Some 15 years ago I was in a Northern European country, to visit some Filipino friends of mine.
While there, I met a Filipina in her mid 30’s who was married to an old Western man.
She talked very enthusiastically about the advantages that had accrued to her in terms of the financial stability she had gained and of how, by becoming the wife of a Western citizen, she had finally managed to get the residence permit in the country, after spending years in a state of clandestinity.
What she never mentioned is whether she had feeling for the man or not.
Although I don’t know the whole story, the fact that she only mentioned the legal and financial advantages of being in that kind of relationship, seems to tell me that there is a risk that if you are old and single, as well as relatively well-adjusted financially, and look for a much younger Asian lady, you might bump into someone who is not exactly looking for somebody to share her unselfish and unconditional love with.
Each situation is different of course, and there might be young Filipinas who marry an old and wealthy Western man with the right motive and not for selfish gain.
However I’d suggest that, if you are contemplating the idea of visiting the Philippines to find a young exotic girl, you weigh your decision very carefully.
Before I started courting my wife I made sure that there was no hidden motive behind her interest in me. I found out that she comes from a family of college teachers and she was a teacher herself. They have a large home in the Philippines and a sideline family business that would allow her to be financially independent should she move back to the Philippines.
Actually, when we got to know each other she was making plans to go home to the Philippines for good.
So, it became quite clear to me that she was not seeking financial security and she is not even much younger than I am.
So, the point I am trying to make here is: before you embark on a trip to look for the ultimate exotic woman, make sure that there is no possibility that your marriage will turn out to be a TRANSACTION IN WHICH YOU TRADE AN ENTRY VISA IN YOUR COUNTRY FOR SCRAPS OF LOVE AND SEX.
The only real key to getting love is by putting it out. We get back from another person what we project outward and if you enter a relationship with a Filipina because you are starving for affection and she is starving for financial security your marriage will be a place where TWO STARVING INDIVIDUALS TRY TO STEAL EACH OTHER’S FOOD.
To me a thriving intimate relationship is a place where two emotionally mature people mirror to each other the positive emotions that they personally cultivate.
Anything short of that is a relationship that is not worth having.
Bilang foreigner na may asawang Pilipina, na kung minsan ay nagsasawa sa akin (gaya ng lahat ng mga asawa na madaling nagsasawa sa kanilang kabiyak), lagi tinatanong ko ang aking sarili kung bakit mainit ang ulo ng mga Pilipino at kung bakit ganitong kainit.
Noong una akala ko na ang lahat ng Pilipino ay sobrang maaamo pero, sa loob ng mahigit 20 anyos na ako ay nakikipagsalamuha sa mga Pinoy, medyo nagbago ang aking ideya.
Ito ba ay dahil ang mga Pilipino ay lumalaki sa mainit na klima?
Buweno, mainit din dito, ngunit madalang dito ang driber na lagi may dalang tubo o kotsilyo…o baril pa.
At dito kung halimbawa gustokong kumuha ng isang martilyo at martilyuhin ang bagong kotse ng kapitbahay ko (halimbawa lang), tiyak na magagalit siya, sisigaw siya, mumurahin pa niya ako pero bihira dito ang kapitbahay na nagbabaril ng isa na nagpinsala sa kanyang bagong kotse….bihira yata, hindi ko pa sinubukan martilyuhin ang kotse ng sinumang tao….
Pero, sa pangkalatahang, mas mainit ang ulo ang maraming Pilipino kaysa sa karamihan ng taga dito, at least batay sa aking unawa.
Saan kaya nagmumula ang tendensya na madaling sumabog?
Baka ito ay nangyayari kapag medyo kumukulo ang loob, o, sa madaling salita, kapag ang isa ay kulang sa kapanatagan o panloob na kapayapaan.
At ang kapanatagan at panloob na kapayapaan naman ay may malapit na kinalaman sa kakayahang magtiis.
Kailangan nating pagtiisan maraming mga bagay, gaya ng mga taong mahirap nang pakitunguhan, mga mahirap na kalagayan, ang hilig na sobrang kumain o uminom at marami pa.
At ang kakayahang magtiis ay nakaugnay sa pagpipigil sa sarili.
