Sunday, March 30, 2008

Language of the Heart

Should we speak in our native tongue, the language of our heart, or in a second but more universal language, such as English, even though we have not mastered it?

Different people reacted differently to Filipina beauty contestant Janina San Miguel’s fractured English. Some people in the audience heckled, as she struggled to speak in English, confusing her p’s and f’s and committing many mistakes (her interview is on You-tube ( but the judges must have disagreed with the less-than-kind audience because they declared her a winner here and named her as our official representative to the Ms. World 2008 pageant in Ukraine.

When she goes into the question-and-answer portion again, some say she should speak in Pilipino and ask for an interpreter. My own humble opinion is that she can do as she chooses – to speak in her own mother tongue, or make the valiant attempt to speak in a language she has not mastered. (I liked the way she laughed at herself when she realized she was having a hard time trying to answer in English). However, since the contest will be held in Ukraine and not in an English-speaking country, trying to speak in English may not matter, and she just really might be better off speaking in the language of her heart.

This language issue brings to mind a recent conversation with my future son-in-law, John.
John is Dutch and wanted his parents and himself to follow the Filipino tradition of “pamanhikan.” (
Unfortunately, his mom is too frail to travel, and he asked me if it would be alright if his parents wrote to us instead, to ask for our daughter’s hand in marriage. But since his parents speak and write only Dutch and a couple of other European languages but not English, (and my husband and I only know Pilipino and English), he wanted to know if we were okay with receiving his parents’ letters in Dutch.

I said “of course.” I explained that to me, what is important is not the language we use but the message that we want to put across. Even more important is the fact that we want to connect and communicate. (We don’t have to look far for an interpreter -John being the best for this task). If they chose to write in Dutch, to me that would mean they are speaking from their hearts, and that would make it very special. But if they chose to try to put together a letter in English (or get someone to translate for them) I would take it to mean that they want us to have an easier time understanding what they want to say, and that would be sweet, too.

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