One of the major universities in Washington state is offering the Philippine national language as one of its key language courses.
For eight years now, Tagalog courses have been offered at the University of Washington (UW), revived after a long absence because of the demand of the Filipino community here. Filipino language classes are taught at the university's Department of American Ethnic Studies.
The Philippine mother tongue is studied with intense focus, attracting more students than any other Southeast Asian language course on offer.
While they have yet to become a permanent feature of the university curriculum, the Tagalog courses are now the most well-attended Southeast Asian language classes at the university, attracting more enrollees than Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian and Burmese language courses.
Taught at three levels to suit a range of language competencies, the Tagalog courses currently have 60 enrollees: 40 attend the elementary course, 15 are in the intermediate class, and five in the advanced class.
"I think this is a good indication that more and more students are becoming interested in learning about the Philippines. I have at least five students in both my advanced and intermediate [classes] who are interested in pursuing their Ph.D. field studies in the Philippines, " said Jiedson Domigpe, the UW's only Filipino language instructor.
By comparison, three levels of Vietnamese courses have 50 students, Thai has 33, Bahasa Indonesia has 22 and Burmese has four students, said Thomas Gething, associate dean at the UW's Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies Southeast Asia Center (JSIS-SEAC).
"It is through the study of language that students are able to learn the culture of the people who speak that language. Language fluency permits direct cultural learning without the filter of a translation. Indeed, all of our international studies programs require language study," Gething said.
The Tagalog courses are taught for 10 weeks in hourlong classes, Mondays through Fridays.
"The [elementary] course is primarily a structure-based curriculum where students learn different grammatical structures of the language while getting exposure to Filipino culture," said Domigpe.
The intermediate and advanced classes are more topic-based, covering Philippine history, culture and current events," Domigpe explained in an e-mail message.
According to Filipino-American Enrique Bonus, an associate professor in the American Ethnic Studies department, Filipino courses are making a comeback after they ceased to be offered after the 1970s and 1980s.
"When I was hired at UW in 2000, a number of Filipino American students brought my attention to the lack of regular courses in the Tagalog language," Bonus said in an e-mail message.
UW students of Filipino heritage, many of them with the Filipino-American Students Association, initiated meetings with deans, backed by "several supportive faculty, staff and community members," he said.
"The most important argument we offered was that Tagalog is a legitimate field of study that is offered in our peer institutions. This enabled the deans to eventually provide funding for Tagalog courses, but only to fill in half of the funding the UW gets from the US Department of Education," Bonus said.
The level of attendance in the UW's Tagalog courses is proof of the growing international interest in the Philippines, Domigpe said.
Most of the students that the courses attract are of Filipino lineage, but Domigpe said he has one Chinese and one Vietnamese student while seven others are Anglo (English-speaking Caucasians).
"Most of the Filipino-Americans take the class because they either want to visit the Philippines or want to communicate with their relatives, grandparents in particular. A small portion of these students are interested in going to the Philippines for medical school and summer internships," Domigpe explained.
"Most of the Anglo students take Tagalog because they want to conduct research in the Philippines or they are somehow involved in Filipino organizations on campus," said Domigpe.
Domigpe credits Filipino professors at the UW--Bonus, Francisco Benitez for comparative literature, Vicente Rafael for history and Butch de Castro for nursing--for helping generate interest in the Philippines, its language, people and culture.
"I think these professors have brought a great deal of interest to the Tagalog program not only because of their expertise, but also because they are very supportive of and personable with their students. This also helps the program grow through referrals and good reviews," he said.
Domigpe and Bonus hope the courses will become a permanent part of the curriculum, meaning the university would take on full funding for them.
Domigpe would also like to jump-start a Filipino newsletter at the UW, one that would feature students' articles in both Filipino and English.
He hopes the newsletter will create a medium for the discussion of issues relevant to a shared Filipino heritage and create a greater sense of community among Filipinos and Filipino-Americans around the UW campus.