How to Teach Your Kids to Speak Filipino

So, you want to teach your kids how to speak Filipino? Join the club. This exact question was one of the main reasons why Campfire Crates was born! It has always been a mystery and to be frank, quite a struggle to get them to even try speaking Filipino... until... I came upon this term on NPR’s Life Kit “How to learn a heritage language” episode:

Heritage Language Learners

Now, what is a Heritage Language Learner and how did it change things for me and my kids? Read on to find out! 


A heritage language is a minority language (either immigrant or indigenous) learned by its speakers at home as children, and difficult to be fully developed because of insufficient input from the social environment. The speakers grow up with a different dominant language in which they become more competent.” (Polinsky & Kagan, 2007)

So my kids are heritage language learners! 

I know it’s just a term and it doesn’t take the work out of having to actually teach them the language and more importantly, convince them to actually want to learn the language (bigger challenge) BUT it was a GAME CHANGER because it took the pressure away from the idea that they needed to be fluent, native speakers.

There was a space and a name for them to be exactly what they were, heritage language speakers because of this truth: they will never become native language speakers.

It also gives a different feeling, a different purpose to teaching them the language, this is your heritage, it’s up to you what you want to take from it and make of it but I offer it to you. 

What makes my child a Heritage Language Speaker and not a native or second language speaker? 

What makes a heritage language speaker different from somebody who wants to learn a second language? Maria Carrera from the Heritage Language Resource Center (UCLA) explains:

“Heritage speakers are different from L2 (2nd language learners) because they grow up hearing that language at home, living part of their lives in that language” 

“A lot of heritage language speakers are not comfortable but they can understand a lot”

“It puts them ahead of individuals who start from zero”

Now there are a few things that are important for us parents to take note of in the language journey of our heritage language learners:



Watch out for comparisons and criticisms from native speakers. Be this from yourselves, their grandparents, their aunts and uncles or random people on visits home. This contributes to the shame and insecurity that heritage speakers get when trying the express what they know of the language.

This can come in the form of:

  • Laughter when they try to speak Filipino
  • Shame for not speaking Filipino
  • The question of "Why don’t you know how to speak Filipino?"
  • The statement: "You don't need to speak Filipino" 
  • The assumption that they can speak the language because of the way they look

There's a cycle to the desire to learn the language 

Cue blowing the mind that is already blown.

Maria Carrera explains again:

“We find that when children are young, let’s say when they are in middle school, they want nothing to do with the heritage language. As we get older, that desire to connect with our roots, and to develop our linguistic skills grows” 

Take note of what your kids can do best 

What are your kids’ strengths? What are their interests? Lean into that. Give them the confidence in what they can do - is it understanding? Saying a few words? Singing the songs? Start with what they can do well and then develop it from there.

4 Language Skills

  • Listening
  • Speaking
  • Reading 
  • Writing

Kids will be more likely to keep going if you support their strengths instead of focusing on their weaknesses.

It takes a long time to master a language 

Cue mindblown for the third time

“I work with people, linguists who say ‘oh well, if you didn't start out early in life, forget about it, it’s not worth it.’ That’s because they have the native speaker model in mind. It’s true, you will never sound like a native language speaker that’s because you’re NOTE a native language speaker, you’re a heritage language speaker.”

Understand that they will be discouraged and that they will want to do anything BUT practice their Filipino. 

What do you want your kids to take away from learning the language? ?

The episode gives the tip of thinking about what your goals are for learning the language. In turn, we need to ask ourselves too, why do we want our kids to learn Filipino?

For me, it’s the little things. I just love hearing them speak it. It thrills me to pieces when they use a Filipino word to describe something “it’s baho”, “let’s do kamayan”, “mom, here are your tsinelas” or when I hear them sing a nursery rhyme. In the future, I’d love to be able to laugh with them over Filipino humor, especially Filipino pun humor. 

(photo of punny Filipino signs)

So essentially, my reasons are selfish. It’s to make me happy. 

But it’s also that feeling of community. That if they ever go back to the Philippines or if they come across a fellow Filipino in any part of the world, they have a common language that connects them already.

Connect to your Goal of why you want them to learn the langauge

And for me, that’s for the little heart flutter joy when I hear them using the language.

Input & Output

Input, make sure they are exposed to as many opportunities to hear, speak, read and write the language

“You maximize exposure or input and you produce output. You talk to other people. Force yourself to produce something. You said Shireen that you’re not comfortable talking to other people, you can keep a journal and write something that only you can see so you don’t have to worry about oh I’m ashamed of my Spanish (…)”

For your budding Filipino heritage language learner… My Filipino Story A Heritage Language Journal might be a good place to start!

Girl holding My Filipino Story Book

Preserving the Language

It ends with the talk about motivation which I think is something that we ask ourselves too. Overall the other things we need to deal with as parents, do we really need to add teaching them their heritage to that pile? 

So how do we keep ourselves going in this quest to communicate our heritage and connect our kids to their roots? We ask ourselves: 

  • What do you love about your language?
  • What do you love about the Filipino language?
  • What about it brings you joy?

“Now, I face a brutal reality: In one generation, my multicultural, multilingual family will have lost both of its heritage languages. That's something that keeps me up at night – but the thought of stopping it from happening is even more daunting. Regardless, I'm not giving up on my goal of being bilingual.” - Shereen Marisol Meraji, NPR

Celebrate your wins

We’ve got a whole lifetime of this ahead of us. Let’s celebrate the wins. 

We parents ride the rollercoaster of parenting everyday, more so as diaspora, immigrant, multicultural parents, so make sure you raise that fist in glory when your kids just happily repeat a word after you, or use a Filipino word out of the blue.

I’ve got a few ones with my kids but I wanted to share this one from one of my older son’s best friends who is a Filipino-American boy growing up in Singapore. 

He came up with this joke:

Why are Filipinos afraid of the Pacific Ocean?

Because it’s Tu-Big.

credit: Kai B.


Get it? I love it. Filipino pun jokes. They are the best. 


9 Easy Tips for Teaching your kids Filipino

  1. Acknowledge you are raising Heritage Language Speakers, not native speakers. 
  2. Celebrate that your kids are already ahead of the game, they probably know a lot more than you think
  3. Watch out for comparisons and criticisms from native speakers
  4. Take heart, the kids might not be into it now but they might be when they get older. Kids come to their language in their own time
  5. Be patient,  it takes a long time to master a language
  6. Keep your goal in mind and remember why you want them to learn the language
  7. Input, make sure they are exposed to as many opportunities to hear, speak, read and write the language
  8. As parents, we have a responsibility to preserve the language
  9. Celebrate your wins! 


Thank you to NPR’s Life Kit “How to learn a heritage language” episode for the inspiration, quotes and takeaways for this post.

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