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How Hard Would it be to Learn to Speak Tagalog Fluently?

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How Hard Would it be to Learn to Speak Tagalog Fluently?

Post by ladislav » June 11th, 2008, 7:12 pm

This guy asked me this question:

"How hard will it be for an English/Spanish speaker learn to speak Tagalog fluentely?
I want to move to the Philippines and make it my home for a while."

I answered it and thought maybe I should share my answer with you:

"Although some Filipinos think that their language is closely related to Spanish, I would caution you that only some 10% of vocabulary is Spanish-based,and it is nothing like Spanish grammatically. The good thing is that it is a stacatto-sounding language and it sounds somewhat like Spanish, but then, so does Japanese, in a way.

To reply to your question- if you study two hours a day, it will take you somewhere around six months to attain "fluency" as in being able to carry on a conversation without always stopping and without making grave errors in grammar. How hard? Hmm, harder than a European language, but not as hard as studying Arabic or Chinese. There are no tones or weird sounds bar some.

It is imperative that you buy a conservative Tagalog study book that covers grammar and verb conjugations and study those seriously. These are not easy at all and require patient drilling. Also, buy as many travel/phrase books as you can so that you can practice many common phrases, and combined with grammar study, all this will enable you to "weave" correct sentences.

Tagalog is often spoken "backwards", with many verbs in passive voice, so the sentence structure is very unusual for Westerners. It is hard to initially figure out where the subject and the object are. Many Filipinos, being familiar with both Tagalog and English since childhood, cannot appreciate just how difficult Tagalog can be for foreigners.

Another thing to keep in mind is: you need a very good dictionary, and these are hard to find. I had to buy many of those and consult them all because some do not have all the words. Even then, I found it necessary to ask Filipinos for clarifications and translations which only the very educated can provide.So, a part time tutor will be necessary- at least once ot twice a week to help you unravel sentences, compose correct ones and translate meanings.

After you spend time speaking and composing sentences, buy magazines, newspapers, books, and read, read, read. It will also require patience and the consistent consulting with your dictionary (and your tutor when words that are not in dictionary, confusing sentences and idioms come up).

I also like to read dictionaries from cover to cover and write out words that I will be most likely to use. It takes about a month and a half to do, and then, I just sit there and compose sentences with those words. With all that, yes, about six months will do the trick. But you will be dog tired.

Get some people to talk to you in Tagalog as well- have a few hours of conversation practice a week. Taxi drivers are the best :). Chat with Tagalog speakers online.

Note 1: Many, if not most foreigners, never study Tagalog, and most Filipinos do not mind. Such foreigners seem to live happily in the country,the people gladly oblige them by speaking to them in fluent English and bending over backwards to help them feel at home because they are such a hospitable race. The foreigners have Filipina wives, oodles of friends, businesses and do just fine without a word in Tagalog for decades. The wives and families are happy to practice and improve their English with these foreigners. So, learning Tagalog is not really practical as it would be, say learning Chinese because few Chinese speak English.
It seems that most foreigners think that in an English-speaking country of the Philippines, spending time studying Tagalog is a wasteful and useless undertaking. They seem to think that that time should be spent making money or socializing with Filipinos in English which Filipinos will do gladly. The natives are used to foreigners speaking only English to them and seem to adopt to foreigners ( many other countries expect foreigners to adopt to the locals and learn the language, but not the Philippines).

In the case of the most numerous foreign group in the Philippines now- the Koreans, not only most of them cannot speak Tagalog, but they can barely speak English. However, they bring in money and again are as happy as larks there.

Sometimes, believe it or not, I regret having studied Tagalog. Somehow, I feel that when I spoke only English, people respected me more, there was a polite space between me and them, and they treated me as a guest of honor. Now, that I speak it, I have all kinds of irritations: people ignore my Tagalog and answer in English- they think they are doing me a favor- I feel like they are treating me as an outsider-which I am sure they are not as they are very accepting people. Some speak to my Filipino companions and not me when I am there and talk about me in front of me in third person ( even though I am the one paying for everything) Some are in shock and scream "Magaling Magaling!" and do not carry on a conversation beyond that. Most immediately ask me if my wife is a Filipina and if she taught me Tagalog- if they only knew how many years I spent studying it with dictionaries and books and tapes and all that. Some laugh at me and say-"Your face is American ( whatever that means), but you speak Tagalog, bwahahahaha!".All that can be very frustrating.

