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Learning the Filipino Language: An Almost Comprehensive Guide

Darius is a former high school literary and feature writer with a BS degree in Information and Communications Technology.

What is it about the Philippines that makes it different from the rest of the world? Photo/Art by Geraldine Sy via Culture Trip

What is it about the Philippines that makes it different from the rest of the world? Photo/Art by Geraldine Sy via Culture Trip

What is Filipino?

Filipino is the national language of the Philippines. It belongs to and descended from the Austronesian language family, a family language used and spoken in the Asia-Pacific. It also means the people who are born in the Philippines or of those with Filipino blood or decent and family.

Sneak Peek

  1. Introduction
  2. Filipino VS Tagalog
  3. Difficulty
  4. Letters and Pronunciations
  5. Filipino Words
  6. Practice Makes Perfect
  7. Filipino Grammar
  8. Filipino Affixes and Conjugations
  9. Learning Outside the Box
  10. Resources
The Banaue Rice Terraces

The Banaue Rice Terraces

1. Before We Begin

Just like the many, many, many languages found in the Philippines, we have our own fair share of "identity crisis" that claims us to be African-Chinese-Japanese-Polynesian-Malay-Indian-Islander-Hispanic-European people of Asia. Natives consider themselves as Asians, specifically Southeast Asians, some Filipino diaspora may consider themselves Pacific Islanders. Some Austronesian countries may consider the people as from the Malay peninsulas, and some Hispanic countries consider the people to be the Hispanics of Asia. Although, this is just in terms of race. By ethnicity, Filipinos are considered to belong in a broad variety of being Austronesians. And overall, since the advent of migrations across Asia, trading of commerce and influence across culture, and European intervention and colonialism, the people have considered to call themselves, their culture, and their language as a simplified, unifying word "Filipino."

The language, country, people, and everything else that encompasses the Philippines has a very, very, very long and rich history and culture that shaped them into what and who the people are today. (And by long, I mean dating at least ten thousands to hundreds of thousands of, sadly, lost, fragmented, and missing history).

In this quasi-comprehensive article, I won't be going too much in-depth on how to learn the language itself. I will, however, leave helpful tips for either beginners or those willing to learn the language, the country, and the culture.

Ako si Darius. I am Darius.

Kumusta? How are you?

Ikinagagalak kong makilala ka. It's very nice to meet you.

What you can or cannot read above is a simple example on how to formally address oneself to another in the Filipino language. In an informal way, or rather the day-to-day way of communicating with another, we just tend to use the words "Hi," "Hello," or any other gesture to imply greetings.

I am born and raised in the Philippines for almost 22 years, native to Filipino language and very much used with the English language. I am also trying to learn other languages like Korean, Spanish, and Japanese. I can also speak and understand a fair amount of Ilonggo, or Hiligaynon language, a regional language, and understand other local and regional languages found and heard in the Philippines even if I have yet to learn them.

In my personal opinion, you'll have to learn the Filipino language in five key areas with each having increasing difficulties, from the easiest to the most difficult:

  • spelling and writing words
  • pronunciation, tone, and diction
  • reading, listening, and comprehension
  • sentence structure and grammar
  • affixes, particles, and word conjugations

There are more things to learn in the Filipino language that I will be discussing in this article and I hope that they may, somehow, help you with learning the language.

I had this passion for teaching other people things that I know through research and expertise. And I am hoping that these may help you in the long run.

English to Tagalog and Tagalog to English Dicitionary. Photo by Romana via Klee/Flickr

English to Tagalog and Tagalog to English Dicitionary. Photo by Romana via Klee/Flickr

2. Filipino VS Tagalog: Using the Proper Term

Even to natives, it has always been a debate and an ongoing problem on which term is the most proper way to use: Filipino or Tagalog?

To put it simply, the word "Filipino" is the most appropriate and correct word used to denote both the language and the general inhabitants of the country or those with Filipino blood and citizenship.

The Tagalog language is one of the foundations, or basis, for the Philippines to create its national language. The Tagalog and the people of it are found dominantly in the northern part of the country, in Luzon, where the country's capital is located. You see, the Philippines is made up of thousands of islands. It's an archipelago with a deep history and one with the most diverse people living on earth. This country also has around 120 to 175 languages and dialects and at least 16 recorded ancient writing systems.

Now you must be thinking that if people in the country are speaking that so many languages, how do they communicate with each other? The answer is the creation of national identity: a national and official language. Filipinos use the Filipino language and English language for both written and spoken communications, so don't be surprised when a Filipino talking to you is jumping back-and-forth with Filipino and English.

