Language Learning: Harvard To Offer Its First Ever Tagalog Course

The prestigious 386-year-old university will be hiring three instructors to teach Tagalog in their upcoming academic year with a $1 million budget.

According to a report published by The Harvard Crimson, Tagalog is the fourth most spoken language in the United States. As such, a number of top universities in the country offer courses on it, including the University of Washington, University of Pennsylvania, University of California San Diego, and Cornell University. What’s more, the University of Hawaii in Manoa Honolulu even offers a bachelor’s degree in Philippine Language and Culture.

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Recently, Harvard University has announced that it will be offering a course in Tagalog for the academic year 2023 to 2024. The university is a top educational institution, having placed second in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings in 2023.

A view of Harvard University
A view of Harvard University/Photo via Instagram @harvard

This decision marks an exciting step in bolstering the support of Southeast Asian language studies: something that Jorge Espada—the associate director for Southeast Asia Programs at Harvard—believed was lacking in the university. 

“Most Southeast Asian languages are taught as part of a tutorial format within the Department of South Asian Studies,” he shared with The Harvard Crimson, which released the announcement on the Tagalog course offering. “We wanted to see if we could have these languages taught by a preceptor-level position to professionalize the instruction, to make it more consistent, and to generate enthusiasm for it at Harvard.” 

The Search for Educators

In line with this, the institution is currently in the process of hiring three preceptors to teach five Tagalog language courses per year. Candidates are expected to have native or near-native fluency in Tagalog, according to the posting in Harvard’s official website. Advanced experience in fields like Tagalog literature, Philippine culture, or Southeast Asian studies is also highly desirable.

The university is offering a three-year appointment that’s renewable for up to five additional years, and funded by a one million dollar budget (around P54 million). James Robson, a professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations and director of Harvard’s Asia Center, hopes that this new development will “convince the administration to further support Southeast Asian studies.”

A Proper Representation

Harvard Philippine Forum (HPF) co-president, Marcky Antonio, expressed his pleasure at the news. HPF is an organization within the university that promotes an appreciation for Philippine culture and tradition, and has been advocating for a development like this for quite some time. Fellow co-president of HPF, Eleanor Wikstrom, has stated that having Tagalog offered as a course has been a goal for “as long as the forum has been in existence.”

Members of the Harvard Philippine Forum during a 2023 visit to Metro Manila
Members of the Harvard Philippine Forum during a 2023 visit to Metro Manila/Photo via Instagram @hpfpamilya

To drive the message home, Wikstrom added: “We have further responsibility to push this now that we know that this is possible. So we’re not going to stop at Tagalog.”

Indeed, having a Tagalog course is only the first step. Marcky shared that it’s imperative to develop it in a way that does justice to the language and its respective motherland. “I think there’s also this sense that we need to make sure we teach this right—not only Tagalog language, but Filipino culture as a whole,” he shared in the official Harvard Crimson statement. 

Photo Banner via Instagram @harvard.

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