Filipino Language Classes Experience Massive Growth in Enrollments

With so many missionaries who have come home early due to COVID-19, the Center for Language Studies has had its work cut out to accommodate so many students.

PROVO, Utah (October 1, 2020)—COVID-19 has certainly brought on new challenges this year, but it is no doubt that there are silver linings to be found. One such silver lining can be found in the Center for Language Studies.

Many missionaries serving across the globe had their missionary service cut short due to health and safety concerns. While these circumstances have not been easy to swallow, many of these returned missionaries have taken the opportunity to continue their language studies here at BYU.

With so many changes to mission calls and missionary service in the past few months, the demand for language classes for return missionaries has skyrocketed. While many language classes have been filled to capacity, it is the Filipino languages that have seen the most significant growth.

Tagalog (pronounced as tuh-GAUL-ug) is one of 3 Filipino languages taught at BYU, along with Cebuano and Hiligaynon. All three languages experienced massive increases in enrollments since missionaries were sent home early this summer.

Rebecca Marks, assistant director for the Center for Language Studies commented, “More than any other language that we work with, Tagalog has just been completely transformed by everything that has happened.” She continued, “Our enrollments have spiked, plus we have the pandemic that created a need for all of these missionaries to come home early, and all of a sudden, we [had] a need for extra professors.”

“We have never really had something like this happen where [so many] missionaries come home early from their missions,” commented Rose Bybee, a Tagalog and Cebuano instructor. “It’s mind-blowing actually. It’s not like we are talking about just a couple of missionaries returning home early.”

Originally from the Philippines, Bybee has a natural excitement for the recent growth of languages at BYU.

“It’s more exciting than anything. I think that it is really neat to have this many students who are learning languages, not just Filipino languages. That’s the coolest thing about teaching languages is that you get excited about people that want to learn it…Many of these students have never really lived some other place [besides on their missions], so for them to come home and kind of have their eyes opened to different cultures, to kind of expand on that…It’s good to learn language when it opens your perspective on a different way of living, different way of thinking…” Bybee explained.

The Center for Language studies works closely with the Missionary Training Center in order to anticipate how many students will return to BYU to take language classes. Marks explained that in the case of Tagalog classes, “two years ago, the number of mission calls went up 145% from our baseline that we had [in 2010]. So we are experiencing 145% increase in enrollments in 2020 [just from the increase in Tagalog mission calls in 2018], plus all the missionaries that came home early.”

Tagalog was one of the first languages taught in the Center for Language Studies when the program began in 1999. Since that time, Cebuano and Hiligaynon have been added to accommodate the growing number of return missionaries who speak these languages. Tagalog alone has 9 sections being taught in the Fall 2020 semester, 5 of which are Tagalog 330, the class taken by return missionaries to prepare them for the Tagalog language proficiency exam.

There are now more than 425 Tagalog speaking students enrolled in classes at BYU this semester.

Bybee concluded, “I think that it is one way to live in a place and say ‘I think I get it. I know what the culture is like . . .’ And then you take this culture class and you’re like, ‘wait wait wait wait wait. That’s why they do that? That’s why they have that?’. . . Our classes are really cool because it gives [students] that informed global awareness. You study based off of what has been written, what has been researched and studied, not just what you have experienced. It’s really cool.”

That informed global awareness and language skills are what give many BYU students a leg-up after they graduate. The Center for Language Studies hopes to continue that legacy among future BYU students for years to come.

—Molly Ogden Welch (Communications ’22)