Should I learn the language?

If you are planning a move to the Philippines, you may be wondering if it’s worth it to learn the language. I mean, after all, one of the official languages is English, right? A lot of the people here work in call centers, so their English must be pretty decent, right? Clearly, learning the local language would just be a waste of time.

Do you have to learn the language? No. You do not have to. There will be enough people around you most of the time with a passable enough grasp of English that you will be able to get most of what you need done.

Should you learn the language? Of course you should. The good news is that you really don’t have to spend a lot of time getting a complete grasp on the language to make your life a whole lot easier.

Now, I say this as someone who resisted learning the language for years, before finally caving and taking lessons. Those years were full of frustration, annoyance, avoidance and paranoia. I have been taking a weekly, hour-long lesson for the last 6 months or so and my life is so much better for it.

To be honest, I still don’t speak it much. What I do speak is mainly simple phrases to the kids I know or an occasional simple question to a stranger, but the 20ish lessons I’ve had have helped me understand what is going on around me so much better. I can now tell that store clerks are discussing whether something is in stock and not ways to get rid of the crazy foreigner. I can listen to a speaker and follow the gist of their message, even if I don’t get the exact story. Sometimes I even have conversations with older Filipinos I know, with them speaking in Tagalog while I speak in English, and we understand each other just fine. I teach periodically, and sometimes one of my students will share a story in Tagalog, and I know enough to pull out words I don’t know to ask for a quick definition so I can get the whole story and comment accordingly. I can make things clearer to my househelp, I can give directions, I can work with a store clerk who is supposed to speak fluent English but is too nervous to try. (Much like how I get a little nervous to use my Tagalog!)

Do you have to learn the local language? No. But it will make your time here much, much better.

Quick tip: Make sure you know the dominate language in the area where you will land. For most, it will probably be Tagalog, but if you are headed to Cebu, it would be Cebuano. There are over 170 recognized living languages here, so be sure you pick the right one.

It’s not terribly hard to find teachers. Google can be helpful in this regard, search for “<language> lessons <city you’ll be living in>”. I get my lessons through Tagalugin. Lessons are available in person or via Skype, though in person has been far more efficacious for me. Lessons are about $8ish an hour in person, $6ish per hour via Skype. You don’t have to buy any books. They provide you with the lesson material.

Additionally, if you go to the iTunes store, or wherever you get podcasts on your media device of choice, there are several language learning podcasts you can find by searching for the language. Also, you could search for podcasts done in that language just to listen to, even if you don’t understand them, to start training your ear to the sounds of the language.

There are also apps available to help. My favorite is called Conversational Tagalog by e4c solutions. It has an English-Tagalog/Tagalog-English dictionary, shows verb conjugations, has a multiple choice quiz for studying, and a phrase book. But just search the app store for Tagalog and you will find a bunch of other apps, too.

Don’t put it off. Stay classy. It’s respectful to pick up some phrases when you visit a country, even more so when you’re going to be moving there for several years. Your life will be a lot easier.


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