Soap operas are extremely difficult to understand when you haven't been keeping up since the beginning or when they're in a completely different language. Why did that woman slap her boyfriend? Why are they yelling at each other? I couldn't tell you no matter how hard I tried to decipher it. Body language can only give so much. Unfortunately, I couldn't even ask the people watching the soap opera because they only spoke the language the soap opera spoke.
I came to the United States when I was one. My parents would speak Tagalog to each other, but I was a quiet child that never spoke, so my teachers thought that teaching me two languages would confuse me. They told my parents to speak English near me so that I'd pick that up. My grandparents came from the Philippines when I was seven. They knew no word of English and I only knew the basic hello in Tagalog. That was not enough to carry a conversation. The language barrier made communication and bonding very difficult with my grandparents. I wanted to have a close relationship with my grandparents, but the language barrier was in the way.
At the time, I was the spoiled youngest child that always got what I wanted without much effort. It was frustrating at times because I wasn't able to tell them what I thought, but I had to understand that they were going through the same troubles too. They were limited to who they can talk to, especially in a new country where their language meant nothing to the people there. I realized that this time, I would be the one that would have to budge.
What my grandparents and I did have in common was that we both enjoyed watching television. The problem was that our taste in shows was different. What they did like was the drama-filled soap operas the Philippines had to offer. What they were saying was beyond me, but the drama was just too exciting for me to ignore. I had to know what was happening, but in order for that to happen, I had to know what they're saying. Whenever it was time for my grandparents to watch soap operas, I would constantly ask them what was happening. I would then have to decipher their broken English and make a rough translation of the show in my mind. Some words began to make sense after a while. My Tagalog vocabulary began to grow after watching an immense amount of dramas. I was able to speak a few words and with the help of my grandparents, my vocabulary grew even more. I always had an English to Tagalog dictionary handy to help the translation process.
It was frustrating at times learning a whole new language with its own set of rules and accents. With the wrong intonation, the word "why" becomes "cow." My motivation was how rewarding it would be to be able to talk to my grandparents and other relatives. My family disregarded the concept of Americanizing me and helped me out by pointing out my mistakes. After months of practice and many mistakes, I was able to hold a conversation and talk to my grandparents the way I've always wanted to. I finally could understand the plot to all the shows and most importantly, what my grandparents had to say.
Learning the language did not stop there. It took years for me to be able to speak without stopping in the middle of a sentence. I still speak Tagalog with an American accent. My Tagalog will never be perfect, but as long as I show improvement, I'll be content with what I've accomplished.