Exploring The Philippines with Language

Exploring the Philippines with Language

I've had first-hand experience of all 81 provinces that make up the Philippines, sharing my adventures of each along the way. From beautiful volcano trails in Camiguin to climbing Bud Datu in Sulu, I honestly believe there is something in the Philippines for everyone. History, culture, the most beautiful scenery you could ask for everywhere you look, and some wonderful new friends to meet along the way. What more could you ask for?

The Philippines is made up of more than 7,000 islands that are home to some 170 languages and dialects. As I've traveled, I've noticed that even just a few words in the local language can change a mediocre visit into an unforgettable one. But 170 languages is an awful lot to learn even for somewhere as beautiful as the Philippines. As luck would have it, Tagalog is spoken and understood throughout!

So, if you're going to visit yourself, here are some basics that will get you started. You just wait until you see a waiter's face light up in delight when you thank him, or a tour guide smiles in surprise when you ask something simple in Tagalog!

The internet is full of resources to learn Tagalog, and some are of course better than others. Though famous websites like Duolingo don’t have Tagalog yet Learn Tagalog is a good resource for the casual learner. If you are looking for more serious study, companies like Language Trainers are great too. To get your feet wet and to get started here are some essentials:

Essentials for everywhere

These are a few words and phrases that it's always good to know wherever your heading.

Musta or kumusta if you want to be formal means hello, but can also be used as how are you? To reply to this you would say mabuti naman po. Magandang means good, so add to that umaga, hapon, or gabi and you have yourself a good morning, afternoon, or evening, though you could just say magandang uraw which means beautiful day and can be used throughout. Goodnight is a simple gudnayt so you shouldn't have any trouble remembering that!

Paálam means goodbye, mabuhay means cheers, and you might even hear maligayang paglalakbáy if someone wants to wish you safe travels. Patawad means sorry and might help if you knock into someone, and ipagpaumanhin ninyo ako can be used to get someone's attention like excuse me.

To get a little help along the way

Start any sentence with nasaan ang, and even if you don't know the word for bathroom (banyo), or train station (istasyon ng tren), with enough gesturing or body language someone will understand you are asking where is… and help you out. Similarly, it might be useful to know some basic direction words, like left (kaliwa), right (kanan), or straight ahead (diretso).

You can use the same strategy with asking for something you want, by saying kailangan ko… (I need) or gusto ko ito (I want) and pointing. It also can't hurt to know pakiusap (please) and salamat (thank you) for these situations. Magkano ho ito (how much is this) is another helpful phrase for when you are shopping, as is wala na bang tawad / bawas if you want to barter or get a lower price.

These are only the very basics of Tagalog, and of course, you don't need to speak the language to enjoy all the Philippines has to offer if you don't want to. But if you want to give your travels a little boost then it can't hurt to try a few of these words out!

If you want to learn a few more phrases before you go, head over to the Wikivoyage Filipino Phrasebook and check out their phrasebook. I hope you pick up some, learning Tagalog will be a rewarding experience and open up a beautiful window into Filipino culture. Whether you learn a little or a lot, I’m sure you’ll love those great smiles when you speak.

This is a contribution from one of our contributing writers.


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Pinoy Adventurista is one of the Top Travel Blogs in the Philippines and the World. In 2013, he visited all the 81 provinces in the Philippines.