Language barriers in the Philippines

Hello,

Learning a new language is a part of the expat process. Let's find out how crucial it is to know the language in the Philippines.

What is the official language in the Philippines, and what are the other popular spoken languages?

Is it possible to live in the Philippines and get by without speaking the language?

How do you manage to communicate with the locals if you don't speak the native/official language fluently?

What are some popular and useful phrases that expats absolutely need to know?

Can you share some tips about how to survive in the Philippines on a daily basis without speaking the language?

Thank you for sharing your experience.

Priscilla

Learning a new language does not have to be part of the expat experience.  Enough English is understood in the Philippines so that I can get by on  my English or others can intercede to communicate what is required.  I find in many situations, especially involving family, that I am better off not understanding what is being said.  Keeps me out of any he said she said types of disagreements.

Thanks Priscilla,

I appreciate that you are posting this for people that are considering moving to the Philippines and may have never being to the Philippines.

* What is the official language in the Philippines - Tagalog is the official language.

* The legal language is English (there is talk that this may change to Tagalog in the future), English is used for legal contracts and officially in courts of law, and in higher education environments.

* What are the other popular spoken languages? - Numerous - Tagalog is spoken around the country, except by some of the older people living in remote areas, they will speak there tribal language and may not know Tagalog (and not know any English)

* Is it possible to live in the Philippines and get by without speaking the language?  - If you speak English - Yes

* How do you manage to communicate with the locals if you don't speak the native/official language fluently?  - NA in most situations

* What are some popular and useful phrases that expats absolutely need to know? - Wala (no) Salamat (thank you)

* Can you share some tips about how to survive in the Philippines on a daily basis without speaking the language?  - NA if you speak English. - Always appreciate that you are a guest in there country and that they are helping you out by speaking English.

Way to easy to get by with English.....if you're lazy like me.    It's good idea to learn some Tagalog.

Yes we are very lucky to not need to speak Tagalog. The daily papers, laws of the land, road signs and shopping is all in English....but will you ever have a conversation? Sadly no,  unless its a kind Filipino who maybe has spent time overseas.  My lame excuse is that I am helping with your English pronunciation haha.
What niggles me is when you meet a friend of your wife's or a shop assistant that only speaks Tagalog to your wife and asks her personal questions about the relationship, almost like taking your dog for a walk and have some one meetup and ask does it eat tin meat and fish? After 12 years here my wife says "ask him yourself" ....but then its "Nose bleed" excuse.
I believe that a Filipino who wants to chat will do and become interested in conversation but its very rare. Locals in the street who have not had the benefit of a good education will just stare at you. The educated ones who would make the effort to speak to you in English are most probably working to feed the family  and not be around to make contact, meeting with them will be at the weekends.

Correct , As I occasionally say to my wife , lucky I can’t speak Bisaya or Tagalog for that matter .

Howdey;

Yes, anyone that finished Hi School can speak at least some english.  My experience is that women seem to be particularly adept, while men struggle.  With any higher education that distinction disappears.  Here in Mindanao where any Hi School participation is far less common, English speaking males is the exception.  Most can converse in tagalog.  Near the bottom of the socio-economic scale even the female that speaks any english is rare.

Until you can speak the local dialect you will be somewhat the outsider in any group setting, again the general level of education very much determines how isolated you are. 

Local TV, Tagalog is a must.  News and all other programming is tagalog.

Learning Tagalog is not an insurmountable task, Rosetta Stone is an excellent resource.  Free courses and utube videos are available but more difficult to use.

Without my Pinay wife, conducting business such as building our house would be difficult and far more expensive.

Agree with what Peter Clark and the others said. Most Filipinos don't really speak English well enough to converse beyond a basic level, except the educated/professional class. And whenever you are there with two or more Filipinos they will invariably speak in their native language. If we are conducting business somewhere with an attorney, an official, or even a rep at a utility company I insist they speak in English so I understand.. and surprise, surprise - they all can.

Even my GF, the kids and her family speak in Cebuano (Bisaya - the language of the Visayan region) when speaking to each other at home.. even though they all speak some English and they would benefit from becoming more proficient. I have given up on requesting they use my language and perhaps it is indeed too much to ask. I know a few phrases in Cebuano but am not motivated to learn the language as I don't plan on staying permanently. If I did I probably would for self-preservation. But I still have to finish my studies in Spanish and French, lol.

Your questions mostly has been answered already by previous people posting. Just want add a couple things.

If you live in the province English is NOT readily understood. Unless the person you are speaking to has a college degree. I have found that most people who has gone to college living in province speak and understand English better. I think more people in big cities speak English more fluently that in province.

It’s my opinion that if you are going to live in a country you should learn the language. I am 65 and am learning Tagalog. After that the local language of province I live in. I don’t buy off on you are to old to learn.

If you want to be better understood and respected learn the language don’t depend on everyone knowing English. I heard it said in America (my home country) that if you are going to live in America from foreign country you should learn English. Well same thing apply if you are going to live in foreign country, learn the language of that place.

