Don’t be scared to learn the language.

I have talked about this before, but I want to address it from another angle this time. It is not only helpful to yourself and respectful to others to learn what you can of the language while you are here, but it’s also a wonderful way to break the cycle of language anxiety.

Muricans, I’m talking to you.

Not every American has a fear of learning a foreign language, but a lot of us do. I’m one of them. I blame the French. I spent 4 years learning to speak French in high school, only to finally make it to France and find precisely zero people willing to speak to me in French. It was clear that my attempts were not up to their standards of perfection, and they would immediately switch to English when they heard me speak. It wasn’t out of kindness to me. They were rather miffed. Body language made that clear.

Ok, I don’t just blame the French for crushing my foreign language speaking spirit. Americans can be very pro-English (rah, rah, rah!), while at the same time being less than encouraging to people who are not yet perfect at what they are attempting to do. (I point you to the broadcast try-out weeks for talent competitions and the compulsive negative raters on Yelp for proof.) The result is that many of us become language-phobes because we have internalized the message that if we can’t speak the foreign language perfectly, we should just stick with English and spare ourselves the embarrassment. (Especially since EVERYONE ELSE in the world speaks English. Right?)

If you are as burdened by language anxiety as I am/was, then I encourage you to give it a go here. I don’t think there is anywhere in the world as supportive to people learning the local language as the Philippines. Allow me to offer some proof.

1. I debuted my mad skilz one day with an older friend, completely leaving out the subject of the sentence in my attempt. She looked slightly confused for a second (because I’d accidentally told her that “your speech liked” rather than “I liked your speech”), but once it registered that I was attempting to speak in Tagalog, however badly my attempt, she squealed, hugged me, and asked me to say something else, just so she could hear me.

2. I keep in touch with a former helper via text message. She texted me one night in Taglish, and I replied in Tagalog. She followed it up with *5* effusive texts, telling me how happy she was that I could speak Tagalog, because now we could really communicate. Her English is actually quite good, and I thought we were communicating well already, but there is something special about being able to speak to someone in your native tongue and knowing that you are expressing yourself properly. I hear from her much more often now, because she’s so much more comfortable texting me in Tagalog. (I haven’t told her that I have to use Google translate for many of her texts. I’m still a beginner and she throws some deep Tagalog at me now and then!)

3. I work with the teenagers at our church, and any time I do a Facebook post in English, I try to translate it into Tagalog, too. I figure between what they’ve learned of English and what I’ve learned of Tagalog, they can figure out when we’ll be meeting and where. Any time I do a dual language post, the comment section becomes a cheering section for my progress with the language. But here’s the thing, my translations? They are really bad at first. Embarrassingly so.  I will look at them a few hours later and always find several mistakes I need to edit. But their cheering starts before I see my errors, and no one ever points them out. They are are pure encouragement. TEENAGERS! Pure. Encouragement. Whaaaaat?

4. Those same kids get positively giddy when I make small talk with them in Tagalog. Small talk is about all I can confidently manage at this point, but that’s ok. Their eyes light up; they egg me on. They are patient when I am halfway through a sentence in English and yell, “WAIT! I know how to say this in Tagalog!” and start over again.

5. I was out with a friend today and her phone died, so I texted her driver for her and asked him to come get us, in Tagalog. He was all grins and full of surprise when he got us, and started reading my text back to me, completely chuffed that I’d texted him in Tagalog. I totally blew his mind. Pow.

If you suffer from any degree of language anxiety, this is the place to be cured of it. The local folks will hug, smile, cheek-kiss, cheer, encourage, and squeal your anxiety right out of you. They will compliment your attempts, however poorly executed. When you’re really spot on, they will become week in the knees with shock. They will not disparage you, laugh at you, or correct you. In fact, you are far more likely to get nervous laughter when you speak to someone in English than you are to get derisive laughter at a failed attempt to speak Tagalog. It’s like this place exists as a massive, immersive therapy treatment for the language phobic of the world. Take the cure while you are here, my fellow expats! Shake off the chains of language anxiety that hold you down! Freeeeeeedom!!!


My apologies. I got a little carried away there.  But, honestly, give it a go. It could very well change your life.


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