When I tell Filipinos that I’m learning Tagalog, there are two standard replies that I recieve. One is “What the hell are you doing that for?” which is because they are still spiritually colonized.
The other is “Just Read Comics!” Some variations on this are “Just watch dramas!” and “Just listen to pop songs!”
There is a common legend among Manileños, it goes like this. Little Buboy moved to Manila at the tender age of 9, speaking nothing but Ilocano and generally acting like a goat farmer from the province. His pants are too short and his socks are worn through. By the time he’s 11, he’s wearing pressed denim jeans and designer brand sunglasses, and speaks Tagalog and English fluently with a shocking Manila accent, pronounciing the word “hours” as one syllable (arse) and the word “five” as two syllables (fah-eev) and even saying “pakbit” instead of “pinakbet.” When you ask Buboy about his shocking transformation, he says “I just read comics.” HE JUST READ COMICS.
I am absolutely sure that Buboy read him some commics. Here’s the other stuff that also may have contributed to Buboy’s success in Tagalog, stuff he didn’t mention…
- He’s lived in Manila for the past two years, immersed in Tagalog.
- He has a huge language bonus since he already speaks a provincial Philippine language.
- He consumes all media (radio, TV, movies, etc) in Tagalog and English.
- He is required to take the national langauge class at school.
What irks me about “Just read comics” is the word “just.” The word “just” makes me want to slap somebody’s teeth out of their mouth. JP, whatever you’re doing is wrong, stop it, you don’t know how to learn langauge. JUST READ COMICS. COMICS ALONE = LANGAUGE LEARNING.
Here’s the deal: I now share most of those bullet points with Buboy. I’m immersed in Tagalog, I consume media, I’m studying grammar. I’ve got all of that covered. What’s missing?
What’s missing is that I don’t speak a provincial Philippine language, so I don’t enjoy a bonus in grammar and vocabulary. Buboy already gets focus grammar and infixation because it’s all there in his native Ilocano as well. The sounds are different, the words might be different, but structurally, it’s similar.
I don’t enjoy that bonus. I speak a bunch of European languages, and I can conjugate verb tenses and do all kinds of gender and number morphology, but that doesn’t help me with Tagalog. So actually, if I were to do the damn “just read comics” method, I would have to find a dictionary that didn’t suck. Which is a tall order, since most Tagalog “dictionaries” are just crappy glossaries that suck all day, every day.
I speak a bunch of European languages. When it’s time for me to learn Portuguese, or Catalan, or Provencal, or Sicilian I will read the shit out of some comics and come dazzle you with my comic book vocabulary. But unfortunately that’s a dead end for me when it comes to Tagalog. By the way, ComicMaster, you don’t really have any qualifications to give someone language learning advice, do you. Remember?
We’re not done yet. It may surprise people to learn that I, a 42 year old man, do not share the same enthusiasm for reading comics as 9 year old Buboy. I don’t find them compelling. I have friends that do. Not me. I also do not find TV dramas compelling. In fact, I would rather get pickpocketed than watch a TV drama, in any language. Guess how I feel about Tagalog pop music…
People are often shocked to learn that they don’t actually have to solve this problem for me. I have been down this road before, actually, when I learned the other languages. I actually have a better time reading legends, fairy tales, and contemporary short stories. So that’s actually what I’m reading now, in Tagalog. Does anyone care? Hello? No, see, nobody cares what actually works for me, what they care about is being the hero that reveals the great secret of Comic Book Language learning to me, which I have never heard before, except for every day since I arrived in this country, and several times before that.
Look, consuming media is a crutial part of langauge learning; it’s a huge boost to vocabulary and an amazing window into culture. So everybody should consume media: radio, TV, newspapers, books, movies. The thing is, if you want that to be SUSTAINABLE you have to do it for pleasure. If you happen to like watching movies, then watch a movie in the target language! Are you fascinated by news and current events? Then watch the news in the target langauge! Hooray! Do it!
So if Buboy is deriving pleasure from comics, yay for Buboy, I’ll give him 100 pesos toward his next comic book. He’ll be speaking his target language in no time. Me, I’m not into comics. I’m into other things. But thank you, for your expert opinion, ComicMaster.
Finally, the best part. I was telling KalyeSpeak Cris about my frustrations with “Just Read Comics” and he asked a very solid question: Where do you even get Tagalog comic books nowadays? Have you seen any anywhere? There are plenty of comics in English around and also Japanese… have you seen a “comics in Tagalog” section at National Book Store lately? Where is it? WHERE IS IT?!
One last thing: if you had a kid and expected the kid to learn their first language (be it English or any other langauge) EXCLUSIVELY THROUGH COMICS, they would arrest you and take that child from you, and you’d stand trial for child neglect and be convicted. And you’d go to jail and i personally would curse you. Because it’s horrible. So what makes “Just read comics” an acceptable method for someone learning a second langauge? It doesn’t. It’s horrible.