Filipino language is going global

Hawaii-based poet and teacher Ruth Mabanglo has made it her mission to promote the Filipino language and culture worldwide


RUTH Elynia Mabanglo of the University of Hawaii (right) received a plaque of recognition from President Aquino, with Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and CFO chair Imelda Nicolas looking on. MALACAÑANG PHOTO

In this age of globalization, nothing could be more difficult for a Filipino living abroad than to work for the preservation of one’s own language and culture.  But Dr. Ruth Elynia S. Mabanglo is not so easily discouraged.

As a multiawarded poet and playwright, her love for the Filipino language has found meaning and it remains a calling.  The first woman to join the Hall of Fame of the Don Carlos Palanca Awards for Literature, Ruth has made it her mission to promote Filipino worldwide.

Ruth was in Manila recently to pick up a plaque from President Aquino as a 2012 Presidential Awardee for Filipino Individuals and Organizations Overseas, in the “Pamana ng Pilipino” category. It is conferred on Filipinos overseas who have brought the country honor and recognition through excellence and distinction in the pursuit of their work or profession.

She has published six books of poetry and several scholarly works included in anthologies and often cited in scholarly journals.  In 2008, the De La Salle University Filipino Department convened critics and scholars for a monthly forum on her works, the “Ruth Elynia Mabanglo Lecture Series.” Her poems were among those highlighted in the 2012 Aliw award-winning film by Alvin Yapan, “Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa.”

Ruth’s latest crusade is to nurture Filipino as a global language. Several years ago, when then President Gloria Arroyo pushed for Spanish to be taught in high schools and for prioritizing English so Filipinos could better serve global business, Ruth mobilized a protest petition.

“I encouraged my students all over the United States to sign a petition to fight the killing of Filipino in high school and college, which was part of the Gullas Bill that Arroyo favored. Later on, I organized the ‘Filipino as a Global Language’ conference as a professor of Filipino language and Philippine literature at the University of Hawaii,” she said.

Courses around the world

Through the conference, Ruth began to identify all the Filipino language programs in the world.

“I was able to identify, for instance, that in Sorbonne University in France, there is a Filipino named Marina Pattiere who is teaching Filipino.  I found out that in the University of London, there is a Philippine Studies course and students there are asked to go to learn the Filipino language in the Philippine Embassy.  I was looking for courses, programs and people teaching Filipino.  I am in correspondence with some high school teachers in Melbourne, Australia who are teaching Filipino there.

“I also found out that there are Filipinos teaching Filipino in Malaysia, Brunei and Beijing.  In Beijing, there is a masters’ degree program in Filipino. In Gaida University in Osaka, Japan, there is a Philippine Studies program, major in Filipino, and it sends students to take higher level courses in Filipino to the University of the Philippines.

“In the University of Hawaii, I have a government-funded Fulbright program that sends Fil-Am students to study advanced-level Filipino in Manila for 10 weeks.”

Teaching materials

Apart from identifying these programs and creating a global network of specialists in Filipino, Ruth and her conference colleagues agreed to help each other with materials for teaching courses on Filipino.

Right now, she said, there is a Consortium for the Advancement of Filipino started by Dr. Teresita Ramos; there is a newsletter that informs and updates members about developments and conferences. “In my case, I started an organization called the Global Consortium for the Advancement of Filipino Language and Culture, which is another network.

People want to study the Filipino language for different reasons. “In Germany and France, the interest would be mainly for the children of women who married Germans or French.  I met some of them in 1997.  There are volunteers who were teaching Filipino as a church-based activity.  The idea was to connect the children to the culture of their mothers, as sometimes the mothers can’t speak German so well and the children need to have conversations with their mothers.”

In Osaka, the interest in Filipino could be related to being able to use it in business and work places where there are Filipinos.  Maybe some Japanese students also take up Philippine Studies in connection with their history. “We are part of the World War II story of Japan, so they opt to learn Filipino, too,” she added.

2nd generation Filipinos

In Hawaii, Filipino is taught mainly for two reasons. One is for the younger ones to learn the language of their fathers or grandfathers. “Before, children of immigrants were not allowed to speak (any other language besides English) so they want to correct this. The third-generation Filipinos want to learn to speak with their lolas and lolos.”

The other reason has to do with the history of immigrants in Hawaii.  “The American sugar barons who brought in Filipinos workers to the sugar plantations 1906 were required to hire only those who could not read or write.  This was to prevent the workers from applying for jobs with other companies, since the working conditions in the plantations were very oppressive.  They were treated almost like slaves,” she said.

“There are a few Filipinos in Hawaii who are saying that Tagalog is marginalizing the other languages in the Philippines.  Which is untrue—historically or anthropologically,” she argued.

“In the past, others claimed that there were more Cebuano or Ilocano speakers.  But today, Filipino is really the dominant language.   My job is to find out how globalized Filipino is at the secondary and tertiary levels.”


Language and culture

At the basic level, overseas Filipinos have found the means to teach Filipino language and culture.  In Boston, for instance, the doctors and nurses have established church-based programs including a children’s rondalla that has released a DVD.  But all the teachers are volunteers, and there are no learning levels.