Ngayon ang aking tanong ay: kung hindi natin kayang magtiis ng mga maliliit na bagay, gaya ng hilig na sobrang kumain ng tsitseria o uminom ng mga nakapipinsalang mga bagay gaya ng mga soft drink o hard na alak, paano magkakaroon tayo ng kakayahang pagtiisan ang isang mahirap na situwasyon o ang isang tao na gumawa ng isang sobrang nakakainis na bagay sa atin?
Sa tingin ko ang Pilipinas ay ang isang kultura kung saan napakaraming tao ang mahilig sa tinatawag na “instant gratification” (labis na konsumo ng alak, napakaraming fast-food etc.) at ang “delayed gratification” at ang kakayahang magtiis ay medyo foreign sa maraming tao.
Hindi ba maaaring ito ang dahilan kung bakit marami ang hindi kayang magtiis ng ibang tao na gumagawa ng medyo nakakainis na bagay sa kanila at, sa halip na i-delay ang confrontation at i-postpone ito hanggan sa medyo lumamig na ang ulo nila gusto nilang ilabas kaagad ang kanilang masamang loob?
Kaunting personal na pagmumuni-muni…bilang pampatunaw…
Ako si Eduardo, taga Italya ako at naka tali ako sa aking asawang Pilipina.
Nakatira kami sa Roma, ang kabiserang lunsod ng bulol na bansang ito.
Dito sa Roma ay mayroon mahigit 50,000 dayuhang Pilipino na, baka, nakakaabot pa sa halos 100,000 kung isinasama sa aktuwal na bilang ang mga TNT….
At, dito sa Roma, ay may napakaraming magagandang lugar para mamasyal. Hindi lang lugar para magtrabaho bilang dayuhan ang Roma, kundi isa itong lugar para makita maraming magagandang lugar.
Halimbawa dito sa Roma mayroon kaming rebulto kay José Rizal sa mismong Piazza Manila o Manila Square, akalayin ninyo, may Manila Square dito.
Bukod sa Luneta ng Roma (kung saan nakatambay ang maraming Pilipino, lalo na tuwing Linggo ng umaga) mayroon din kaming Jollibee. Oo, dito sa Italy ay may 2 Jollibee restaurant, isa sa Milan at isa sa Roma!
Bukod sa Luneta at sa Jollibee mayroon din kaming mga shopping mall, na, syempre naman, hindi kasinglaki ng mga mall na nasa Pilipinas, pero, kahit papaano, may mall dito.
Marami ding dito mga McDo, Burger King at KFC.
At maraming Pinoy na sari-sari store at Pinoy na restaurant at karinderia.
Pero, bukod sa mga McDo, Jollibee, KFC, mall, Pinoy restaurant at iba pa mayroon ding kami dito marami lumang at makasaysayang lugar na, baka, hindi masyadong interesting para sa karamihan ng mga Pinoy na nakatira dito, pero, akalayin ninyo, maraming mga turista na galing sa mga apat na kanto (o “kwatro cantos”) ng daigdig ang gumagastos ng medyo malaki para makakita ng mga lugar na iyon!
Pero mukhang hindi masyadong interesado ang mga Pinoy na nagtratrabaho dito dahil sa gitna nila ay mayroon mga Rizalista, Sabadista, Adventista…mga alkolista pa….pero wala maraming turista…dahil, tutal, ano naman ang makikita nila? Puro bato at guho? Nah…..
Halimbawa isa sa mga lugar na pinupuntahan ng napakaraming turista, at kung saan sinubukan kong dalhin ang isang grupo ng mga Pilipino, ay ang isang napakahabang sinaunang daan (ang “dating daan” ng Roma) na tinatawag na Appian Way kung saan nasusumpungan pa ang orihinal na mga bloke na ipinatong ng mga sinaunang Romano.
Syempre naman ang orihinal na mga bloke ay hindi pwedeng daanan ng mga sasakyan at dahil dito ang buong area ng Appian Way ay naging national park
Akalayin ninyo, dinala ko ang isang grupo ng mga Pinoy sa isang mahabang daan na maraming lalakarin at puro guho at bato ang mayroon….
