Languages in the Philippines

There are two official languages of the Philippines, Tagalog and English.  However, there is another language present in much of the Philippines called Visayan.  Visayan is also know as Bisayan and Cebuano.  There are likely differences between the three based on where you live but nothing that I can yet put my finger on.  When I ask, I’m usually told they are the same language.  I really doubt they are exactly the same because other say there are differences from town to town even in tagalog.

Filipino CultureMunicipalities and rural areas are made up of Barangay.  These are like districts in most American cities.  They are based on ancient tribal villages.  These Barangays each have their own local government and a Barangay Captain.

These where the villages of the past.  There at least one other language that I know of, it is called Waray-Waray Waray-Waray is often said to be a dialect of Tagalog but that is not true.  Waray-Waray is made up several Barangay, even in ancient times.  My GF speaks Waray-Waray and her pronunciation is much stronger than the way most speak Tagalog.  Waray-Waray are known as the warrior or hot blooded tribe. When she was in school, they classes where largely taught in Waray-Waray and they also took classes to learn Tagalog.

I’m sure that there are other areas that make up several Barangay but I have not run into that yet.  Some say there are different languages city to city and I believe that is highly probable.  In most cases, not completely different but more likely some differences in pronunciation and slang.  When you look at these ancient tribes, it is understandable why there would be so many variances.

Some one once told me that I only need to know English or Tagalog, I don’t know where they were from but in Bogo City and in Cebu City a LOT of people do not speak English.  What little Tagalog I have tried to use in Bogo City has fallen on deaf ears.  Perhaps a combination of my poor pronunciation and their unfamiliarity with Tagalog.  While it is true you could get by, if you want to understand, I don’t think knowing English is enough.

I was trying to learn Tagalog but since stopped that effort as I don’t want to confuse myself.  Since I’m living in Cebu where the language is usually referred to as Cebuano, that is what I wish to learn first and become the most fluent in.

If you want to fit in, if you want to be able to talk to the people on the street and the market that you meet, you need to learn the language of the people that you deal with from day to day. There are other considerations to consider as well.  Just up the hill is a man that grows hundreds of Bonsai trees.  I would love to talk to him and he does speak English, but to really talk to him I need to speak his language.  He speaks English better than he can hear it from me.

Which Filipino Language to Learn

First We need to go over and clarify the choices.  No matter which one you choose you’re probably going to get a combination of them as they have become intermingled and there has always been some overlap of the two.

  • Visayan — Not an official language but spoken in most of the central part of the country.  Including the island of Cebu and parts of Mindanao.
    • Cebuano —  Same as above
    • Bisayan —  Save as above
  • Tagalog — The Primary and Official Language of the Philippines. Most used language In the nations capital and Northern Island of Luzon.
  • Waray Waray — Spoken by about three million people in the Eastern Visayas
  • English — Second official language of the Philippines.  Filipino are taught this in school but they usually don’t use it and it fades away over the years.  More of the college educated Filipino will know this language.  Also, those that frequent the Internet will likely know this language even if they didn’t graduate from high school.
  • Taglish— Not official and not proper but very common in the every day speech of many Filipino.  It is a combination of English and Tagalog.

Sometimes I see reference to a language called Filipino. Filipino is actually the official language of the Philippines.  It is government sanctioned version of Tagalog.  But since most Filipino refer to it as Tagalog so do I.

Making the Choice Between Filipino Languages

For me this was hard.  I had begun to learn Tagalog and then I learned that I was in a Cebuano or Visayan area.  My girl speaks Wary Waray as does her family but she speaks fluent English as does much of her family.  Which language to choose as your primary Filipino language should depend on your needs.  They would be different for different expats.

Factors you may wish to consider in your choice of Languages

Do You Speak English?

I’m writing this for the expat that already speaks English.  If you don’t speak English that would probably change everything.  I’m not sure which language I would choose if I didn’t already know English.  I’d probably choose English unless you don’t wish to communicate with other expats.  If that is not a priority for you then I would think that your choice would be similar to others.  All expats I know, speak English regardless of where they are from.

What Part of The Philippines do you Live?

For me, this was the deciding factor.  It is likely that I will always live in the Visaya’s or the Central Part of the country.  Any area I go to will have key people that speak English so I will be able to communicate.  If I learn Tagalog, I will never be able to fully communicate with the people I speak with each day.  I want to know the people I interact with.  I can tell that often times people don’t understand when I speak English so I want to be able to better communicate with the people I interact with.  So for me, this was the primary reason for my choice to concentrate on Cebuano.

Langauge of Family, Wife or Significant Other.

Another factor is the language of your wife and her family.  Hopefully they will be the same, however many Expats have problems when living too close to their wife’s family.  I wouldn’t have those issues and it isn’t a concern for me.  In fact, after we take care of some issues we may end up in Leyte which speaks mostly Visayan or Waray Waray.

Reaching Largest Group of Filipino.

You may decide you want to reach the largest group of people.  I would think that the best choice for that is Tagalog.   Manila has over 10 million people in that city alone.  It is located on the Northern Island or Luzon.  Luzon is sometimes referred to as the main island.  If you never go to Luzon though, I don’t know how much use it will be to you.  If you’re living in Manila, it would seem to be the obvious choice.

How to Learn the Filipino Language of Your Choice

That too can be complicated.  You can find books, some very expensive books to help you with Tagalog but I have been unable to find books for Visayan that included audio.  There are websites that can help, most do not have audio.  I will be posting a follow up article soon regarding how to learn Tagalog or Visayan.

Touch base with expats in your area, see if they can recommend a tutor.  Also, check with the high schools, you might be able to find a teacher from an English class that would be willing to tutor you after hours, for a fee.  The cost of services here is quite low.  It likely to cost you around $5.00 a week.

My learning has been limited.  I’m trying now to make more of an effort to do something about it.  I’m not going to understand the people that I live around until I can speak to them and understand them.  Learning will be a slow process but hopefully I have lots of time.

Amazon has some books and Software to help you learn.

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Filed under: Expats Living in CebuLearning Cebuano

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