Written within the country's constitution, the two existing official languages of the country are both Filipino and English. Back then, there isn't a national language for the country and each ethnolinguistic region has their own dominant languages and dialects. So, the late President Manuel L. Quezon and the Philippine Government created institutions and commissions to birth a national, official language for the country, one that the majority of the Filipino people will be using in their everyday life.

Tagalog was the first official name of the national language of the country from post-WW2 as a measure to avoid a potential civil war because of the regional tensions that arose when these institutions were built. However, Tagalog in itself is the dominant ethnolinguistic group and others had found it odd that the national language was based to only this group. So, to find or create a unifying, official standardized language, these commissions began to compose several representatives from major regions of the country. These representatives are then tasked to create a national language for the country, to enrich the language, and to make sure that all citizens, and their native local languages of the country, are included and are not left out. That is to say, those in charge of it changed Tagalog into Filipino to both define the official language of the country and its people.

Both Tagalog and Filipino differ from each other in terms of being a language and defining a person. In short, Filipino is the term used for the official language of the country and the people speaking it while Tagalog is one the languages dominantly found in the Philippines that was one of the languages used to standardize the national, official language of the country. Other languages that built (and still building) the Filipino language today are Kapampangan, Ilocano, and Panggasinense found in most of northern and central regions of Luzon; Bicolano and Waray-Waray found in regions of Visayas; Hiligaynon and Cebuano languages, and languages of Muslim Mindanao found across in region of Visayas and Mindanao.

Learning a new language. Photo by Kelly Sikemma via Unsplash.

Learning a new language. Photo by Kelly Sikemma via Unsplash.

3. The Difficulty to Learn the Filipino Language

I've seen search queries about people trying to learn this language fast and easy. And as a native speaker, I am telling you, this language could either be easy or difficult for you to learn. To be honest, it's not that hard. But to be specific, on a scale of one to ten where ten is the hardest, learning the Filipino language would be between seven and eight if you want to be fluent with the language as fast as you want. Like most languages, this intricate and distinct language takes time and effort for fluency. It will be a rough ride, but it will also be an enjoyable one.

My first tip for you would be to take your time learning it, just like learning anything else. The Filipino language isn't practically hard especially for those speaking either Spanish or English, in my opinion, because some of the words and the wording structures are almost the same as all the while not being entirely exactly as them.

What's easy about the Filipino language is the spelling and the pronunciation of words. Filipino words are spoken and spelled as it is, that means we don't have those pesky silents or hard-to-pronounce letters.

For example, the Filipino word bahay. This word is a house or a home in English. You spell and write the word as it is. You speak and pronounce the word as it is. You don't say it as va-hey or ve-hay. You have to say it with stress and effort: ba-hay. If you don't get my point, try pasting the word in Google Translate box and listen to how it is spoken.

Filipino language is not only a stress language but also a tone language.There are words in Filipino that change in meaning when the stress and/or tone of saying the word are changed, omitted, or purposely placed, like the Filipino word basa. Basa, when pronounced as /ba/ and then elongated /sa/, translates to "read" in English. Basa, when pronounced as /ba/ and quick, toned /sa/, translates to "wet" in English.

The modern Filipino alphabet consists of 28 letters: the English alphabet plus the Spanish Ñ and the Ng digraph of Tagalog. The reason why 28 is because Filipino and English is the official language of the country. Here's a table below with the English alphabets removed:

The ABAKADA Alphabet

ConsonantsSpecial ConsonantsVowels











































4. Letters and Pronunciations

As you can see, some of the letters are omitted from the original 28. This is because Filipino is also deemed as a standardized version of Tagalog, a regional local language in the country. The original 28 letters are the modern Filipino alphabet, while the one above only consists of 21 letters. This is called the Abakada alphabet. We'll learn the reasons for that later on in the article.

Always keep in mind that the way you pronounce the vowels in Filipino is not equal to how you would pronounce it in English unless they are used in English words. That is to say:

  • the vowel "a" is not pronounced as /ey/ or /ei/ but instead pronounced like /ah/;
  • the vowel "e" is not pronounced as /ee/ but instead pronounced as /eh/;
  • the vowel "i" is not pronounced as /ay/, /ae/, or /ai/ but instead pronounced as /ee/;
  • the vowel "o" is not pronounced as /ow/ or English /oh/ but instead pronounced as stressed /oh/;
  • the vowel "u" is not pronounced as /eu/, /yu/, or /yoo/ but instead pronounced as stressed /ooh/;

The letter "C" is not present in most Filipino word spelling because it is interchanged with the letter "K" or "S" and the letter "V" is also not present because it is interchanged with the letter "B." The letters "X," "Z," and other letters do not exist since there are no existing Filipino words with their spellings. They are instead reformed into combinations of Filipino letters to make their sound. Although, these letters do exist in most Filipino names.

