15 Best Books to Learn Tagalog for Beginners and Beyond

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Kakaba kaba ka ba?

This line might seem funny or weird. But for Filipinos, it is a known tongue twister that means, “are you nervous”?

This is one of the unique characteristics of the Filipino language – it grabs a syllable or two then uses it repetitively to form a word, a phrase, or in this case, a whole sentence. 

Tagalog is an interesting language to master. Learning it will allow you to speak to over 22 million native speakers in the Philippines, and about two million speakers in Canada and the United States. In fact, it’s the 5th most spoken language in North America, thanks to Filipino migrations.

Want to learn the language but don’t know where to start? It’s time to turn to some of the best books to learn Tagalog.

learn tagalog

The distinction between Tagalog and Filipino

But first, you may be wondering… isn’t Filipino the national language of the Philippines? Is Filipino the same as Tagalog?

The short answer to this is no. They are not the same. Filipino is the standardized form of Tagalog.

To be clear, the Philippines hosts about 175 languages and dialects. Eight of these, including Tagalog, are spoken by the majority.

Tagalog is the native tongue of the people from the Tagalog region and Southern parts of Luzon, including the capital, Manila. Thus, it was declared to be the basis for the national language back in 1937. It was renamed Pilipino and then Filipino in 1959 and 1987, respectively.

Filipino is the evolution of Tagalog, and they share many similarities in both vocabulary and grammar. However, Filipino also includes localized or modified words from English, Chinese, and Spanish languages. Learning Tagalog, in essence, also helps you learn Filipino.

And with that out of the way, let’s get to the list!

The best books to learn Tagalog

Books to learn Tagalog grammar and vocabulary

1. Tagalog for Beginners: An Introduction to Filipino, the National Language of the Philippines

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This can be a great introduction to Tagalog learners who have plans of visiting the Philippines. It’s also one of the best books to learn Tagalog if you’re of Filipino descent but living outside the Philippines. Not only does it help you gain Tagalog communication skills but also gives practical cultural points.

This beginner-friendly book covers the history of Tagalog, useful vocabulary with concise explanations, and realistic dialogues. There are also lots of activities and exercises to help you practice what you’ve learned.

Expect to learn how to shop, order food, express your emotions, and carry conversations with locals after reading this book.

Key features:

  • Practical and realistic language that you can use in everyday situations
  • Activities and exercises to help you read, write, and speak
  • Accompanying online audio recordings to improve listening and speaking skills
  • Useful notes on Tagalog history and Filipino culture

2. Tagalog-English/English-Tagalog Standard Dictionary

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A bilingual dictionary is one of the best ways to build your vocabulary arsenal. This Tagalog-English/English-Tagalog dictionary has over 20,000 entries including idiomatic expressions, slang, loan words, and derivations.

Despite being published in 2002, this remains one of the best books to learn Tagalog as many of its contents remain relevant. That said, this is not the best book for absolute beginners. Ideally, you should use this as a supplement for other books or Tagalog courses.

Aside from dictionary entries, this book also contains grammatical reviews and pronunciation guides.

Key features:

  • 20,000 dictionary entries
  • Includes idiomatic expressions, slangs, loan words and derivations.
  • Introductory grammar lessons

3. Intermediate Tagalog: Learn to Speak Fluent Tagalog (Filipino), the National Language of the Philippines

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From the author of Tagalog for Beginners, Intermediate Tagalog is designed for learners who already speak or understand basic Tagalog and now wish to advance in their studies.

This book contains 20 carefully-constructed lessons that help readers improve their speaking, reading, and writing skills. It teaches the language through real-life conversations and stories, provides an extensive vocabulary list, and even points out common grammatical errors.

Replete with insightful cultural notes, this is also a great book if you want to know more about Filipino culture and the history of the language.

Key features:

  • 20 structured lessons
  • Lessons include describing, storytelling, explaining and reasoning in Filipino
  • Real-life dialogues to improve conversational skills
  • Vocabulary list and grammar review
  • Writing exercises

4. Lonely Planet Filipino (Tagalog) Phrasebook & Dictionary

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Lonely Planet has been publishing travel guidebooks since 1973 and this level of experience shows in this handy Tagalog phrasebook and dictionary. With over 3,500 entries with English translations, you’ll be able to navigate the Philippines with ease.

This pocket-sized book includes easy-to-find phrases for every travel situation. Whether you need to order food and explain food allergies, ask for directions, chat with locals, and deal with emergencies, it’s got you covered. Survival phrases are conveniently placed inside the front cover.

Key features:

  • 3,500 two-way dictionary entries
  • Small size makes it perfect for travelers
  • Survival phrases inside the front cover for easy access
  • User-friendly layout

5. Tagalog Picture Dictionary: Learn 1500 Tagalog Words and Expressions

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Who said picture books are just for kids? We can all be visual learners at any age! Covering 1,500 most useful Tagalog words and phrases, this is one of the best books to learn Tagalog, whether you’re a kid or a kid at heart.

