The Vocabulary Challenge

Learning French is one of the few things I am proud of because I wouldn't have learned it by choice. Now that I speak almost 4 languages, there are a couple of setbacks & the tip of your tonque have probably accumulated words a quarter of the dictionary. The thing with speaking more than two languages is not only that our adult brains are much harder to crack, we tend to misplace words that at times, it takes a lot of effort to jar them. You end up more confused than a 3 year old learning to talk.

I speak Tagalog quite well although I cannot complete a sentence without an English word & sadly, I speak only one of the 8 major dialects. There are only a few Filipinos who can speak our national language well, meaning making a phrase without an English or Spanish term. It's possibility might be doubtful but our language couldn't be just a mixture of Spanish & English. *Did you know that we have 175 known dialects of which 171 are living & 4 are extinct?*

My English improved through the years of practice & because it is the medium of communication at school & at work. If I'm not mistaken, I quite remember not having any Filipino Grammar classes after grade school. It is only Filipino History during high school & college where discussions are in English. It really is saddening that our national language is being slowly replaced by English, leaving us with just a crooked Filipino language. I just cannot complete a sentence without an English word simply because I do not know the Filipino term of a lot of words.

My French is improving even with habits that are hard to break & with the charm of a particular accent. It is in learning French that I always find myself ransacking my brains out for a word in Filipino & even in English. My memory hole has gone deeper & deeper! Is it because I am simply getting older, or is it because I don't put more effort & careful attention in filing all this new information? Learning basic Italian during my training is a complete head banger. Not only that I am still in the middle of learning French, I was mixing Italian & Spanish words as well. A Latin language party! I clearly remember having a "brain shut down" during a whole day of pure French & even in those 3 hour (3 hours!!!) Italian classes. My brains just wouldn't work anymore & I just blurt out Filipino or English words without even noticing it. At times, my sentences are mixed with English, French & Tagalog that doesn't make sense at all. And most of the time, I have more "uh" than words on my sentences just trying to think, "what's that word again?"

You are not only challenged with your vocabulary in speaking a new language. You also discover that your other languages have deteriorated. Not that you have completely forgotten them, maybe it's just to make a little room for the new one. I just realized that I was writing & expressing myself better in English before I learned French, and I forget more Tagalog words now when I am around Filipino friends. Remembering a word is like playing Wheel of Fortune, "Is there a letter B?"

Juggling more than 2 languages in your everyday living is an unconscious effort. It may be more confusing to continually use all of them in one day but the only way to correct & improve your spoken languages is to keep on practicing. It works well for me to speak English at home, Tagalog with my Filipino friends & the rest in French. I appreciate our national language more than ever & forgetting words from time to time actually gives us the chance to get back on the dictionary & maybe learn a new word on the way. Be sure to always put your thinking cap on!


From Manila to Paris, then to Marseille & to the Côte d'Azur, now in Singapore, clinging to a map of three worlds, where everything becomes all relative.


  1. Hi Makis! I am really one of those vocabulary challenged lolz. May it be in English, Tagalog or my very own dialect Visayan. I'm new here in the US and I'm glad I attended an ESL workshop to practice my english speaking ability as well as learning new vocabs/idioms that most of the Americans are using. So when me and my other close friends that are here, we try to speak in English as much as we could not because we want to show off or what but to practice :-)

  2. Can totally relate. Isn't it ten times worse when someone asks you to translate a conversation, be it French-English or French-Tagalog? Whenever that happens I'm like, "GIVE ME A BREAK!" hehe

  3. Just practice away Bless! I also thought that the problem back home is when people speak in english, they say "pa-sosyal," when they speak in tagalog it's a little funny & "super lalim" and that's where "taglish" was born. I guess to be in the safe side :) Now I realize that it's an evil habit!

    You're right Kala! I even stopped asking if I do need some translations sometimes!

  4. Having the same language dilemma... (note even that word i had to look up in the dict for spelling)... it's getting worst with age agh!

  5. OFF TOPIC: hey, sis! i saw the picture on your sidebar. Was it taken in Siquijor? My late father id from Siquijor, and I visited there like twice already. Wow, excited ko to know I've got a full-blooded kababayan pala ha! My father's last name is Cuaresma. Relatives namin ang mga Ferido, Camero, Jumawan and Samson. O yan ha, dami nyan! ahehehe =)

  6. hi Nao! sorry to spoil the excitement, pero i'm not from siquijor :) been there only once last year, attracted by the witches (although didn't encounter one)! such a beautiful quiet island with really great people & no local tourists (takot lahat ng pinoy pumunta!) siquijor sunsets are magnificent!

  7. i spent two years in Riyadh, i learnt straight Arabic agad coz I deal w/my patients the hard way. Then I spent another 2 yrs in Finland, but wasn't able to learn Finnish coz my patients were english speaking. Sa Helsinki kasi lahat english. Nahihiya silang mag-finnish kasi taga bundok ang dating pag ganun. Now I'm here in Toronto, but couldn't learn French, sa Montreal lang kasi ang mga french-speaking people, eh ang layo ko don.. like 5hrs flight.

    btw, happy weekend sis [*besos*] mwah!!! =)

  8. hmmm, language!

    honestly, my conversational english is becoming worse, i hardly use it now except when in call conference with asian or american colleagues - with my darn inevitable french accent (actually, i don't know what kind of accent i have, but when i was with some friends, they told me i have a french accent na - i guess they just wanted to be polite haha). kainis!

    at home and at work, we use 100% french, so get the picture.

    well, lately, with the coming of our bébé (and the all-time discussion at home on which language we will use at first), i start to forget a lot of words, and the first word that pops to mind when i search is tagalog (which wasn't the case before)...i even dreamed of my bébé...talking in tagalog!

  9. Galeng naman that Nao can speak Arab! Probably one of the most difficult languages to learn.

    I thought that for our child, we'll start with both english & french (i heard kids can learn 4 diff languages at the same time), leaning more on english since we already live in france. I'd probably think you're french if I speak with you on the phone analyse!