Asian Americans using the Covid-19 Lockdown to learn Family Languages

Asian Americans using the Covid-19 Lockdown to learn Family Languages

Like a lot of millennials, the Daughter moved back in with us after college.   One surprising result of her move was that she began to pick up Tagalog.  Although she grew up in an Asian neighborhood and some her aunts and uncles live nearby or even with us, only after coming back did she began understanding more of the conversations around her that weren’t in English.  As people are stuck at home in quarantine, this report from NBC News Asian America reports that some Asian Americans are using the lock down to learn their family’s heritage language, including some second generation adults like Danielle Colayco, (pictured above with her daughter) who never learned when she was growing up.

Like with Danielle’s parents, learning Tagalog was not a priority for my own parents.  For many Filipino Americans of my generation who were born in the United States, Tagalog was used, as essayist Jia Tolentino mentions in a book review, as a way that Filipino parents could talk between themselves so their children could not understand.  Attempts to speak Tagalog were usually met by fluent Tagalog speakers with mockery at the unavoidable accent, usually from aspirating Tagalog consonants.  I think it is great to see that Asian Americans, particularly Filipino Americans, trying to learn the languages of their ancestors.  One of the online learning sites mentioned in the article, Tagalog with Kirby, and a number of their classes, which notably are not free, are filled up.  Also encouraging to see are learning resources for kids, which I never saw when I was young.

This article is timely.  I learned to understand Tagalog after knowing only English through high school. I have found that knowledge to be very useful, mostly socially but on one occasion, useful for my career.  Like my parents, The Wife and I have sometimes resorted to using Tagalog as encryption so that the kids and others don’t understand, even with my broken, highly accented speech.  That doesn’t work with The Daughter any more, and I would be happy if it also did not work with Number One Son and Number Two Son.  Since like many tech companies here in Silicon Valley, my company may keep me home until June of 2021, I am wondering whether I should work on becoming fluent.   As other Asian Americans are experiencing, now may be the right time.

(photo credit: Courtesy Danielle Colayco)



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