In this article I want to mention what I went through with my Filipina’s extended family and the mental shift I had to make to have a better relationship with my wife’s in-laws and what a Westerner who is in a relationship with a Filipina, or someone else who comes from a culture where the kin-group culture is deeply entrenched, can do to cope with this challenge.
In the Philippines an entire extended family lives in a house compound like this
Here in Rome there are at very least 50,000 Filipinos most of whom are not here on their own.
Entire Pinoy extended families live here up to three generations.
Large portions of the population of such towns as Balayan, Batangas or Candon, Ilocos Sur, just to mention a few, have moved to Rome and they have carried the Filipino in-laws culture with them.
So an Italian who marries a Filipina who lives and works here is highly likely going to become part of a giant iceberg of which his wife is just the tip.
I spent the past ten years living with my wife’s extended family (which is one of the few here in Rome that is not so big) and, for about 5 years, I really struggled to create rapport with them and how to deal with my Filipino in-laws became a crippling problem for me which had become so corrosive that it had started to eat away at my marriage.
In dealing with my Filipino in-laws I found myself in the situation described in a book I bought in the Philippines some 9 years ago, entitled “Culture Shock Philippines” by Alfredo and Grace Roces: “what choices do I have….when the queasy feeling of uselessly groping for a bridge begins to make me tremble and I find myself utterly sealed away…. what do I do?”.
I found out that the answer to the question is: YES I DO HAVE A CHOICE and the choice is to first of all determine IF MY ATTITUDE TOWARD MY WIFE’S EXTENDED FAMILY SOMEHOW TRIGGERED MY IN-LAWS’ STANDOFFISHNESS AND HOSTILITY.
I began asking myself “have I ever told or even implicitly suggested to my wife that her parents shouldn’t be interfering with my family life? Do I look at them with a frown on my face when they seem to intervene in my family affairs?”.
In the Filipino culture the extended family does interfere in their married offspring’s life, this is deeply entrenched in the Filipino mentality (see the caption below the picture above).
So I realized that the cause of hostility on their part was my attitude toward them. I realized that, although they were displaying a standoffish attitude toward me, theirs was simply a reaction to the negative thoughts toward them that I was dwelling on and projecting outward.
As the “Culture Shock Philippines” book says, I had become the frustrated and antagonistic foreigner who was retreating into the protective shell of his culture and “bashing the habitat that I myself had chosen to inhabit”.
Although I was going to great lengths to learn about the Filipino culture and language in order to build rapport with them, deep down I was harboring feelings of hostility and, even though I was trying to hide those feelings, I was inevitably projecting them outward. Because the extended family could sense that I was trying to edge them out or, at least, trying to set limits to what I was perceiving as “unwarranted interference” on their part, they were treating me in kind.
I had become well versed in the language, the history and the literature of the Philippines but I had not quite mastered the psychology of how to deal with the Filipino in-laws culture shock effectively.
My relationship with my wife’s kin-group only began to change when I STOPPED BLAMING THEM FOR BEING HOSTILE AND STARTED TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR HOW THEY WERE TREATING ME.
To further cement this idea let me offer you a few ideas I learned from one of America’s greatest psychologists, Dr. Wayne Dyer, in his book “The Power of Intention”.
“What you feel is wrong or missing in these relationships is an indication that something is amiss within you, because broadly speaking, anything you see in anyone else is a reflection of some aspect of you—otherwise you wouldn’t be bothered by it, because you wouldn’t notice it in the first place…… If your inner speech centers on what’s annoying about them, that’s what you’ll notice. As much as you’re inclined to blame them for your annoyance, it’s yours, and it’s coming from your thoughts. If you make a decision to put your inner attention, your life energy, on something quite different, your relationship will change. In your thoughts, where your family relationships exist, you’ll no longer be annoyed, angry, hurt…………………Being authentic and peaceful with your relatives is only a thought away”- from Wayne Dyer’s “The Power of Intention” chapter 9: “It is my Intention to: be Authentic and Peaceful with all of my Relatives”
Although I had spent years trying to learn Tagalog and become familiar with the Filipino culture to very little avail, it only took me a MENTAL SHIFT to turn things around and in ONLY A FEW MONTHS I experienced the truthfulness of the statement “Being authentic and peaceful with your relatives is only a thought away”.