The book covers different practical situations and cultural topics, with hundreds of full-color photos. It also includes Romanized versions of Tagalog words to help you pronounce them correctly as well as the English meanings.

Learn basics like meeting someone new, using public transportation, celebrating Filipino holidays, and more!

Key features:

  • 1,500 most useful Tagalog words and phrases
  • 40 different themes and topics
  • Romanized Tagalog scripts as pronunciation guide
  • Online audio recordings by native Tagalog speakers

6. Let’s Learn Tagalog Kit

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While technically not a book, the flashcards kit is an effective learning aid for visual learners. But if you do want a version that you can easily access anytime, anywhere, you can opt for the ebook.

The set comes with 64 Tagalog flashcards organized into themes like family, animals, colors, numbers, and more. Each word is presented with a picture and sample sentence to aid learning and recall. The downloadable audio recordings of each word also help with pronunciation.

While this is made for kids, adults with no prior Tagalog knowledge will also find it useful and fun. It’s also ideal for parents who want their kids to learn Tagalog.

Key features:

  • 64 Tagalog flashcards organized into thematic categories.
  • Wall chart of main words and phrases
  • 32-page learning guide for parents and teachers
  • Downloading recordings of words, sentences, and songs

Best storybooks and activity books to learn Tagalog

7. Pan de Sal Saves the Day

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We don’t need to be stuck with the usual Filipino grammar book to learn the language! Make learning even more fun by reading short stories. 

Pan de Sal Saves the Day is an award-winning book about a Filipino girl who builds her self-confidence after spending a day with her classmates.

Heartwarming and beautifully illustrated, this book contains inspiring lessons and Tagalog lessons as the story is printed in both Tagalog and English. While it’s not a structured way to learn the language, it can strengthen comprehension skills.

Key features:

  • Presented in both English and Tagalog
  • Beautiful illustrations
  • Great for intermediate learners to test comprehension skills

8. Tagalog Short Stories for Beginners

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This collection of short stories from Lingo Mastery is one of the best books to learn Tagalog if you’re already in the intermediate and advanced levels. The short stories are in full Tagalog – no English translations!

Before that scares you away, each story does come with a summary in both Tagalog and English so more or less, you’ll know what it’s about. Vocabulary lists are also provided after the summaries, as well as tricky questions in Tagalog that will test your comprehension.

It helps that the stories are interesting and thought-provoking so they won’t bore you. And since most of them are based on real-life situations, you’ll also learn a bit more about Pinoy culture.

Key features:

  • 20 easy-to-read and interesting stories, all in Tagalog
  • Summary of each story in Tagalog and in English
  • Vocabulary list and questions in Tagalog

9. Dingding, Ningning, Singsing and other fun Tagalog words

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Learning Tagalog doesn’t need to be always serious and boring! With this colorful and charming book, you and your kids can enjoy learning the Filipino vocabulary with fun and unique Tagalog words.

This book creatively presents Tagalog alliterations and highlights the many fun facets of the language. As one review said, reading “kilikili” (armpit) inevitably leads to a tickle match. Without a doubt, this book makes for a fun and interactive learning activity for both kids and parents.

Key features:

  • Fun, inviting, and creative way of teaching Tagalog vernacular
  • Colorful and rich illustrations
  • Great for kids and beginners

10. Pan de Sal Saves the Day Activity Book

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From the inspiring story of Pan de Sal comes a more interactive piece: an activity book filled with Filipino games and puzzles! 

One of the most fun books to learn Tagalog for both children and adults, it comes with beautiful illustrations and exciting games. You can test out your Tagalog aptitude with games such as crosswords, word searches, word jumbles, and more! 

Key features:

  • Filled with colorful illustrations
  • Fun and interactive games and exercises
  • With answer key at the back

11. Bahay Kubo and Other Filipino Folksongs for Children

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Imagine a whole song enumerating beloved vegetables in the Philippines? Now, that is fun!

This book includes 22 of the Philippines’ best-loved classic children’s songs, all with cute illustrations and lyrics in both Tagalog and English.

This book is ideal as a teaching aid for parents who know Tagalog and want their kids to learn the language and culture. However, it might not be the best resource for beginners who don’t know the songs since it only contains the lyrics and doesn’t play the songs.

Key features:

  • 22 of the Philippines’ best-loved classic children’s songs
  • With cute illustrations
  • Lyrics in both Tagalog and English

Books to learn Tagalog and the Filipino culture

12. Salamat Po!: Learning About Showing Respect In The Filipino Culture

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Another book that’s suited for kids, Salamat Po is a great tool for learning not just some Tagalog words but also Filipino values. Respect, especially for elders, is such an important concept in Filipino culture and is something heritage learners should not miss.