“However, in San Diego, California, would you believe there are 70 high schools that teach Filipino as a ‘world language’?  California even has an accreditation system for those who would like to teach Filipino in high schools.  I would like to bring that system to Hawaii so that Filipino majors can earn credits to teach in high schools.  I am working on that now.  I am also trying to standardize the curriculum so that high school students can have at least basic knowledge of Philippine culture, and a basic literacy of Philippine literature in Filipino. For instance, one basic canon of Philippine Literature is Florante at Laura by Balagtas.  Students must be able to pass basic exams on this Tagalog work.

“You cannot learn a language without understanding its culture so I have developed many courses. I have a course on Philippine films… on Filipino food, music and rituals. Language and culture: they are like twins.”

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  • Peter

    Filipino is a native or citizen of the Republic of the Phil. the so-called ‘filipino’ language is actually 99% tagalog. We don’t call English as American or British but simply American English or British English. A filipino is a human being not a language or dialect, and there is no letter ‘f’ in tagalog language.

    • DakuAkongUtin

      Pataka kang tagalegleg ka ! Mas daghan ug bisaya magsinulti sa tagalegleg ninyo. Nahimo ning tagalog ug national language kay kamo may nanguna dihas Manila kuno. 
      Filipino Language is only in Manila . Away from that every place has their own dialect.

      • Sam_Ting_Rong

        ANONG SABI MO,,,,,???

      • RONNIE858

        hahahaha, dili ko masabot Dong!

      • mark_john21

        Tinuud gyud na bay! Ayaw padaug uy! Bisaya giyud ta!

    • hennagaijin


    • RONNIE858

      tama, Pilipino or Tagalog is the Filipino or the Philippine language. may subject nga tayong Pilipino back in the grade school right?

  • mykk

    Tagalog is proven to be easier to learn.  In the UAE Indians can speak surprisingly conversational tagalog specially in wet markets telling you “bili na kayo isda may bangus at tilapia mura lang kabayan”.  Taxi drivers there even make fun in speaking with Filipino passengers and trying to speak the language…

  • fox

    “xxx one basic canon of Philippine Literature is Florante at Laura by Balagtas.  Students must be able to pass basic exams on this Tagalog work. ” xxx — well, it is really hard to swallow for us non-Tagalogs that the idea of Filipino as a national language is always anchored on everything Tagalog. Just because the epic Biag-ni-Lam-ang is in Ilocano  doesn’t mean it is not on equal footing as Florante at Laura when it comes to what constitutes the finest of Philippine Literature.  So far, Filipino as a “national language” is not really representative of the archipelago’s various tribes, unlike, say,  Bahasa Indonesia where no tribe can claim majority ownership of the root words and thus readily accepted.  Thus far, the only non-Tagalog words to enter the national lexicon (on the Bisaya side) are cuss words like “yawa”, “buang”, “kawatan”.  Dili gyud ta maulaw mag binisaya. Asa naman si teban ug golyat para tabang ug promote sa pinulungang Bisaya….

    • Run High


  • DakuAkongUtin

    To the kayumangmangs of Luzon, do not push the idea that tagalog is the national lexicon. BS ! ANg bisayas at mindanao ay majority cebuano speakers .  Tagalog region is mainly CALABARZON.  If not for the dirty Kachilas who ruled Pinas inside Intramuros which is in Manila, then tagaleglegs will be tagaleglegs and unheard of.

    Yang pang Po and Upo, nakakahiya  talaga—- palaging subservient to the old white colonizers. Dump these two words off the tagalog dialect, and stop saying it as if you are feeling  mabait. You dont owe to anyone or obliged in saying those words again and again to gain approval. It sounds too stupid ending each and every sentence with that proverbial Po and Upo.

    • g_force12678

       So what do you want? Use English as primary language here in the Philippines? Anong kayumangmangs pinagsasasabi mo, isang kang racist sa sarili mong bansa! Nakakahiya ka. So what’s the big deal in using Tagalog as our national language? It’s not debatable? I’m a Bicolano and we have so many dialects. But I find it not an issue.  The point is, we have to use a certain language that every Filipino can understand.

      • mark_john21

        I agree that promoting a national language shall serve national understanding. However, it has to be built by common love of language and consensus. The selection of Tagalog to become Filipino and later elevated to become national language is a failure.


        Blame it to President Quezon who chose Tagalog as the national language using a dummy committee to pick it during his presidency. Obviously he preferred Tagalog because it was his language. Let me tell you that at the time of  picking up Tagalog as national language it was the Visayan language that was widely spoken in the country and not Tagalog. But since the president was a Tagalog, his preference of  course was considerable. 

        Because of that fatal error that was characterized by Tagalog racism, Tagalog to this day remains a lesser prioritized language. To this day, many Filipinos still cannot accept Filipino as a national language.

    • mark_john21

      Agree 150%!

  • okabato

    Truth, when a visayan fisherman goes to northern luzon (ilocanos) to fish how do they communicate? or when an ilocano farmer goes farming in visayas and mindanao, what does he speaks? Your answer is as good as mine. Tagalog, no ifs ands or buts.

  • mark_john21

    Mga kaigsuunan nakung mga Kabisay-an, hangtud karon,  dili pa giyud ku makadawat nga kaning Tagaug nga nahimung Pilipino unya nahimu napug Filipino ang nahimu natung National Language. Ambut lang kay wa giyud kuy gustu aning pinulungan.

  • Val Sor

    Filipino has been spoken globally since Marcos’ martial law when Filipinos by the hundreds left the Philippines!

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