So the very first thing to do to deal with the Filipino in-laws culture-shock effectively, based on my experience, is to take responsibility for how they are treating you and remove any hint of hostility toward them.
In one of my previous articles about the idea of acceptance in an interracial intimate relationship I wrote the following:
There are aspects of your partner’s culture, habits, values and so on that might never change and this is certainly true in a multicultural intimate relationship.
Certain ethnic groups, such as Filipinos, are so set in their ways and their values that trying to get them to change their core values about what constitutes a family and the role of the extended family, for example, can create a lot of friction and frustration and can get their Western spouses to “bash the environment that they themselves have to inhabit” (as the “Culture Shock Philippines” book, that I keep quoting, says).
Now this expression “bashing the environment that they themselves have chosen to inhabit” is very interesting because it points to the core dysfunction of many interracial intimate relationships (and of other kinds of relationships for that matter).
Bashing the environment that you have chosen to inhabit amounts to resisting reality. The reality is that you knew that your future spouse was a foreigner, you knew that he or she had very different core values, but you decided to go ahead anyways and marry that person and now you are resisting that reality.
What causes much of our suffering is when we resist reality.
I remember hearing a nice illustration about poor conductors and superconductors: if current passes through a wire that has high resistance heat is generated and the wire melts. If, on the other hand, current passes through a superconductor that has zero resistance no heat is generated and the wire doesn’t get damaged. What damages the wire is not the current, rather it is its resistance.
Similarly what causes many Westerners to get mad at their Filipino, or otherwise foreign, spouse is not the fact that he or she is culturally different, rather is their resistance to their partner’s different reality“.
So removing resistance and hostility toward the Filipino in-laws culture and practicing acceptance is vital if your Filipina is deeply entrenched in this mentality.
But much more is involved in getting them to love you and open arms and hearts.
If you simply part with the idea of edging them out of your marriage, you may get them to have a “neutral” attitude toward you and you will manage to remain in peaceful terms with them.
But being in “peaceful” terms doesn’t mean being in “friendly”, let alone in “loving” terms. It doesn’t mean that they love you and have fully embraced you.
Relationship experts say that another key to a successful marriage is appreciation, not just acceptance, for without appreciationacceptance becomes mere (and perhaps even reluctant) tolerance.
So you need to go the extra-mile and, instead of just accepting the kin-group as an inevitable price to pay to have a Filipino wife, learn to appreciate the differences between the Western concept of family and the Filipino one as exciting and interesting.
I keep dwelling on the idea that here in Italy many elderly people often die alone and forgotten while the Filipino in-laws culture or extended family culture is such that this kind of scenario is highly unlikely.
This will get you to be much more than just “at peace” and you will have won the entire kin-group as your allies.
But how do you strike a balance between being in “peaceful” terms, or better yet in “friendly” (or even better in “loving”) terms with them with the need to set limits to the Filipino sense of entitlement that often causes the Western husband of a Filipina to be viewed as the wealthy provider of the whole kin-group?
How do you balance winning the love of your extended family with not being treated as the rich Westerner who is supposed to provide everything for everyone who belongs to “big family”?
Again, based on my experience, it much depends ON YOUR ATTITUDE TOWARD THEM.
If, somewhere along the line, you taught them (directly or indirectly) that the extended family is a BURDEN to you and that you want to SET CLEAR BOUNDARIES with them they may have NO FEELING for you and only see you as the RICH WESTERNER TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF AND THE MORE YOU GIVE THEM, perhaps just to please your wife, the more THEY WANT AND THEY WILL NOT EVEN SAY THANK YOU.
If, however, you endeavour to view them as your friends and allies and go the extra mile to show them that you HAVE NO HOSTILITY FOR THEM, THAT YOU ARE GOING TO GREAT LENGTHS TO EMBRACE THE FILIPINO KIN-GROUP CULTURE, they will BEGIN TO TREAT YOU AS A FAMILY MEMBER AND AUTOMATICALLY STOP WALKING ALL OVER YOU.
THEY WILL BE THE ONES TO SET BOUNDARIES AND YOU WILL NOT NEED TO SPEAK UP TO GAIN RESPECT AND GET THEM TO STOP CROSSING THE LINE.