Peter Clark :

What niggles me is when you meet a friend of your wife's or a shop assistant that only speaks Tagalog to your wife and asks her personal questions about the relationship, almost like taking your dog for a walk and have some one meetup and ask does it eat tin meat and fish? After 12 years here my wife says "ask him yourself" ....but then its "Nose bleed" excuse.

When someone wants to have a conversation in Tagalog while I'm with my American husband, I respond in English because I do know how it feels when people around just decide to converse in another language I don't understand, like when my workers from Mindanao start talking in Bisaya while I'm still there. It's so annoying. What was once relaxing conversation becomes mired with a feeling of suspicion. I can't help but think, "Are they talking about me?"

So when my family is at a department store, and a sales person asks me,
"Ma'am, mga anak mo sila?" I answer back, "Yes, they're my kids."
"Dito na kayo nakatira?" "Yes, we've been living here for over 10 years. My little girl, who's 7 years old, was born here."

You should tell your friends or significant other that you feel uncomfortable when they start talking in a language you don't understand.

My husband took Tagalog classes years ago. He does understand a bit. But he does need to practice. So I and my parents have him answer simple questions in Tagalog which he understands more or less. Like when my parents ask, "Pupunta kami sa Batangas. Meron pa ba kayong itlog? Gusto mo magpabili ng itlog?" My husband can answer, "Konti na. Sige.. Maybe one tray of itlog. Salamat po." My parents will answer back, "Ok. Isang tray." 

"We are going to Batangas. Do you still have eggs? Would you like us to buy you some [from Batangas]?"
"We have a little left. Ok. Maybe one tray of eggs. Thank you."
"Ok. One tray."

Wow, Excellent.  I think my wife needs to read this one.  Yes there is a point where limiting to English in a good friends or family setting can become over burdensome, however, for most polite conversations English only would be very welcome until my tagalog becomes usable in conversation.

I can speak Tagalog fluently. But sometimes, when a Filipino, whose first language is not Tagalog, speaks to me in English, I get lost in the pronunciation. Bisaya speakers have a certain accent, interchanging their "ee"'s, "eh"'s and a's and their "oo"'s and "oh"'s. At one time, I asked my assistant if she knows the hotline to McDonald's delivery. She said "Eat McDo". So I dialed that and got no answer. It's actually "8 McDo." At one time, she came back from Divisoria, excited to tell me that "grips" were now PhP40 / half kilo. I was confused. I thought to myself, "Did she mean vice grips or handle grips? Are parts and tools now sold by the kilo?" I figured out eventually that she meant "grapes". It takes time getting used to it. I have now adjusted.

Yes, that's what it's like, lol. My Cebuana GF can be difficult to understand when she speaks English, even after 5 years together. She knows the language quite well, as evidenced by her written communication, but the accent gets in the way sometimes when we're talking. And hers has a heavy Spanish accent to it, with the rolling r's and spanish vowels.

Thank You, I thought i was the nut case! My Zamboanga/Mindanoa backcountry (Chavicano - Cebuano) asawa can be very difficult to understand due to her accent.  Sometimes heavy Spanish (chavicano)  Sometimes deep Vasayin, mountains of Mindanoa.

Wrong I live in the province out side Davao City, the school my son went to required English be spoken on the school grounds, all high school classes are in English, public and private, I have been here 7 years I do speak bisaya some, but no need most Filipino speak English, your marriage license your driver's license, and other legal documents are in English, more English than Tagalog spoken here in Davao

I learned a few words from the Tagalog during my visit to the Philippines was a wonderful experience

zizumer :

I learned a few words from the Tagalog during my visit to the Philippines was a wonderful experience

Yes I recall it well, the first few words spoken and understood by my fellow workers that was greeted with a smile,,,,,,,,,,, sometimes the proverbial perplexed look, most of my dialogue was "hindi"  or pulutin  or simply ihinto and then some, all understood and looked at me in aw, My translator then took over, a good man that mostly understood English to get the point across from me,,,,, "Do it like this" or "gawin mo ito katulad nito".

As a retiree to PH. I do have a lot to learn and then some and though my Tagalog stinks my grasp on Ilocano with family grows. As family they are important and know my focus lies with the locals, Tagalog though widely spoken, english errs on the educated side. I watch TV in PH and mostly it is Taglish and understood by all including the likes of me, uneducated with limited grasp of a national language. no different to my grasp of french but hey, I can still go there and communicate because I have some French (from high school) and the French people have some English (from High school) no different to Filipino people learning the english language as we should learn theirs if indoctrinating to this wonderful country and people.

Sorry for the rant.

Cheers, Steve.

I bought an expensive English Tagalog Dictionary My woman who speaks Tagalog agreed with me the dictionary was useless, so did other local people that read it. If there was a National recognized one then maybe it would be worth learning
but Tagalog only covers 40% of the population the rest are a scattering of languages and dialogs

Technology has saved us too old to learn another language . Just get the Google Translate app on your phone , download the Tagalog set , set it to English - Filipino and set it to auto conversation . It will convert and speak .There are other options if you play around with it.
It works OKish . You need data on your phone .

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