Being a man of letters (several of which have been returned, marked, ‘not at this address’), I try to use my native language correctly and well, if only because as one who earns his living with his words, it seems the right thing to do. My failing in this department is blithely expecting my wife to understand what I say. She graduated high school and has Australian tertiary qualifications; she also speaks three languages fluently. My German is abysmal and my Cebuano pathetic, despite having a German mum and having lived in Cebu for several years. My Tagalog is even worse regardless of having lived, worked, visited and what have you in the country since 1989. Yet her English is not as good as mine… understandably.
You Have To Be The One
Don’t get me wrong, her English is as good as most people living where we do, migrant or native born. It is, however, unique in many ways but perhaps not as unique as I think. Does your Filipina get her articles and prepositions a bit mixed up? I’m talking at, on, in , off and so on. ‘Turn up the light’ means to turn it on. ‘Fill up a form’ means to fill one out, or in. ‘Get in my nerves’ and lots of them, those, these mix-ups add to the confusion with me correcting the kids for repeating some of these, but I no longer correct the wife.
I have to be the one to say nothing because life is so much sweeter when asawa is not irked at her bana. Believe me. I used to correct her grammar without thinking, believing it was helping her. I was wrong. I know when I was in Germany, trying to converse with relatives at a level beyond the kindergarten, how frustrating it was to be forever corrected on my du, der, die and das. I just wanted to get something said in the very foreign language and I was sure I was understood, even if I was grammatically incorrect. Then I go and do precisely what I despised to my lovely wife!
Communication Is The Key
Communication is the key, I think, to a happy marriage. That and trust, fidelity and a few other things. It really isn’t important if the tense is wrong or the prepositional phrasing leaves a lot to be desired. What matters is that you are understood and you understand her. You are the L1, or native speaker. English for her is at best L2 (second language) and it may be L3 or even L4. Sometimes my wife gets frustrated and just has to let forth a stream of Cebuano at a million miles an hour, just to get it said and off her chest. Then we work through it in English. I do understand how she feels about having to communicate 24/7 in a foreign language. I do know how good it feels, how much of a relief it is, to be able to fire away in your L1 after time spent stuck having to muddle through in another language. I’ve done it in German, French, Malay, Cebuano, Tagalog and Spanish and I’m pretty much rubbish at all of them.
In closing and in my own defence, I will point out how confusing it is when Filipinas pay no attention to gender during a conversation. It can switch from he to she in a sentence, making you wonder if there are additional people involved. I will never forget my wife telling someone, ‘my husband she is a writer.’
Perry Gamsby, D.Lit, MA(Writing), www.streetwisephilippines.biz, Dip. Mktg is a writer and lecturer who lives with his Cebuana wife and five Aus-Fil daughters in Western Sydney. The author of a series of best-selling ‘self-help’ books for expats and those married to Filipinas, he is also a Master of Filipino Martial Arts and a former World Stickfighting Champion who has lived, worked and vacationed in the Philippines since 1988. Perry and his family return to the Philippines on a yearly basis. You can read more of his writing on Philippines topics at
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