Should I Speak Tagalog or Keep Quiet!

Speak or Be Quiet!
Speak or Be Quiet!

Can you speak a 2nd language? How about learning 3 or 4, or maybe 6 languages?  Not so easy. Especially as one ages, the learning process slows down. Many westerners that locate to the Philippines choose either to learn to speak, or not learn to speak a dialect or language of the Philippines.  When one is confronted with learning a language here, it can be easy or way more complicated than it should be. Here is why: The ‘base’  language in the Philippines is Tagalog and is spoken by around 25% of the population of the Philippines and as a second language by most of the rest. While it is the first language of the region that includes Bulacan and Metro Manila, it’s standardized form is the official first national language. Termed Pilipino,  in 1973 the constitution declared the Pilipino language to be co-official, along with English, and mandated the development of the national language to be known as Filipino.  In addition to the national or 1st language, there are many regional languages or dialects that are spoken and, depending on classification, number between 120 and 175 dialects.

Say What?
Where to go and how to say it?

Many Filipinos can be fluent in several dialects and some folks can understand many more. While I am able to  understand the gist of a  conversation in Tagalog, I get completely lost when the conversation switches to another dialect.  I can sit and listen to my asawa converse with friends and the conversation will include Tagalog, Wary-Wary, English, and whatever. I tease her with the idea that she does this to “keep” me in the dark! Of course this is not the case, but it is a common aspect of many the Filipino conversation. Some days I will hear her talking with a family member and the conversation will be in Tagalog. I’ve asked her before why not speak your native dialect of Waray-Waray and she responded “because!”  Just Because?  Many times when a word in one dialect might escape someone’s vocabulary, they will quickly substitute a word in another dialect or English.  If you have ever listened to any lengthy discussion between Filipinos, you already know that English can be strewn about within the conversation.

.Over the years, I have asked my asawa to help me learn to speak Tagalog and just last week she was saying something to me and she completely lost me. I asked her “is that Tagalog?” and she said “no, it’s Waray.” And sometimes when you ask someone for the Tagalog version of a word, they will repeat it back to you in English. As it happens, there may not be an exact matching word in Tagalog so they borrow the English word and they will say that’s it!  Some days I just shake my head and think if I just surrender and give myself up, things would be much easier!

Say What?
Say What?

Because we will be living in the province of Samar, my asawa has suggested that I should learn to speak Waray-Waray, the local dialect there, but I stand by my argument that it would be easier to just focus on one language…the national language…the one that most Filipino’s speak. My thought is this; what good does it do to learn speak a local dialect when I know most peoples understand the national language? Being proficient in Waray-Waray will do me absolutely no good when I visit Iloilo in the Western Visayas or travel to Palawan, or Luzon.  Me, I will stick to the national language because if I can get by with just one language, why muddy the waters? I mean really…how many ways do you need to say “San Miguel Please!”

No Way!
No Way!

I heard of an expat once that implemented a household rule that when in a certain room of the house, a certain language should be spoken. For example, English in the living room, Waray-Waray in the kitchen,  and Tagalog on the patio. As a matter of fact, and officially, there are four languages in the Philippines that have NO known speakers. I think I’ll pick one of those dialects as the official language for my man cave and that way I can be certain no one will ever come into my room asking for anything!

Want to learn Tagalog? There are many places to go online and this one is as good as any place to start. Matuto (to learn) here.

7 thoughts on “Should I Speak Tagalog or Keep Quiet!

  1. Hi Randy,

    I admit that after three and a half years I am still linguistically challenged. It does have its advantages though. I just feign ignorance if I am being asked something that I don’t want to respond to. Like a while back there was a gentleman at a party that thought I should pay for his daughters college expenses. I don’t even pay for my children’s expenses. I am only the back up guy if they need help. So while he was soliciting me I kept acting like I didn’t understand. He finally gave up.

    I must be getting along pretty well because I have so many friends here. Partly because I work so hard to fit in rather than stand out. One thing that I am always getting is that so and so learned bisaya or cebuano in just a short time. I will always ask so this guy is a missionary? The answer is always yes. Since I am brutally honest; I explain that he was forced to learn because it is his business. If he was selling Ginsu knives he could point, smile, amd slice a tomato. Instead this guy is selling salvation and has to go above and beyond the call of duty to convince you that his brand is the only one that will give you full protection from hellfire.

    I am able to listen most of the time and understand. I have many words but find the sentence structure confusing. I have a plan to take tagalog lessons when I have free time but that may be a couple of days after I am buried. Maybe I need to talk to one of those damned missionaries!

  2. Thomas – Me too! I’m gonna learn some day when it becomes absolutely necessary. My problem is this: when you try to speak the language, it fools the person you are talking to into thinking you speak the language, and then you might as well be in the middle of France. As long as someone doesn’t try to linguistically change the name of San Miguel, I will get along just fine!

  3. Randy I have the same problem as you. I can’t get anyone to stick to one language/dialect long enough to teach me “the national language” only. I also have a couple of places online that I could learn from, but I need to get my sound fixed first (should be next week) and then get enough initiative to sit, listen and learn. Here are the 2 sites I have: and . I also have one for Waray-Waray, just in case someone prefers that: . I think they all have audio, which is what I will need if I’m to learn anything. I still may never learn. Heck I’ve been married for almost 33 years to her and I still haven’t gotten it all down.

  4. Tom, I try to tell people the same thing when that subject comes up. They need to learn it to make a living. I have also used that ploy of “not understanding” when someone was asking for money. So far it has worked every time. I also have a problem with the sentence structure and a lot of the words sound so much alike and even some spelled alike, but mean completely different things. Listening to some Filipinos speak, I can’t always here all the sounds. Like Dagat and Daga, I don’t usually here the “t”, so instead of “sea”, I get “rat”. At least I have the free time, I just need to get motivated enough to ‘git er done’.

  5. From my experience, the usefulness of learning Tagalog if you are living in the provinces is minimal.
    While many people in Samar will be able to speak Tagalog, virtually all of them will also speak English.
    The only benefit of learning another language is to be able to converse with the less educated local individuals. These are inevitably the valuable helpers you will need to get things done in and around your home. Being able to converse directly with this type of individual is invaluable.

    That said, I had some facility in Tagalog before i started spending time in Iloilo, Attempting to add Illongo to my repetoire led to nothing to confusion between the two Pilipino languages.

    We now employ a helper with some post high school education to translate for me at all times when my wife is not with me.

  6. Hi jifle, thanks for your comments. You’re right in that many people in Samar speak Tagalog but many, especially the older ones, do not speak much English. I’m a little confused with your remarks though as you you say the benefit of learning Tagalog in the province is “minimal”, but then you say it’s “invaluable”. Maybe you can clarify? I do agree that attempting to learn two dialects can be confusing and may prevent you from ever becoming proficient in one or the other.

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