Psychologists and relationship experts talk about the three As that create amazing relationships being Acceptance, Appreciation and Acknowledgement.
This is not just fluffy wishy-washy theory, especially in a relationship in which there is a deep cultural chasm between husband and wife.
My personal experience shows that the only way to build and shore up a bridge over this deep cultural chasm is by dropping resistance and replacing it with acceptance and then going even further by figuring out ways to learn to appreciate the Filipino in-laws culture.I did it and, as a result, I am experiencing a beautiful and harmonious coexistence with the Filipino in-laws culture.
As the husband of a Filipina I find that being in a mixed marriage is probably one of the trickiest experiences one can have.
The “Culture Shock Philippines” book by Alfredo and Grace Roces talks about the predicament of a well meaning Westerner who is sincerely looking for ways to build a bridge with Filipinos and this sincere Westerner describes himself as someone who is “groping for a bridge” and yet he keeps finding himself “utterly sealed away”.
The man is apparently not someone who deals with Filipinos with an antagonistic and superior attitude, rather he is earnestly looking for a tie, he is well meaning and sincere and yet he ends up asking himself “what do I do?”
I was that well-meaning Westerner who, for many years, was at a loss of where to turn to build a lasting connection not only with my wife but also with her family.
If you are married to a Filipina as I am, or to someone who comes from another culture that is, like the Filipino one, light years away from the Western model of the world (especially when it comes to the idea of what constitutes a family unit), you have most certainly been there and know what it feels like.
I found myself orbiting and orbiting for years without really building the connection I was looking for, until it dawned upon me that the reason why I wasn’t succeeding was because I was going about it intellectually rather than emotionally. Also, I was expecting my wife and her extended family to reciprocate but I realized that Filipinos, in general, expect the world to suit their culture so the Western mate must be the one to go the extra mile and take the initiative to initiate the bridge building process and keep working at it even if there is no initial feedback.
In this blog I’ve often talked about the concept of appreciation as the real key to creating an emotional bond.
Yes, I was groping for a cultural bridge and I was desperately trying to build one by learning Tagalog, by learning about Filipino food and so on but, at core level, I had an inner resistance toward the Filipino culture and particularly toward the kin-group culture and on a subconscious level I was harboring hostility even though, on a surface level, I was trying hard to integrate the Filipino lifestyle into my life.
My relationship started taking off when I began working on my inner resistance and started to consistently ask myself the question: “what’s great about my wife despite the kin-group culture and other aspects of her culture I am grappling with? and by putting down in writing the answers and nailing them in my mind.
So, it dawned upon me that I needed to create an emotional bond, not just a cultural one and that I had to acquire psychological and emotional mastery, not just become the “master” of my wife’s culture and language.
So I started digging more into books and blogs about the psychology of healthy relationships in general and I temporarily gave my hunger for learning about my wife’s culture a back seat, even though I still regard it as extremely critical to building rapport.
Speaking of the psychology of building an “emotional” bond, a powerful idea that I heard is that, in order to build an emotional connection, one has to decide once and for all who his partner is and what the relationship is about and never question these things regardless of the day-to-day upsets that inevitably arise (and the day-to-day micro upsets and resistances that arise due to the cultural differences are many on top of the ordinary upsets that are typical of an intimate relationship).
In other words one has to separate who the other person is and what the relationship is about from what this person says or does moment-to-moment. This is especially critical in a relationship with a Filipina because, as I keep repeating, many Filipinas are emotional and prone to lashing out and may say or do things that are padalus-dalos or impulsive that may have nothing to do with who they really are at their core.
If two people who are in a relationship are not willing to decide once and for all what the essence of the relationship is and keep questioning the other person and the entire relationship whenever an upset occurs no lasting bridge is possible.
This approach applies to all kinds of relationships, not just intimate ones and not even just to interracial ones.
In a relationship with a Filipina you obviously also need to create cultural rapport but I’ve found out that by only doing that I wasn’t going very far.
