Filipino is our national language, our wikang pambansa that has gone through bitter regional disputes and political framing. But like many languages in the world, it is continuously evolving that somehow our daily conversations today are more correctly called Taglish than a straight Filipino. To many millennials at the middle bracket of the generation, written Filipino is weak and spoken Filipino is a mix of English, street Filipino, and beki language (local term for gay lingo). Back in day, schools used to mandate students to speak only in English (yes, private schools did that), sometimes fined at the mere whisper of a Filipino word.

How do we improve our Filipino?

This question sounds slightly absurd, when you think about it in detail. Filipino is something we were supposed to have mastered early on, able to write and speak in the fluid and lyrical language that our elders used in official communications and intimate correspondences. Today, if you write like Jose Rizal to your Taimis, you will probably receive varied reactions from an audience so divided on which language would sound better to the receiver’s ears. To answer this question merits raising the issue of why we have arrived at this state of the affairs, but let us leave it for later.

Let’s work on it like we would a second foreign language:

  • Listen to Original Pinoy Music (OPM). We have good music, and more often than not, we get to hear more Tagalog songs than we would with regional songs. Back in the North during a volunteer work, I gained quite a number of Visayan friends who would share songs from their part of the archipelago, which I found beautiful and addictive. One that stuck was Balay ni Mayang by Martina San Diego where a friend from Iloilo would translate it for me during the treks up in Kiangan. This is not just a lesson on patronizing your own products, but OPM encompasses music from all regions. It is not just about the Tagalog songs that we hear on a regular basis, but also about the languages from the seven thousand islands. It is called cultural awareness, and ignorance leads to a cycle of discrimination.
  • Read. The Philippines has an untapped wealth of literary masters and when you visit literary conferences anywhere in the Philippines, you will get to hear many of the writers whom you never came across in school but are relevant to the current literary movement. Some write for posterity and some do so to preserve their mother language; some to address socio-political issues and some do so for the sheer poetic beauty of the Filipino language. Read in the language you understand as there won’t be a shortage of beautiful literary works in this country. Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag used to be a mandatory reading material for us back in high school—on top of Noli Me Tangere—but apparently this isn’t so anymore so I hope schools would reintroduce many more of the works to the younger set of readers.
  • Listen to radio dramas and watch old Filipino films. In Japan, drama CD production is an entire industry on its own and in the Philippines, radio dramas still thrive. Some years ago I used to work with this middle-aged man who sidelines as a radio actor, and from time to time, when an elderly FX driver would tune up his radio and settle on the drama channels, I’d think of that old man. Another trick here is to watch old Filipino films. You will be hard-pressed to find regional ones, but an oldie is a good choice. During Holy Week, the major channels would air these old films (Tinimbang ka ngunit kulang, Walang Himala, and Madrasta) and there are also DVDs available of some re-mastered films which you must watch (Oro, Plata, Mata is a favorite).
  • Buy a dictionary. All Filipino dictionaries I used to own were Tagalog-English dictionaries and sometime after I saw Fune wo Amu (a Japanese movie on dictionary production) I was struck at how we don’t have this kind of dictionary industry in the country. The UP Cultural Dictionary is probably the most comprehensive and the most enjoyable I’ve seen thus far but there is also the UP Diksyonaryong Filipino.