What is it like to be multilingual

Gloria Baldevia, Staff Writer

When a substitute teacher I had in my Chemistry class brought up the topic of learning Tagalog (a language in the Philippines) when he was younger, he pointed at me and emphasized how I knew exactly what he was talking about.

Surprised and impressed, my classmates immediately asked if I could speak a few words to them.  I have to admit, I was hesitant at first. But when my teacher striked a conversation with me in Tagalog, I knew I had to talk back. When we were deep into the conversation, one of my classmates, who was listening intently in our conversation and trying to understand what we were saying, asked if we were talking trash on them.

This has happened more than once.  Every time I tell people that English is not my first language, they would immediately ask me to say something for them.  In the beginning I was fond of the idea that I get to share my culture with them. But as more people asked me, the more hesitant I became.  

It is not because I do not like it, but because I feel like having multiple tongues is as rare to them as the beach. And once you get to experience it, you have to seize the moment as long as possible.

In the Philippines, English is considered our second language.  We are taught how to speak the language ever since first grade. Although I could clearly understand other people most of the time, there is still a reasonable chance that I won’t respond. I always get conscious of how to properly speak the right words. I always get embarrassed if what I am saying is not right.   Everyday, I have to struggle shifting from English to Tagalog to my home language, Kinaray-a. Because of the constant change, I sometimes forget which words are in English.

Furthermore, the more I learn about conversational, everyday English, the more I forget about the proper grammar usage.  This can sometimes cause me to question whether what I am writing is right or wrong.

Talking in a different language, I would always get stares from people around me.  However, instead of feeling ashamed, I am actually thankful that they don’t understand what’s inside my mind.  I don’t particularly like it if people know everything about me.

According to ITC translations, being fluent in more than one language could improve your memory. If this were true then that gives me better advantage in academics compared to others.  

While I appreciate the cognitive advantage, it does not necessarily make me a good student.  It takes more than memorizing formulas and records that make a student excel. I have to work twice as hard as everybody else. Aside from processing the information and lessons, I also need to make sense of everything that people around me are saying.  It is not always easy to fit in, but having my own language gives me my own identity. And in a place where personal identity is hard to achieve, I am thankful for being multilingual.