You can practice your Filipino pronunciation using the table above. You can also sing the Filipino alphabet (those in the table) using the ABC song. All you have to do is end every consonant with the letter "a." This practically is easy for those that already belong in the Austronesian language family, like Indonesian and Malay, and even some romance languages, like Spanish, because their pronunciations almost share the same factors as those who are speaking Filipino. I think this would be difficult for those that are used to their native languages, especially those that are not familiar with stressed languages.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso via Unsplash

Photo by Patrick Tomasso via Unsplash

5. Words in Filipino Language

The words in the Filipino language are written and spoken in an alphasyllabary manner. This means that the words are segmented by a consonant-vowel sequence of letters. They are far easier to spell, write, and read. But these letters can be tricky when they are added as affixes for word conjugations.

Filipino words are either original or loan words. Original words are native words that came from the Filipino ancestors, words that survived from centuries of shifts and changes, and are still used in the presen. Loan words are words that are "loaned" from other languages such as:

Of course, there are more that can be added into this since the Filipino language is super diverse and has a very deep root. Some of those languages, or ancestral languages, were either lost, erased, changed, and never recorded in our histories.













And many more that are not mentioned because, to be honest, our country's history is a bit of a mess especially when depicting timelines during pre-colonial period.

Apart from the natural words that are in the Filipino dictionaries, there are also deep words, loanwords, slang words, street words, and many more:

  • Purist (Pampanitikan) words are often used by scholars and linguists.
  • National(Pambansa), words that belong in the lingua franca of the archipelago.
  • Regional (Panlalawigan) are words from regional abd provincial languages and/or dialects.
  • Casual (Kolokyal), or colloquial words and loanwords are used by everyday people in every day basis.


A loanword is a word adopted from one language and incorporated into another language without translation. When you study the Filipino language, you'll somehow notice that some Filipino words are almost the same as other words from other countries. Examples of these are the words telebisyon for television from English, kumusta for como esta from Spanish, and dahan-dahan from Japanese.


The word talinghaga (pronounced as /ta/ - /ling/ - /ha/ - /ga/) is literally translated to metaphor in English, although they almost do not share the same function in the Filipino language. Talinghaga is deep words or phrases commonly used in literary pieces, especially during the colonization era, that are uncommonly used in everyday conversation between native speakers. They are also used in Filipino crossword puzzles and used in dictionaries as additional words that exist in the Filipino words pool. Talinghaga can also be an idiom in a sentence or a parable in a paragraph. This is considered as the highest form of Filipino language.


Pabalbal (pronounced as /pa/ - /bal/ - /bal/) is the Filipino word translation for slang terms and street words. These words are most commonly used in the streets, the slums, or in poor neighborhoods. This is considered as the lowest form of Filipino language.

Bekimon and Jejemon

The Filipinos are pretty creative when it comes to brewing new languages that some of these languages slowly integrate themselves in the Filipino culture. The Bekimon are people who are "hard-core users" of gay language whether they are homosexuals or not. a Jejemon is a person "who has managed to subvert the English language to the point of incomprehensibility." The Philippine Daily Inquirer, an English-language newspaper in the Philippines, describes "Jejemons" as a "new breed of hipsters who have developed not only their own language and written text but also their own subculture and fashion." These are also considered as slang terms or street words.

6. Practice as Much as You Can

The title is pretty much self-explanatory. Once you’ve learned the basic sounds and letters of the Filipino alphabet, it’s important not to get lost in trying to memorize massive vocabulary lists. Instead, focus on learning some common conversational phrases in context.

There is no better way to get comfortable with a language than to speak it. Optimally, language learners should strive to fit Tagalog lessons into their schedule once a day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. By doing g this, you are training both your tongue and your vocabulary on Filipino words.

One more way of practicing is listening to the native speakers of the language. You can listen to Filipino music (which most are pretty bop) and practice tongue-twisters. You can also watch videos of Filipino speakers, such as those on YouTube.

7. The Filipino Language Grammar

The Filipino word for grammar is balarila.

Filipino grammar is somehow similar to those of other languages, such as Spanish and English. It also almost follows the same sentence structure as the ones mentioned above. But there are some exceptions, twists, and turns that do not exist in other languages and only exist in the Filipino language.