Simple, straightforward, and easy to follow, this book contains Tagalog words related to respect and other Filipino cultural themes presented with colorful illustrations. Explanations of each concept are in English.

Key features:

  • Great way to learn Filipino values
  • Colorful and engaging illustrations
  • Simple and easy to read

13. Filipino Celebrations: A Treasury of Feasts and Festivals

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One of the most interesting parts of Filipino culture is ‘fiesta’, or essentially a festival, celebration, or holiday typically done in honor of a patron saint or a particular season (e.g. harvest season). Filipinos are a fun-loving bunch and this is reflected in their many celebrations and gatherings.

This book lists down different Filipino holidays, their history, cultural influences, and how they are celebrated. You will learn Tagalog words and phrases related to birthdays, major holidays, town festivals, holiday food, customs, and more!

Key features:

  • A list of the special celebrations and festivals in the Philippines
  • History, influences, and special customs for each holiday
  • Unique way to learn Tagalog and the Filipino culture

Best Tagalog audiobooks

14. Learn Filipino – Level 1 Introduction to Filipino

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With this audiobook by Innovative Language, you’ll learn how to speak Tagalog hands-free. This is perfect for studying while driving, commuting, or doing house chores.

This comprehensive Filipino introduction is skewed for practical and daily-life application. You can listen to natural conversations with carefully selected vocabulary and key grammar concepts. It also explains cultural nuances so you get a well-rounded understanding of each lesson.

Best of all, the audio lessons are recorded by native speakers. This allows you to learn the correct pronunciation of the words and sentences.

Key features:

  • Basic lessons with practical, real-life conversations
  • Explanations on the writing system, grammar, pronunciation, and cultural context
  • Pronunciation guides recorded by native speakers
  • Review tracks that encourage learners to repeat the words and phrases aloud

15. Pimsleur Tagalog

Last but definitely not least, Pimsleur is a great option if you’re looking for a science-backed method of learning Tagalog.

Focused on learning how to comfortably speak Tagalog, each Pimsleur Tagalog lesson presents spoken language practice, introductory conversations, new vocabulary, and grammar structures.

The emphasis is on pronunciation and comprehension, helping you to build confidence in speaking.

Key features:

  • Portable and easily downloadable
  • 30 minutes of spoken language practice per lesson
  • With accompanying PDF for your audible library

Tips to learn Filipino quickly

So you’ve got all these resources at your disposal. But having even the best books to learn Tagalog is not a guarantee that you will reach fluency quickly. Here are some ways to get the most out of your learning journey.

books to learn tagalog

1. Set clear goals

Why do you want to study Filipino? Which level do you want to achieve? How many words should you memorize per week?

These are just some questions you’ll need to answer before learning a new language. Having clear goals will keep you engaged and motivated to achieve each target. 

It might have started out as a random hobby or on a whim, but as you progress with your Tagalog lessons, you’ll need goals that will keep you on track.

2. Consume everything Filipino

Books to learn Tagalog can only get you so far. Immersion is key when learning languages.

To train your ears and build listening skills and comprehension, you can access any of these:

  • Tagalog movies and series on streaming sites
  • Funny and quirky Filipino vloggers on Youtube and other social media platforms
  • OPM or Original Pilipino Music
  • Filipino fiction or non-fiction pieces that are easily accessible.

With these options, picking up new words, phrases, or slang becomes effortless!

3. Commit and practice

Even though many of these books to learn Tagalog are great for self-studying, consistency plays a huge role in your progress.

Schedule and commit to regular reading sessions. Complement these with apps and Tagalog podcasts. Better yet, have someone to directly converse with. An experienced Tagalog tutor can help you practice your speaking skills.

Don’t be shy if you are just starting with the vocabulary or grammar, you will get comfortable speaking in your new language if you constantly practice.  

4. Challenge yourself

Setting goals means having some form of metrics to test yourself against. Don’t be afraid to test your abilities. This way, you’ll be able to gauge if you need more lessons or focus more on a certain topic. 

5. Enjoy!

At first, you’ll find your accent awkward, or you’ll pronounce words incorrectly. You might interchange your verbs and you might mistake a word for another meaning (we have many Tagalog words that have more than one meaning). All to say that you’ll commit many mistakes along the way.

And that’s okay. It’s part of the learning process.

Learning new things shouldn’t be such a chore and a bore! Immerse yourself fully and enjoy the journey.

In no time, you’ll be surprised just how far you have achieved, and just how much fun you’ve been having! 

Did this list of books to learn Tagalog inspire you to go deeper into your learning journey? If you’re also interested in learning on the go, you can also check out our recommended apps for learning Tagalog.

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