Obviously creating this kind of emotional tie is extremely difficult in a Filipino-Western relationship where a Filipino woman married a Western man, perhaps a much older one, just to get an entry visa to a Western country and he married his younger Filipina just to have companionship. The foundation of such an intimate relationship is too shallow to build an emotional connection where the man and the woman involved get crystal clear about what they appreciate in one another, because they are in a co-dependent sort of relationship, one that is driven by neediness and that is all about getting something from the other, some sort of “transaction” if you will.
Building a bridge is already a huge challenge if the Western man and the Filipino woman were initially drawn to one another by the positive qualities that they found in each other so I guess that building one when the foundation is shallow can make things much harder if not impossible.
The man mentioned in the “Culture Shock” was really trying hard to build a bridge with the Filipino culture and yet he struggled.
I entered my relationship with my wife driven by appreciation for her qualities and so did she, but I struggled to build a bridge for a good long while and I had to go through a serious and rigorous period of self-improvement to finally manage to build a lasting bridge.
I eventually got my head around the idea that I had to create a bridge by developing the daily habit of putting down in writing what I appreciate about my relationship by bringing back to my memory what initially drew me to my wife on a consistent basis and also by putting down in writing things that I do appreciate about the Filipino culture or even things I could condition myself to appreciate even when it comes to aspects like bahala-na that from a Western standpoint are hard to appreciate.
So, the bottom line is that what created the “bridge” in my relationship is that I learned to keep my mind focused on what initially drew me to my wife as a person (despite the aspects of her culture that I still grapple with) and by keeping that appreciation alive every single day.
Building a bridge in a Filipino-Western relationship is hard work and may require years of “groping” but if you are willing to take up the challenge and go about it the right way your efforts will pay off immensely
spending months in the Philippines didn’t help me learn the language as I was too busy snorkeling and hiking
Much of what I write about in this blog is related to my relationship with a Filipina and her language and culture.
Like many adults who approach the study of a foreign language, I approached the study of Tagalog by using an active hands on approach that entailed digging into the structure of the language and looking for analogies and differences between the languages I already knew and Tagalog.
My stepson, who was 8 years old when he came to Italy, back in 2005, learned Italian in less than 6 months and he accomplished that effortlessly and he even took on an Italian accent, and in only 6 months!
Kids have a biological advantage over adults
Interestingly he did that when he was 8 years old, not 2 or 3, when, according to neuroscientists, infants have a peak ability to absorbe every sound like a sponge, because they use both the left and the right part of the brain and so they are not like adults who are more localized in the “intentional” part of the brain that causes them to have a more analytical hands on approach.
Kids soak in all the inputs they receive and quickly and effortlessly internalize them.
Adults need focus and study.
Children have time adult expats don’t have
But let’s face it: kids have something else that adults, including adult expatriates who live 24/7 on foreign soil don’t have. They have plenty of time at their disposal in which they have nothing else to do but soak in the language: they go to school, they play with local kids, they watch TV and so on.
In theory even an adult who lives in a foreign country is exposed to the language 24/7 and so how come that there are Filipinos who have been living and working in Italy for 40 years who still struggle with the Italian language and how come there are US, Canadian, Australian or European expats who have been married to a Filipina for decades and who have been living in the Philippines for decades who can’t speak?
One reason, as we already said, is the biological limitation that neuroscientists talk about: adults just don’t have the ability to passively and effortlessly learn a new language. They need an intentional effort, they need time and they need focus.
Everything children do is an opportunity to take in new inputs and learn words and sounds, they spend long hours doing the very things that lead to naturally becoming fluent in the local language.
Adults, including expats who are retired and have plenty of time, focus much of their time and energy on things that are other than learning the language.
Filipino immigrants in Italy spend most of their working time cleaning the house of their employer while their boss is not around. When their boss is around their conversation with him or her is limited to very brief intercourses that revolve around what the boss tells them to do or how much they are going to be paid.
Many expats in the Philippines or even here in Italy (we have plenty of English-speaking expats here, as well as Germans, French, Scandinavians, you name it) work jobs or are into businesses that have very little to do with learning the local language.
Adults have other priorities
And, in much the same way as Filipinos in Italy attend religious meetings in Tagalog, go to Filipino parties, watch Filipino TV programs and chat on Facebook or Skype with their relatives in the Philippines, foreign expats in the Philippines, in Italy or in any other country also spend much of their free time associating with their fellow countrymen.