One thing that learners should know first is that the Filipino language does not have many gender-specific words or pronouns unlike in English or Korean. For example, the Filipino word ikaw means you in English. When it is incorporated within a sentence, it will either mean talking about a girl/woman or a boy/man. Most Filipino words and pronouns, and even the word "Filipino" itself, are purely gender-neutral in nature.

There are words in Filipino that use hyphens, but they still count as one word, and they are pretty much common in the language. One example is the word pag-ibig or love in English. A misspelling error one would do to that word is to forget to place the hyphen. There are also words that sound like they are hyphenated, but in fact, they are not. One example could be the word mandirigma from the root word digma. The former is translated to warrior or fighter in English, while the latter is translated to war in English. If you hyphenate the first word, that would be a misspelling. These kinds of words are explored further in the affixes and word conjugation area of the Filipino language.

Some words sound and spell the same, but they have tons of meaning. These words are called homonyms. For example, the Filipino for masa. This word means "mass" in Spanish. But in Filipino, even though the spelling and the pronunciation are the same, this could either mean "the people" or "dough."

The Filipino language doesn't use those many honorifics for formality words in their sentences. Instead, it uses the word po and opo as words of giving and receiving respect. Hence, add these words to make the sentence formal and remove them to make it informal. Filipinos has this respectful nature and culture embedded within them. Where to put these words within, before, or after a word or sentence can also be tricky, and the correct usage of them is always a must.

The Filipino language commonly uses the words ng and nang, as well, with each having purposes and different rules. For example, ng is used to point out an object and to express ownership. Nang, on the other hand, is used to replace “noong” (when in English) and “para” (for in English) or “upang” (to in English) to connect an adverb and to connect two repeating verbs.

The Filipino language also has words like din and rin. These languages are, commonly used for/during conversations and informal talks. You could either use one of them or both of them within the same sentence. But there is a Filipino rule that din is used when the preceding word ends with a consonant letter except for "w" and "y" while rin is used when the preceding word ends with a vowel letter, "w," and "y." This rule of interchanging the letters D and R is also present among any other Filipino words that start D and R, especially root words.

Another example is the usage of the words sina and sila. Use sila if referring to two or more people without naming them (they/them). Use sina if referring to two or more people with names (sina + names).

Filipinos write and read Filipino words per syllable, and sometimes there are rules within these syllables to change the tense (past, present, future) of the word. Also, there are rules where letters within the word during a change of tense would need to change or shift, like the D and R rule above. Syllables are also used to know how many letters are present within the word since there are no silent or hidden letters in the spelling.

These are just several of Filipino grammar rules out there. Filipino language grammar is an extensive, tricky, almost confusing, and difficult thing to discuss and learn, even for native speakers. Native speakers can also say a sentence in Filipino with wrong grammar. But, in my opinion, you as a learner don't need to mind so much about Filipino grammar. If your listener understands you, or what you are trying to imply, the way you use the language will be deemed acceptable. Those with keen ears and eyes, especially Filipino writers, will correct you on some grammar mistakes. But again, if your idea is very much understandable by the receiver or listener it will be okay.

You can learn more about Filipino grammar on this website.

8. The Confusing Cases of the Affixes and Conjugations

In English, there are three existing affixes: prefix, suffix, and interfix. The suffix and prefix are commonly found on English vocabulary while the infix is, rather, rare.

In Filipino, there are five existing affixes. And, oh boy, one wrong spelling, positioning, structuring of an affix will definitely change the meaning of a word. The correct affix to use in a Filipino root word also depends if the root word is a noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, etc.

These affixes are:

  1. prefix or panlapi
  2. suffix or hulapi
  3. infix or gitlapi
  4. magkabilaan (pronounced as /mag/ - /ka/ - /bi/ - /la/ - /an/) or "on both side" in literal English translation
  5. laguan (pronounced as /la/ - /gu/ - /an/) that somehow literally translates to "all over"

You may be familiar with the first three, so let's talk about magkabilaan and laguan. The former is when affixes are present at the beginning and the ending of a word while the latter is when affixes are present at the beginning, middle, and ending of a word. Also. Filipino words where an affix is present on either the front and middle or middle and end are also called as magkabilaan. To make it, somehow, clear, let me give the Filipino word basa as an example:

A table of an example for a Filipino word, it's (almost literal) translation, and the affixes used in each.

Filipino Word(Rough) English TranslationAffix Particle UsedAffix Used

Basa (root word)





Read in past tense




Read in present tense




Has/have read.




Will/shall read

ba- and -hin



Asking someone to read. The word is used in imperative form.

pag-, -ba-, and -hin


The above words are just a few example. That word can change its meaning if the wrong affix or is inserted or if the conjugation is wrongfully used. There are also tons of affixes that can be present in that single word. Which affixes and conjugations to use is also affected by the word or letter before or after it.

