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What Language is Spoken in the Philippines?

The Philippines has over 170 languages. Among these, Filipino — a standardized variation of the Tagalog language — is considered its official national language. 

Why are there so many languages in the Philippines?

An archipelagic wonder, the Pearl of the Orient is a treasure trove of vernaculars. There are 7,641 islands in the Philippines. With this, we can’t question why the country persists as one of the most linguistically diverse nations in the world!

At present, the world bears 6,500 languages in total. This means that 3% of the world’s languages are from the Philippines! Out of all these languages, Filipinos still most widely use Tagalog. Around 95% of Filipinos can communicate in this language.

Tagalog vs. Filipino

Tagalog is a language used in the Philippines

Here’s a short answer to what the difference is between Tagalog and Filipino: Basically, the Filipino language draws its roots from the Tagalog language.

The 1987 Philippine Constitution honors Filipino as the national language of the Philippines. In fact, it was only in the late 1980s that the national language was labeled as such. Meanwhile, Tagalog goes further back in history. Several accounts differ as to where Tagalog was founded. 

One account states that Tagalog was declared as the official language of the Philippines through the Biak-na-Bato constitution. Promulgated on 1 Nov 1897, this provisionary constitution primarily established the country as an independent state from Spain. Following this, we find several Tagalog words that sound like Spanish until now. Many historians believe that the word Tagalog draws its roots from the endonym taga-ilog, which means “live in a river.” This etymology stirs plenty of debate until today. Another widely-known fact of Tagalog is that it is the native language of an eponymous ethnic tribe in the northern part of the Philippines, particularly in Central and Southern Luzon. However, other historians believe that the Tagalog group originates from Northeastern Mindanao or Eastern Visayas.

What are some helpful Tagalog phrases?

Don’t get overwhelmed by the long history of Tagalog and Filipino! In fact, many Filipinos use these languages interchangeably. And because there is little difference between Tagalog and Filipino, it’s definitely forgivable to refer to one or the other.

That said, when in the Philippines, here are some helpful Tagalog phrases you should know:

Basic words

  • Oo = Yes
  • Hindi = No
  • Salamat! = Thank you!
  • Pasensya na. = Sorry.
  • Sandali lang. = Wait a moment.
  • Hindi ko alam. = I don’t know.

Greetings and getting to know

  • Magandang umaga! = Good morning!
  • Magandang hapon! = Good afternoon!
  • Magandang gabi! = Good evening!
  • Anong pangalan mo? = What is your name?
  • Ilang taon ka na? = How old are you?
  • Kumusta ka? = How are you?
  • Ingat ka! = Take care!
  • Paalam! = Good bye!

Navigation phrases

  • Saan ang…? = Where is the…?
  • Para! = This is my stop.
  • Paano pumunta sa…? = How do I get to…?

Shopping phrases

  • Magkano? = How much?
  • Gusto ko ito. = I like this.
  • Meron kayong…? = Do you have…?
  • Mahal! = Expensive!
  • May sukli ka ba para sa…? = Do you have change for…?

Interested in learning Tagalog? Check out the best apps to learn Tagalog and get started with learning the most commonly spoken language in the Philippines!

Other languages in the Philippines

Family playing cards

On top of Tagalog or Filipino, most Filipinos can also speak in other regional languages. In 2012, the Department of Education in the Philippines implemented a program wherein schools would teach mother tongue to elementary students. This provision has allowed more Filipinos to get in touch with their national roots; the Philippines has long been more familiar with foreign languages as a result of years of colonization.

In 2013, the Department of Education declared 19 regional languages in the Philippines under the Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education. That said, here are the other regional languages in the Philippines as considered by the Department of Education.

Regional languages in the Philippines

  • Aklanon
  • Bikol
  • Cebuano
  • Chavacano
  • Hiligaynon
  • Ibanag
  • Ilocano
  • Ivatan
  • Kapampangan
  • Kinaray-a
  • Maguindanao
  • Maranao
  • Pangasinan
  • Sambal
  • Surigaonon
  • Tagalog
  • Tausug
  • Waray
  • Yakan

Again, there are over 170 languages in the Philippines so this list doesn’t name all of them. But, these are the most common languages you might encounter if you travel to the country.

How many dialects are there in the Philippines?

