Students call for Tagalog language credit
As Harvard introduces its first Tagalog instructor, students at Yale with Filipino ancestry advocated for institutional support of the Southeast Asian language at Yale.
Zoe Berg, Senior Photographer
At Yale, there are no courses in Tagalog, the fourth-most spoken language in the United States.
Last week, Harvard University announced that it would fund a full-time instructor to teach Tagalog, the native language of the Philippines, for the 2023-2024 school year. Currently, Yale only offers Tagalog through the direct language study program, where administrators coordinate for a native speaker to offer students instruction in a language not otherwise offered at Yale. Students interested in Tagalog at Yale raised concern that the DILS program lacks the financial and staff resources necessary to truly support a formal path of study in the language, and advocated for Yale to offer formal courses in the Southeast Asian language.
“It is disappointing that there are no dedicated Tagalog courses at Yale,” Ava Estacio-Touhey ’25, who serves as president of the campus Filipino student club Kasama, told the News. “Filipinos make up one of the largest Southeast Asian diasporic communities at Yale and have for decades.”
According to Estacio-Touhey, Tagalog is a “language of resistance and resilience that has survived hundreds of years of colonization and militarisation.” To learn Tagalog, she said, is to honor those values, which is important to members of diasporic communities as well as those interested in sharing in their language and culture.
Filipino American student Resty Fufunan ’24 said that while there are many languages spoken in the Filipino diaspora, Tagalog is a “language of power” which is used by many Filipinos to communicate with elders as well as their families. While he said he would like to also see less prominent dialects being offered in educational settings, he encouraged Filipino youth to learn Tagalog.
Bienn Viquiera ’24, who identifies as Filipino American, told the News that his Filipino heritage is a large aspect of his identity. When he moved to the United States in 2011, he did not speak English as well as those around him, and the desire to blend in with his peers made him want to avoid speaking Tagalog.
Nevertheless, Viquiera said that as he got older, his attitude toward the language changed. Now, he said that Tagalog has helped him come to terms with his identity as a Filipino, and he is “very proud” to know the language.
Fufunan also discussed balancing his native tongue with English while growing up in the United States.
“I think Filipinos in the diaspora have a tendency to not teach their children their native tongues, whether it be Tagalog or other languages,” Fufunan told the News. “I know growing up, my parents encouraged me to speak English to navigate society as an immigrant.”
Viquiera said that teaching Tagalog at a university such as Yale offers students a chance to learn the language of the Philippines, which can bring more attention to Filipino culture and the Filipino community in the United States.
Fufunan told the News that his friends who attend west coast colleges and universities generally have greater access to Tagalog language courses, while schools on the east coast lag behind. While he supports the effort to increase access to Tagalog classes at Yale, he also noted that there are fewer Filipinos in the eastern parts of the United States, which could lead to less demand for the language to be taught. Eight of the top 10 metropolitan areas by Filipino population in the United States are located on the west coast.
Professor Erik Harms, who serves as chair of the Council on Southeast Asian Studies, said that he thought that the development at Harvard was “great news.”
“If the Yale administration was enthusiastic about supporting the teaching of Tagalog, we would be open to that conversation and trying to find a way to make that possible,” Harms said.
He added that for now, students interested in Tagalog at Yale have to find independent study partners through the DILS program.
But not all students who have studied Tagalog through the DILS program feel as though it has been academically satisfying. Estacio-Touhey told the News that while she enjoyed her experience with DILS, it would “never amount to a proper language course” because it does not have the same level of financial support and resources.
Harms emphasized that when it comes to offering Tagalog, the “simple issue is budgetary.” But he added that since joining the Yale faculty, he has not been aware of a single formal conversation over the consideration of Tagalog as an official Yale language course. Still, in the 15 years Harms has worked at Yale, he said the University has not seen the “upsurge” in student interest in the language which he believes could turn administrators’ heads.
Jorge Espada, who serves as associate director of Southeast Asian Programs at Harvard’s Asia Center, told the News that the center received committed funding from the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to offer Tagalog courses for three years. Espada said that an “active Filipino student community at Harvard” as well as connections with the service-oriented Harvard Philippine Forum encouraged administrators to pursue funding for the language.
“It reinforced the fact that Tagalog was one of the languages that we wanted to focus on first,” Espada said.
According to Espada, the money to fund Tagalog at Harvard comes exclusively from various gifts and endowments of the Asia Center, and that with the guaranteed financial support, there would be “no risk of money running out and in the language not being offered.”
Espada said that he imagined that for most institutions, a financial obstacle is often what prevents such courses from being offered. He added that there may be administrative challenges associated with offering new language courses, and one has to “make sure that there’s enough staff to support the increase in instruction.” Espada added that the search for the new course instructors is still ongoing.
Kasama, the Yale student group dedicated to Filipino culture, was founded in 1989.