In my opinion, when to put an affix, what correct affix to use, and how to use the affix in Filipino should be learned in your late stages of learning the languages because this can be tricky, confusing, and a bit of a tongue-twister. Adding affixes can sometimes lengthen a very short Filipino word just to make sure that it is within correct usage. One or more wrong affixes can drastically change the meaning of a Filipino word, and sometimes adding an affix does not compliment a Filipino word to make it a new word (ie, changing its tense and meaning). Plus, apart from the daily conversational and common Filipino words, there are tons of affixes that you need to memorize that it could lead to too much information. In short, it's better to practice on learning the common words, phrases, and sentences first so that when you're used to these words and you are finally learning the affixes, it will be easier for you to learn the affixes.

Photo by Kelli McClintock via Unsplash

Photo by Kelli McClintock via Unsplash

9. Learning Outside the Box

Learning a language means learning the country it belonged to, its roots, its history, and culture, etc. This applies to any kind of new language that you wish to learn. And the reason for this is that language is deeply rooted within them.

Learning these things will only take you a short while, especially if you're learning the Filipino language. For example, basic facts about the geography of the country. The Philippines is an archipelagic country composed of three major island regions: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. It belongs in the ASEAN region, or Southeast Asia, and lies in the Pacific Ring of Fire. If you don't know what that is, the Pacific Ring of Fire is an arc around the Pacific Ocean where many volcanoes and earthquakes are formed. This place is also called the Pacific Rim where many typhoons are formed. The country is made up of 7, 647 islands where at least 2000 of it is inhabited. The country has no sharing of land borders because of the bodies of water around it. There are currently 17 regions found within the Philippines, where each region contains provinces and cities and each of these contains the Barangays or the smallest administrative division in the Philippines and is the native Filipino term for a village, district, or ward. The Philippines is also called "Pearl of the Orient Seas," where natural resources are very rich. Three of the world's largest malls are found in the country, as well as the 8th Wonder of the world.

After geography, you'll have to take a look at its culture. The culture of the country and the Filipinos are very diverse. Almost every province and barangay in the country celebrate festivals all year round. In fact, there are at least 42,000 known minor and major festivals in the Philippines. And even though the Philippines is the 5th largest speaker of the English language in the world, there are around 120 to 175 spoken local languages in the country. There is also a number of existing indigenous tribes in the country that are also rich with history and culture, each having their own clothing, music, songs, etc. The majority of the population are Catholics while the rest are either Protestants or Muslims.

After that, you'll have to get a short glimpse of the country's history, which you can read out in any available historical source. Knowing the history of the Filipino language means you'll also get to know the culture behind it. The Filipino language is a language that keeps evolving and adapting through time. And like the theories, when all of those who know the language are gone the language, itself, will follow suit.

10. Use Your Available Resources

We are now on the digital age and learning something is just one search away. There are a lot of available courses online or via applications that you can use to learn the Filipino language. Just type in the search keywords and you'll find either free or paid courses for learning the language. You can also download applications like "Drops" and "HelloTalk" to help you with your learning. "Drops" is an application that is like "Duolingo" or "Lingodeer" where you can learn languages by sessions while "HelloTalk" is like a social media application where you can meet people online, teach your language, and learn your language at the same time. You can also search for YouTube videos for learning the Filipino language, listen to Filipino songs and music, watch shows or Vlogs made by Filipinos, etc.

Some of these a bit pricy, though, because you may be paying for the course. Some offer them for free, but they are only accessed daily. Either way, you'll still be learning the language.

You can also buy books to learn the language if the internet is not much of your thing. You might as well try and talk to native speakers of the language, especially if you have friends or peers that are Filipinos. You can ask them questions and they will be happy to teach you.

The Filipino language is one of the most beautiful languages out there. It can be written or spoken as if you're a lover, a poet, or a literary writer. It can be used in arguments and debates, and it can also be used for adorations and insults. Learning the Filipino language may be a challenging feat and process to accept and go to, but taking it to heart will guarantee new understandings of the Filipino life and culture.

I hope this article helped you for learning the language as a beginner. This article is subjected for more improvements and changes in the future. For more information about the article, ask and use me as a resource. If there are wrong information written in this article or if I forget important information to add in this article, do notify me as soon as possible. Thank you!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Darius Razzle Paciente


Darius Razzle Paciente (author) from Metro Manila, The Philippines on July 17, 2020:

Thank you! @Hertha :)

Hertha David from Windhoek, Namibia on July 10, 2020:

Very well detailed.