Filipino kids

Many people mistakenly refer to the languages of the Philippines as dialects. To set the record straight: On top of the 170+ languages in the Philippines, there are also over a hundred dialects spoken across the country.

Most likely, the languages in the Philippines have all sorts of variations because of the separations of geographical locations. Look: The Agta language family has dialect variations in the provinces of Quezon, Camarines Norte, Dumagat, Bicol, Isabela, and Abra. Another example: The Ifugao language family has dialect variations in the villages of Batad, Amganad, and Kiangan.

While a myriad of vernaculars consume the archipelago, there is still no official list of dialects in the Philippines to date. Probably, the lack of an official list stems from difficulty in research. After all, there are innumerable ethnic groups in the Philippines; and after years of colonization, the rash evolution of languages in the country has become inevitable.

Can I speak English in the Philippines?

Learn English

While most Filipinos speak in Filipino or Tagalog, a wide majority can also communicate in English. Under the same constitution, English also serves as an official language in the Philippines. In fact, every school in the Philippines is required to teach English!

In the streets, especially in Metro Manila, you may hear most Filipinos speaking casually in Taglish (a portmanteau of Tagalog and English). Many Filipinos have grown into the habit of speaking both English and Tagalog simultaneously.

Examples of Taglish phrases

  • Nasaan ang CR? (Where is the comfort room?)
  • Paki-explain sa akin. (Please explain it to me.)
  • Tara sa mall! (Let’s go to the mall!)
  • Sumakay ka ng taxi. (Ride a taxi.)
  • Pakibuksan ang aircon. (Please turn on the air conditioning unit.)
  • Kailan ang deadline? (When is the deadline?)
  • Pupunta akong airport. (I will go to the airport.)

In addition to this, countless foreigners travel to and temporarily live in the Philippines to learn English. Many Filipinos also work as English as a second language (ESL) teachers; nowadays, numerous Filipino ESL teachers instruct foreign students online.

Do Filipinos speak Spanish?

Filipino friends having lunch

The Filipino language itself is reminiscent of the Spanish language. After all, the Philippines was under Spanish rule for 333 years! With that, almost a third of Filipino words are derived from the Spanish language to date. 

On the other hand, the Spanish language per se is not commonly spoken among Filipinos anymore. Only less than 1% of Filipinos can fluently communicate in the said language. However, this has not always been the case.

Older generations would attest that they were, in fact, tasked to learn Spanish back in school. Previously, students had to familiarize themselves with Spanish words and phrases; some even had to memorize Jose Rizal’s works (i.e. Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo) in Spanish!

Do Filipinos speak Chinese?

More than the Spanish language, Chinese languages are also being spoken in the Philippines. This results from the fact that there are several Filipinos who have Chinese roots. A wide majority of them can communicate in Hokkien or Mandarin. With that, around 77% of Filipino-Chinese residents can understand a variety of Chinese languages.

Examples of loaned language in the Philippines

English, Spanish, and Chinese aren’t the only foreign languages you will encounter in the Philippines. Having had several colonizers, the country finds numerous borrowed words in its speech until today. Here are some Filipino borrowed words you might find useful if you visit the Philippines.

English-derived words

  • Adik (addict)
  • Bag (bag)
  • Basketbol (basketball)
  • Bistek (beef steak)
  • Bolpen (ballpen)
  • Drayber (driver)
  • Kendi (candy)
  • Okey (okay)
  • Pulis (police)
  • Tisyu (tissue)

Spanish-derived words

  • Abante (move forward)
  • Alahas (jewelry)
  • Banyo (bathroom)
  • Baso (glass)
  • Basura (trash)
  • Datos (data)
  • Departmento (department)
  • Palengke (market)
  • Piso (Philippine peso)
  • Puwede (can or may)
  • Sapatos (shoes)

Malay-derived words

  • Binibini (young lady)
  • Bunso (youngest child)
  • Kulambo (Mosquito net)
  • Tanghali (noon)
  • Usap (conversation)

Sanskrit-derived words

  • Agham (science)
  • Asal (behavior)
  • Balita (news)
  • Bansa (country)
  • Ganda (beautiful)

Tamil-derived words

  • Bagay (object)
  • Gulay (vegetables)
  • Mangga (mango)

Chinese-derived words

  • Ate (older sister)
  • Ginto (gold)
  • Hikaw (earrings)
  • Susi (key)

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