The Importance of Foreigners Learning Tagalog

A common question many foreigners ready to come to The Philippines should ask is whether or not they should bother to learn Tagalog or “Filipino”. While it is true almost all Filipinos will have at least a rudimentary understanding of English it’s to your benefit to learn at least some key phrases.

What are the advantages of learning Tagalog?

Whether it’s Tagalog, Taglish, or simply ‘Filipino’ it’s to your benefit to learn the language if you plan to live in The Philippines. 1. You will know what’s being said around you 2. It will save you money 3. There will be more people you can communicate with.

Knowing What’s Being Said Around You

It was a hot day in August and my partner and I were in Baclaran to do some shopping. In front of us were a large black man and his tiny Filipina girlfriend. It was an interesting site to see. While we were walking a slimy vendor kept trying to sell him a hat. The man politely declined and began to move on, to which the vendor responded “Siyempre hindi ka pupunta, bumili ka ng itim itim!” in English, Of course you’re not going to buy it you’re so f***king black”.

It may have been better that the black guy didn’t know that he was just insulted but still, it’s important to know how those who you are communicating with really feel about you. Most locals know that foreigners don’t know their language and will say nasty things about them right next to them.

If you are dating, it helps to know what your girlfriend’s family and friends really think about you. I once saw an older gentleman with his 20 something girlfriend. I guess they were meeting a friend or something. She walked right up to them and said to the girl with a big smile “Oh, ito ba ang iyong tanga kasintahan na sinabi mo sa akin?” (Is this your foolish boyfriend you told me about?) to which she simply replied ‘Oo” (yes).

Had that man taken the time to learn some Tagalog he could’ve saved himself a lot of money.

You’ll save a lot of money

Speaking of money whether they are professionals or paupers most of the population will see you as a walking ATM, sorry. Even if you are only earning minimum wage back home you’re still earning about 100x whatever a doctor in The Philippines makes. So you can’t blame them for thinking you’re rich because compared to them you are.

While not everyone will try to cheat you, you can still expect to be charged more for rent, tours, or anything you buy at a small business that doesn’t have the prices writen. Learning Tagalog will get you a better deal. I was thinking of buying an ant farm. When I went to a local pet shop with my friend to look for an aquarium. I asked the price and was told 1000. I looked at my friend and the shopkeep immediately said ‘Oh I mean 500’.

But you can’t have a local with you everywhere you go. That’s why if you communicate with them in their language they will know that you know a little something about the culture and what things actually cost.

Doors will open up

Unless you’re coming here for work and your colleagues are professionals the first locals to present themselves to you will almost always be people who just want your money. The most outgoing locals to foreigners are also the ones with the worst intentions, unfortunately.

There are many Filipinos of excellent character who most certainly are worth your time to know. However, while they may understand English they are shy. Breaking the ice by speaking the language will help you to meet these wonderful people. One of my best friends is a local guy that was too shy to talk to me at first because of his English.

Also, when dating a local of good character they will want to see some effort on your part. Taking the time to learn some Tagalog key phrases will go a long way to endearing you to the right person. It will also help to endear you to your girlfriend’s family if you can communicate with the family elders in Tagalog.

Not every Filipino speaks English!

There’s this common misconception that all Filipinos speak fluent English. This is simply not true. Okay, if you live in BGC or Upper Makati then yes pretty much everyone there will speak English. But what about when you deal with people from the lower classes? Specifically, when you go to some of the government offices. When I had to go to the LTO office to get a drivers license in Cavite almost no one spoke English there. In some of the more rural provinces they don’t even speak English that well in the immigration offices!

It is only to your benefit to learn some Tagalog–trust me.

Tagalog Key Phrases

Before we go into phrases you need to know some basics of the Tagalog language. If you are serious about communicating with your neighbors more effectively check out this great language book on

It is useful to note that unlike English, Tagalog words are pronounced exactly as they are spelled. Each vowel represents one separate syllable.  Just as “papaya” is pronounced “pa-pa-ya,” the word “marunong” is pronounced “ma-ru-nong”, the word “magsalita” is pronounced “mag-sa-li-ta”.

A pronunciation guide for Tagalog vowels:

A – short “A” sound as in “Papa” or “Tart”

E – short “E” as in “Bed”

I – a long “ee” sound as in “Tweet”

O – as in the “au” sound in “Pauper”

U – a long “oo” sound as in “Pool”


It is always advisible to add the word po to sentences as a form of respect or formality when speaking to elders, government officials, or those you have just met or are not close with.

Kamusta ka?How are you?
Magandang UmagaGood morning

Magandang hapon
Good afternoon
Magandang gabiGood evening
Magkano po ito? How much is it?
Masyadong mahalToo expensive
Tawad naman po?Please lower the price
Kulang po ang sukiliYou didn’t give enough change
Pwede nyo po akong dalhin sa....Can you drive me to…
Hinahanap ko po ang I’m looking for (a place)
Hinahanap ko po si I’m looking for (a person)
Kumaliwa po kayoPlease turn left
Kumanan po kayoPlease turn right
Diretso lang poStraight ahead
Sa harapIn front
Sa likodBehind
Oo / Opo (formal)Yes
Hindi / Hindi po (formal)No
Maybe / MightSiguro / Baka
Don’t Huwang
Putangina moYour mom’s a whore
Pugtanginamo Fuck you
Puta kaYou bitch
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