But the very poor people who did not go to school are grateful and happy and answer to me in Tagalog. And if you want to work to help poor masses of people there as a missionary or a volunteer of sorts, knowing Tagalog will be priceless.

Tagalog is a window into the "soul" and "heart" of the people if those things matter to you. To many foreigners these do not , and they bring money into the country, get married, buy houses and businesses and live happy lives and never speak Tagalog. Which sometimes makes me wonder if I have wasted all that time.

Note 2: From the middle of the Philippines down the most popular language is Cebuano which is as different from Tagalog as Romanian would be from Spanish. In Cebu, Tagalog is more of a foreign language than English, so if you plan to move to Cebu, you might as well study Visaya or stick with English as people are very fluent in it.

Consider all this before you begin studying that difficult language and examine your goals very well as it will be more of a "romantic" than a utilitarian study.

Anyway, to get back to your question the answer is: it will be moderately hard and will take 6 months to year if you study 2 hours a day as I outlined above."
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Post by momopi » June 12th, 2008, 7:51 pm

Hi Ladislav,

What percent of PH languages do you think would be classified as Malay, and are Malaysian words considered loan words?

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Post by ladislav » June 17th, 2008, 6:52 pm

momopi wrote:Hi Ladislav,

What percent of PH languages do you think would be classified as Malay, and are Malaysian words considered loan words?
Philippine languages are mostly classified as Austronesian, except, if I am not mistaken, Tsabakano ( a Spanish Creole in Zamboanga) and maybe some Aeta languages. Bahasa Melayu and Indonesia are also Austronesian languages.

Malaysian words are not loan words- just like Latin words in Spanish are not loan words. These are all from the same source and are remotely Sanskrit related. Loan words would be from Spanish, Chinese, maybe Hindi.
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Post by Ghost » September 17th, 2013, 1:46 pm

Last edited by Ghost on October 23rd, 2016, 2:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by ladislav » September 17th, 2013, 2:34 pm

tutordes wrote:I hope this will help.

please don't think that most Filipinos think that when we see a white- guy- speaking- Tagalog it is funny. No. of course still most of us are glad that foreigners are learning our language. which I considered is one of the difficult ones.
Basically, you need about 2 hours a day for one year to speak it fluently but you will still be making mistakes. The hard part is really understanding rapidly spoken language but it comes with time. Now I understand very fast speech pretty much everywhere and can say pretty much everything especially if I'm relaxed.

Also, the new generation of Filipinos does answer in Tagalog if you are a white guy speaking to them in Tagalog. The older ones will often answer in English. And in tourist areas like Boracay or Angeles City, they will usually just answer in English.

I guess as the Philippines becomes more and more prosperous and moves more and more away from it's US- bound past, it will become more and more commonplace for foreign people to speak the languages of the country and adjust themselves to the Filipinos. Because it is the foreigners who must adjust.

One thing that Filipinos in general will have to learn if we are to live in the world as one community is to treat foreigners as equals because they still have a hard time with that. Even Indonesia does that-- they talk to foreigners in Indonesian and if you don't understand it, it's your problem. Why should they adjust to you? I was in Jakarta for 10 days and I had to grab a dictionary and use google translate to talk to them. Their attitude is - this is Indonesia, we are Indonesians, you are in our country, you speak our language.

Here is an interesting video: this woman is accused of being racist- I don't think she is racist-- she has a message about whose language you must speak when you are in a country.

And she is right! You are in my country? You speak my language!

But many Filipinos are like... OH! He speaks Tagalog. Wow! Ooooohhh, aaaahhh. Some start clapping.

What language should I speak to Filipinos in the Philippines?
A brain is a terrible thing to wash!

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