuha nila ang mga benepisyo ng social welfare.

Ang malaking problema ay na tuwing lumalabas ang isang tao mula sa bahay, sa panahong ito ng lockdown, kailangang lagi may dalang permit

Ang form na kailangang dalhin tuwing lumalabas ang isang tao sa bahay. Sa form na ito kailangang ilagay ang address ng lugar ng trabaho

…at may maraming buwaya na kumukontrol.

Karamihan ng mga buwaya ay hindi naman kumukontrol kung totoong pumupunta ang isa sa trabaho pero pwede mangyari na kumukontrol sila.

Ngayon paano kung ang isa ay T.N.T. o walang regular na trabaho? Medyo mahirap iyon…

Kaya ito ay isang importanteng bagay na kailangang isaalang-alang bago tanggapin ang isang trabaho na di-regular o lumipat sa ibang bansa bilang T.N.T.

Maaaring bumangon ang ganitong uri ng situwasyon na puwede maging sanhi ng problema.

When Filipinos See Snow for the First Time

The Philippines is a tropical country and, although in the Philippines there are areas where the weather can get rather cold, like the Cordillera Mountains around Baguio City, snow is nowhere to be found in the Philippines.

So one of the things Filipinos, who are new here in Italy, get excited about is seeing the snow for the first time in their life.

Here in Rome it snows pretty rarely but very close to Rome there are plenty of ski resorts and high mountains that are full of snow for several months a year.

The highest peak in Central Italy is the Gran Sasso d’Italia, whose summit is 2914 mt above sea level, and it is about 1,5 hour drive from Rome.

What’s interesting about the Gran Sasso is that on it’s summit there is the Southernmost glacier in Europe.

We recently organized a bus trip to Mount Gran Sasso with a group of Filipinos who had never seen the snow in their lives and all of them behaved like little children for one day…

On the road to the Gran Sasso d’Italia
Gran Sasso d’Italia

Gran Sasso d’Italia
Snow in Rome (3 years ago)

Pasalubong from the Philippines

My mother-in-law has just returned from the Philippines and, as all Filipinos who live overseas, she has brought tons of pasalubong: from Omega Pain Killer and Efficascent Oil to Boy Bawang and Tender Juicy hot dogs, a new rice cooker and a lot of other stuff.

Pasalubong is the Filipino tradition of travellers bringing gifts from their destination to people back home, after being away for a period of time, and the term refers both to Filipinos who live abroad who bring gifts to friends and relatives when they go home to the Philippines or to Filipino Overseas Workers who go to the Philippines on holiday and bring back pasalubong from the Philippines, especially things that are hard to find in a Western country or are too expensive to buy (like Omega Pain Killer for example).

I was expecting some Tanduay or Red Horse beer as pasalubong but I only got a new barong that I can add to my collection of barongs.

Tsitseria from the Philippines
My new barong

Barbecue (BBQ) in the Philippines and Among Filipinos in Italy

In the Philippines it is all about food and the expressions kumain ka na? (“have you eaten?”) and kain ka (“have some food”) or “meryenda ka” are the expressions that immediately follow kumusta ka? (“how are you?”) when you visit a Filipino home.

This happens both in the Philippines and among OFW in my country.

Filipinos love food and every street in the Philippines is lined with food stalls and eateries.

Both in the Philippines and in my country Filipinos have social gatherings or salu-salo as often as they can.

In winter salu-salos take place indoors while between spring and autumn Filipinos who live in Rome take advantage of the fact that Rome has plenty of parks and that the weather is, more often than not, ideal to gather outside and mag-ihaw or prepare barbecue marinade.

The basic ingredients used to make barbecue marinade, at least the way they do it here, and the way my Filipino wife does it, are soy sauce, ground black pepper, lemon juice, banana ketchup, garlic, onion and brown sugar.

Filipinos just love it.

The problem is that, for most Filipinos here in Rome, BBQ is something that they cannot afford to do as often as they do it in the Philippines because they live in apartments and, although most apartments here in Rome do have a balcony or a terrace, chances are that neighbors will complain if Filipinos dare using their balcony to BBQ, as Italians like hanging their clothes on the balcony and they hate wearing “smoked” clothes.

The only Filipinos who can BBQ on their terraces or balconies are the ones who have the luck to live on the last floor of an apartment building, in a penthouse (that can be hard to find in Rome and pretty expensive).

A typical apartment building in Rome

What’s the solution then?

There is no other option then than either wait for warmer days and BBQ in a park or buy an electric grill, one of those that can even be used indoors.

My wife and I have one and it does its job, this way my Filipino wife’s cravings for BBQ are satisfied all-year-round…

“Little Italy” in Batangas and “Little Batangas” in Italy

The “Ako ay Pilipino Roma” page’s cover photo

The Facebook page’s cover photo of “Ako ay Pilipino Roma” is all about the concern of the vast community of people from Batangas, who live and work in Rome, for what is happening and what might happen in the area that surrounds the Taal Volcano.

The Batangueno community is, arguably, the largest Filipino community here in Rome and I know hundreds of people from Batangas who live here.

