I am often asked how hard is it to learn Filipino, be that Tagalog or Visayan/Cebuano or one of the other languages spoken in the Philippines. The answer is… it depends. It depends on you, more than anything else. First of all, there is no ‘language learning gene’. There are not people genetically better prepared to learn more than one language but there are people more willing, dedicated and disciplined. Not that you have to be some kind of lingual commando to get fluent.
Learning Filipino Is Easy
First of all, be grateful you don’t have to learn Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Arabic. According to a study requested by the US State Department for the purposes of training their embassy people in foreign languages, those are the hardest to learn of the major languages. They have a different script or use pictographic character sets of thousands of characters. They are often multi-levelled (Japanese for example) or are tonal, with the same word in Mandarin meaning several different things depending on the way you say it.
Filipino languages have simpler grammar than English and quite a few Spanish based words. Spanish is one of the easiest languages for a native English speaker to learn, according to the State Department survey. When we include how many English words are used by Filipinos, it gets even easier. ‘Taglish’ is a mix of Tagalog and English and used by the more upscale Filipinos, often to let everyone know their social status. It can be frustrating to listen to a conversation flitting back and forth between the two languages but I have found it often lets me keep up with the plot when watching a Filipino movie! Filipino English is not the same thing, rather that is a variation of English, much as there is American English, Caribbean English, African English and so on.
It Does Take Effort
It does take effort and you have to persevere, even when you are frustrated, climbing the walls trying to be understood or just tired. Having to translate every word, to think in one language, translate it into the other, compose the sentence and so on is tiring. Until you get so fluent you think in the second language it will always be so. This is why I suggest taking your time, but spending as much time as possible immersed in the new language. Living in a small town the first time I lived in the Philippines for any length of time over a month helped. Not so many English speakers around and I made it my business to use the language as much a possible, as often as possible.
I used to try and learn a couple of new words every day, writing them on a chalk board hung on the back of the kitchen door. I wrote out word lists and above all else, listened. I listened to locals talking, knowing they were speaking too fast for me but slowly I began to notice individual words and then phrases. They say any language has about 300 words that are used nearly 80% of the time. Think about which words you use the most in English and their equivalents will be the ones to focus on first. Do something every day to help progress and don’t get discouraged. Imagine what it was like for your asawa learning English.
Perry Gamsby, D.Lit., MA(Writing), Dip. Bus, Dip. Mktg is a writer and lecturer who lives with his Cebuana wife and five Aus-Fil daughters in Western Sydney. The author of a series of best-selling ‘self-help’ books for expats and those married to Filipinas, he is also a Master of Filipino Martial Arts and a former World Stickfighting Champion who has lived, worked and vacationed in the Philippines since 1988. Perry and his family return to the Philippines on a yearly basis. You can read more of his writing on Philippines topics at www.streetwisephilippines.biz