Learn why Tagalog is an easy language to learn.
Why is Tagalog easy to learn?
From the get-go, I’m going to tell you that the difficulty of learning a new language depends on how close or similar it is to your native language, a.k.a your mother tongue. But since you can read this blog post, it is safe to assume that you can speak or at least understand English, so we’ll start there.
There are several reasons why Tagalog is an easy language to learn for English speakers and these are:
Easy Writing System
The Latin Alphabet
Unlike Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Arabic, Hindu, and other script-specific languages, Tagalog uses the same alphabet as English, the Latin Alphabet. From the start, you won’t be encumbered by a new writing system. You can just start reading and practicing the language out loud. Sure, you can study the Baybayin or the indigenous script of Tagalog for the novelty of it, but you won’t be needing it anytime soon [if at all]. Tagalog speakers, don’t really use it after all
In addition to the familiar alphabet, Tagalog is also easy sound-wise and it’s very W.Y.S.I.W.Y.G: What You See Is What You Get— or Hear in this case. There are the familiar sounds/ letters like /b/, /d/, /g/, /h/, /j/, /k/, /l/, /m/, /n/, /ng/, /p/, /r/, /s/, /t/, /w/, /y/, and there are the simplified vowels like /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/. I say “simplified” because Tagalog vowels are easy to produce and can only have one corresponding sound, unlike English vowels. For example: the first /a/ in “America” is not the same a in “dance”, nor in “accept” and “fate”.
The vowels in Tagalog are straightforward:
a as in aisle
e as in let
i as in seem
o as in low
u as in soon
Practice these vowels and you will be wayyyy closer to having that authentic Tagalog accent than you realize.
Numerous borrowed words
If you are a Spanish or an English speaker who is learning Tagalog, chances are you were surprised by the amount of words borrowed from your language. Years of exposure to the said languages will do that to any vernacular. It also helped that English is one of the official languages of the Philippines. Therefore, English is taught in schools and used in official documents.
With around 1 – 1.5 billion English speakers and 400-500 million Spanish speakers around the world, you can imagine how many people can take advantage of the numerous borrowings in the Tagalog language. In this day and age when most Filipinos are at least bilingual speakers of English, you can get away with almost any situation by reverting back to English terms and phrases when your Tagalog knowledge fails you.
Friendly and accommodating speakers
Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash
Most Tagalog speakers appreciate that you are learning their language and will become your biggest support system when it comes to your Tagalog-learning journey. Every now and then they will laugh at your wonky sentences or weird accent but trust me when I say that your weird accent is more weird-charming than weird-weird. Last but not the least, Tagalog speakers can talk to you in English when you need a breather or two from your mental translations.
“Best friend, how’s the traffic along Ayala Avenue?”
“There’s heavy traffic! It’s rush hour because of the lunch break eh”
“Oh no, take care best friend”
Whether you understood the conversation or not, you recognized some of those words, didn’t you?
Taglish, or as Tagalog purists would like to call it, “the bastardization of the Tagalog language”, is the combination of Tagalog and English. It may look like English words are embedded in the sentences willy-nilly but there’s grammar involved in this Tagalog-English hodgepodge.
Of course, the easiest way to used Taglish is to substitute a Tagalog term with its English equivalent like “Gusto ko ng ice cream!” instead of “Gusto ko ng sorbetes!” for “I like ice cream!”. But as you encounter Taglish, you’ll see more complex ways of embedding English into Tagalog sentences. But for now, isn’t it nice and useful to know some of the words in a Tagalog sentence? You may not know that “Gusto ko ng ice cream!” means “I like ice cream!”, but at least you knew that it was about ice cream, right?
You can survive with a small vocabulary
As I’ve said before, you will encounter a lot of Spanish and English terms when speaking to a Tagalog speaker, but as you learn how to speak Tagalog, you’ll realize just how much words you can learn just by knowing a single word.
For example, the word for “eat” in Tagalog is “kain” and from just this one word, you can start learning other words related to “eat”, like:
Kainan – “place to eat”
Kumain – “to eat”
Kakain – “will eat”
Pagkain – “food”
Through this technique, you can slowly build-up your Tagalog word repertoire.
Not a tonal language
Yuen Ren Chao’s classic, “Shi and the Ten Stone Lions”
If this is the first time you encountered Yuen Ren Chao’s classic, “Shi and the Ten Stone Lions”, it is basically a riddle/poem in Classical Chinese in which all the syllables are /shi/ (You can listen to it here). One of the reasons why Yuen Ren Chao was able to write this tongue-twister-esque poem/riddle is because Chinese is a tonal language. In other words, there are several ways of pronouncing one syllable depending on the tone and infinitely more ways of combining these toned words.
Just imagine how confusing it would be if Tagalog is a tonal language in addition to its current grammar! Luckily, like English, Tagalog is not a tonal language. As the matter of fact, Tagalog speakers produce each syllable equally so there shouldn’t be any confusion too regarding long and short syllables.
The difficulty is relative to your native language
In the end, it all depends on how close or similar your native language is to Tagalog and the amount of hours and work you are willing to set aside for learning the language. An English speaker may have a harder time than a Bahasa Indonesian speaker because English has fewer similarities with Tagalog than Bahasa Indonesian does.
In fact, you can say that Bahasa Indonesian is like a remote relative of Tagalog while English is a friend of Tagalog. They don’t really have that underlying connection to each other but they have enough connections and common interests to be friends.
See how easy it is to start learning Tagalog? Why not try it for yourself?
- English. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ethnologue.com/language/eng
- Lyons, D. (2017, July 26). How Many People Speak English, And Where Is It Spoken? Retrieved from https://www.babbel.com/en/magazine/how-many-people-speak-english-and-where-is-it-spoken/
- Slider, R. (2012, November 11). “Shi and the Ten Stone Lions”: Riddle or Nonsense? Retrieved from https://finecha.wordpress.com/2012/11/11/red-slider/
- Spanish. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ethnologue.com/language/spa
- Tagalog. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ethnologue.com/language/tgl