Batanguenos have been working here since the early “80’s and many have built Italian-style homes on an once isolated hillside of the town of Mabini, which, for this very reason, has been nicknamed “Little Italy”.

Over 6000 people from the town’s total population of about 45,000 have moved to Italy.

Thousands of other taga-Batangas come from places like Balayan, Batangas City, but also from places that are very close to the volcano like Talisay or the town of Taal.

I can easily tell, when I hear them talking on a bus or in the metro, that they are from Batangas because I am very familiar with the fact that Batanguenos (like Bulaquenos) use dine instead of dito and ire instead of ito.

The Taal Volcano erupted without any warning back in January 12 and it only took it 6 hours to escalate the level of its dangerous nature, unlike Mount Pinatubo, which took days before escalating.

So the situation is highly unpredictable and the concern among the people who make up the “little Batangas” dine sa Roma is very high.

The Bayanihan Spirit Among Filipino Expatriates

As a foreign wife of a Filipina one of the things I admire about Filipinos is the spirit of bayanihan.  

Bayanihan is defined as follows: “

The Bayanihan (pronounced as buy-uh-nee-hun) is a Filipino custom derived from a Filipino word “bayan”, which means nation, town or community. The term bayanihan itself literally means “being in a bayan”, which refers to the spirit of communal unity, work and cooperation to achieve a particular goal.

The concept of Bayanihan is traced back to in a country’s tradition which can be observed in rural areas, wherein the town’s people were asked especially the men to lend a hand to a family who will move into a new place. The relocation does not only involves moving the family’s personal belongings but most importantly it concerns the transfer of the family’s entire house to a new location (https://themixedculture.com/2013/09/25/filipinos-bayanihan/)

Well, my wife’s house in Bulacan is a bit difficult to carry because it is made of hollow block and steel, so it is a bit too heavy I guess …  

And it is also difficult to move houses here in Italy because almost all Filipinos live in apartments within a building and an entire apartment building can be a little too heavy even for Filipino machos.

But here in Rome, every time a Filipino relocates to a different apartment, the moving service or lipat bahay is free of charge, because many volunteer to help.

Bayanihan in action in Italy!

Another way Filipinos display the bayanihan spirit is by sharing the news about any job offer they know about through social media

The bayanihan spirit is without a doubt something that us Westerners can learn from Filipinos

Ang Espiritu ng Bayanihan ng mga Pilipino sa Italy

Bilang foreign na asawa ng isang Pilipina isa sa mga bagay na hinahangaan ko tungkol sa mga Pilipino ay ang espiritu ng bayanihan.

Hindi ito ang isang katangian na basta lang binasa ko sa mga aklat o sa mga blog tungkol sa Pilipinas kundi personal na naranasan ko maraming beses at sa maraming paraan.

Ang alam ko ay na sa Pilipinas may pagkakataon na literal na binubuhat ng mga tao ang buong bahay ng isang kabayan na nangangailangang lumipat sa ibang lugar.

Medyo mahirap buhatin ang bahay ng misis ko sa Bulacan dahil yari iyon sa hollow block at bakal, kaya medyo mabigat yata…

At mahirap din buhatin ang mga bahay dito sa Italya dahil halos lahat ng mga Pilipino dito ay nakatira sa mga apartment na nasa loob ng isang gusali at medyo mabigat din yata ang palasyo.

Ngunit dito sa Roma tuwing lumilipat ang isang Pilipino sa ibang apartment libre ang serbisyo ng lipat bahay dahil maraming mga kabayan ang tumutulong

Ang mga Pilipino na nakatira sa Italy at hindi nangangailangan ng moving company, libre ang lipat bahay (o “halos” libre, syempre naman kailangan mag-alok ng kaunting “pampainit, pampatunaw at pampagana”)

Actually noong huling lumipat ako sa ibang bahay marami ang tumulong sa akin.

Ang isa pang paraan na ang mga Pilipino sa aking bansa ay nagpapakita ng espiritu ng bayanihan ay kapag ang isa ay may alam na may available na trabaho: karaka-raka nagkakalat siya ng balita sa Facebook upang tulungan ang mga kabayan na nangangailangan

Kaya ang bayanihan ay hindi lang ipinakikita ng mga tao sa Pilipinas kundi sa abroad din at, syempre naman, ito ay ang isang bagay na, bilang asawa ng isang Pilipina, talagang pinahahalagan ko.

Filipinos and Italian Food (Multi ethnicity in my Kitchen)

Pinoy food
….and more Pinoy food
My wife’s cutting-edge lasagna

This is more or less the way my kitchen looks like on Saturdays or Sundays.

One thing that I have found out in my 20-year long relationship with a Filipina is that Filipinos easily learn how to cook (quite proficiently) the foods that are typical of the country they work in.

My wife is not the only Filipino migrant in Italy who excels at preparing Italian dishes (as Filipinos usually work for rich and demanding employers) but, when it comes to lasagna, she does a pretty amazing job.

From time to time I try to fool around with lumpya and pandesal and I have a crazy idea to come up with my own version of halo-halo.

The best is yet to come….