Everyone in the Philippines (who has been to school) has been taught English. English is the second language of the country. All street sights are in English. Products in shops have labels in English. You can survive in the Philippines without speaking a word of Tagalog.
However, English is NOT the language of choice, and the ordinary everyday conversations of ordinary people take place in Tagalog, or whatever regional dialogue is spoken in the area. The less sophisticated, the less educated and the less rich the person is….and the further from Manila you get…the less that person will be comfortable in conversational English.
And most important to understand……no one learns how to speak or understand Aussie Mumble!
Aussies mutilate the English language. We pronounce words strangely. We run words into each other and make entire sentences sound like single (long) words. Entire letters are slurred away into oblivion. Our adenoids share the job that vocal chords were meant for. And we “swallow our words”, as the locals are fond of saying. No crisp and clear pronunciation for the Aussie. No way mate! And our poor girls have to try to decipher our mumbling drawl.
She will get used to it in time. In the short term? Speak slowly. Speak clearly. Try to rediscover the sounds of letters we have long considered superfluous. And encourage her to actually TELL you when she doesn’t understand you, or other Aussies.
The strangest thing is that she will walk into this strange world of mumblers and language-mutilators, and SHE will feel shy to talk because of HER “poor English”.
And here comes the first problem.
Filipinos will avoid talking to people, or even making eye-contact when they feel shy. To an Aussie, that is a sign of rudeness or contempt.
You will need to explain this to her, as this will cause unnecessary offense and misunderstandings with your friends and with relatives, who will think she is being aloof or ignorant. Ever wondered why, when you visited, there seemed to be so many relatives who simply ignored you? They did this because they felt embarrassed about their poor English. It had nothing to do with not liking you. You will have to explain this to her until she gets it, otherwise feelings will be hurt.
Talking in Tagalog in front of English speakers!
I hate this with a passion, personally! I have relatives in the provinces. I don’t visit any more. Why? Because (a) they won’t speak to me because they’re shy about their poor English, and (b) they speak in Tagalog (or in the local Bicolano dialect) in front of me, despite the fact they could speak in English if they tried. Try spending two weeks where the only people who speak to you are your wife and kids, and only when they get a chance to? Not nice! You feel completely in the dark.
Remember what I said about Filipinos growing up without being exposed to different foods? They also grow up not being exposed to speakers of different languages. You may be the first person they ever met who didn’t understand their language. It’s a new situation. No point of reference. So therefore they continue as they always have, and take the path of least resistance. You may be more tolerant than me, but you WILL feel left-out. And later on when you have a house full of chattering Tagalog-speaking ladies, you will probably feel cranky.
Set some ground-rules. Insist on some good manners, or you will soon run out of Australian friends and relatives who wish to visit. But at the same time, show some flexibility. If she’s off chattering to her mate in the kitchen in Tagalog whilst you’re watching TV, who cares what language she speaks in? And if you have a group of English-speaking chaps sitting out the back having a chat, and the ladies are inside discussing the joys of dried fish, who cares what language they speak in?
However, you need to encourage her to speak English as much as possible, because she is now living in an English speaking country. And Aussies can have this annoying and patronising habit of treating those with less-than-perfect English as being dumb and childlike. Don’t let this happen to her. Whilst it’s fun and cute for you to learn Tagalog, her learning English has more practical benefit. If she stays at home watching The Filipino Channel, and only socialising with Filipinas, the years will go by and she will remain a “foreigner” in her adopted country.