The “Culture Shock Philippines” book by Alfredo and Grace Roces says the following about foreign expats in the Philippines: “they must have their gin-and-tonics in their private clubs, while bashing the habitat they have themselves chosen to inhabit. They live marching to the beat of a different drummer in a place where there are no drums. They build Little Englands, Little Americas, Little Chinas, light-years away from their motherland, hearts and stomachs living elsewhere”.
And it is more or less the same with Filipino expats or with many expats in general: they physically inhabit the local environment but their minds and hearts are not in-sync with the surrounding environment.
And then there is the false myth that by spending months in a certain country with the specific aim to learn the language this is going to magically boost somebody’s language skill. But is that really going to happen?
I know Italians who spent months in the Philippines who haven’t made much progress with Tagalog, and I know English and American young people who came here to “study” Italian but ended up going to parties, travelling around and going to pubs or just hanging out with friends.
One of the reasons why immigrants don’t make mych progress with the language is because they associate with their fellow countrymen so they physically live on foreign soil but their hearts and minds are in their homeland
I myself didn’t learn a lot of Tagalog while on vacation in the Philippines, precisely because I was on vacation and my focus was too scattered.
Me in the Philippines: not exactly learning Tagalog
Adults are deletion creatures
Another reason that is connected to the fact that adults have limited time and energy is that, while kids absorbe every sound they hear, adults delete a lot because they need to prioritize and learn the terminology that is closely related to why they are in that country.
An English-speaking expat who is doing business in the Philippines only cares about learning the terms that are strictly necessary for his business. A religious missionary is mostly going to focus on “theocratic” terms and so on.
Another reason why adults are much more focused and selective in their approach to learning languages is because they get the general sense of the context in which a new word is being used, so they don’t always need to look up the meaning of every single new word or idiom they encounter.
When I read a book in English I stumble upon a lot of new idioms and phrasal verbs but my focus is on getting the message of the book, not on learning new vocabulary. So, if I get the general sense of the context in which this new term or idiom is being used, I don’t need to stop and look up its meaning.
Adults are too analytical
Another way us adults differ from kids is that, while kids are a blank slate, we already have a grasp of the structure of the language or languages we already know and we tend to look for analogies and differences between the target language and those we know already.
For example an English speaker who is learning Italian might focus on how both Italian and English have irregular verbs and on how English irregular verbs have more predictable patterns than Italian ones.
In some cases this urge to always compare and contrast can be useful while in some other cases it can be a huge bog, it can bog you down.
Adults fear feeling awkward
And last but not least an adult has a hard time letting go of his tendency to hold back from freely expressing himself in a foreign language out of fear that a mistake migh ruin his reputation. Kids don’t hold back.
What can you do?
So these are some of the reasons why an adult cannot learn a foreign language the way a child does.
Yet, awareness of the limitations that I have mentioned in this article could actually be turned into an asset.
For example, by being aware that one of the stumbling blocks that are holding you back from making progress with the language is the fact that you are spending too much free time with your fellow countrymen, you could take steps to associate more with locals.
And by being aware that kids have a more easygoing and less analytical approach, you could actually cut back a little bit on the hard work of always comparing and analyzing two different languages and just casually spend an hour a day watching TV or reading in the target language and just let the language sink into your subconscious mind.
I did more or less that with Tagalog and, while I cannot claim that I learned it like a child (on the contrary I often fall into the trap of priding myself for my knowledge of the grammar while there’s a lot of basic words I don’t know yet), it helped.
Most people in my country either choose Moderna or Astra Zeneca as vaccines against Covid-19.
Very few people go for Johnson & Johnson, which is a “one shot only” solution.
One reason why I went for Johnson & Johnson is because I am too busy to go to a doctor or a pharmacy twice to get my shot, so I chose the easy solution.
Another reason is because I am married to a Filipina and I am part of the Filipino community where there is no shortage of “shots” (ibang uri ng “shot”) and they have a shot (or tagay) or two (or even 3, 4, 5……) all the time.
But even with that kind of “shot” I use the “Johnson & Johnson” approach and go for “one shot only” or isang shot na lang, and I go for a nice and healthy glass of great red wine…