English is convenient to chat with your tricycle driver! (Philippines, Siquijor, February 2008)
English is convenient to chat with your tricycle driver! (Philippines, Siquijor, February 2008)

Tagalog, filipino, english, spanish?


  Philippines: Visayas - February 2008

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text: 

What is convenient when traveling in the Philippines is that everyone speaks English. Fishermen and farmers, villagers and city dwellers, children and adults...

I was struck, throughout this trip, by the spontaneity with which people came to speak to me. And surprised by the good level of English of most of my interlocutors.

English, the second official language in the Philippines

English is the country's second official language, along with tagalog (language of the region of Manila) renamed filipino in a concern of national unity. English and Filipino are understood throughout the archipelago, where more than 70 other languages are spoken... The most represented is Visayan, language of the Visayas Islands, where I was.

Fishermen in Siquijor. (Philippines, February 2008)
Fishermen in Siquijor. (Philippines, February 2008)

Many Filipinos explained to me the same thing: the children learn English in school, and the classes are taught in English, hence the good general level. Filipinos are very proud of this. For expatriate candidates, speaking English is also a way to find a job more easily.

English is part of everyday life. Wall signs, road signs, government documents, religious, legal and advertising messages are mostly in English. Filipinos use English to count, especially when it comes to money. It is not uncommon in a conversation to hear suddenly emerge, in a stream of unidentifiable words, a "one thousand pesos".

The Western traveler who has already been to Indonesia or Malaysia, also recognizes the famous "selamat" polite formulas. Tagalog is part of the Malayo-Polynesian family of languages, and the Arab and Chinese merchant ships of past centuries have also left their linguistic imprint.

Spanish colonization

And then there is all the vocabulary inherited from three centuries of Spanish colonization: butter is mantikilyafor example. I once heard a girl pick up the phone and say "como estas" to his interlocutor ...

St. Catherine Alexandria Cathedral, Dumaguete. (Philippines, Negros, February 2008)
St. Catherine Alexandria Cathedral, Dumaguete. (Philippines, Negros, February 2008)
In front of Dumaguete Cathedral. (Philippines, Negros, February 2008)
In front of Dumaguete Cathedral. (Philippines, Negros, February 2008)

At Cebu airport, while waiting for my flight back to France, I chatted with a lady from the ground staff, a former flight attendant, at the bar facing the check-in counters.

She obviously speaks perfect English and she immediately senses my little accent frenchy when I place my order. We exchange a few words, we sympathize... I take the opportunity to talk about the language. I tell him that it amuses me to identify words of Spanish in the filipinoand that English is a real comfort when traveling in the Philippines.

She then gave me a quick history lesson, explaining that English spread with the presence of the Americans (half a century of colonization, since the Spanish-American war of 1898) and then lasted after the Second World War and the country's independence. That Spanish was still spoken not so long ago in large, wealthy families, but that only the elderly still speak it a little today. And that the general level of English in the Philippines is dropping, because teachers prefer to go to private schools where they are better paid.

The language participates in the change of scenery

For a tourist like me, being able to make people understand me and talk to them in English is undoubtedly a plus. But this "ease" has its downside.

How to say.... It takes away some of the mystery. The change of scenery is less complete. And I didn't even make the effort to learn a few words in Tagalog or Visayan, since everyone was greeting me and talking to me in English. It's a pity, isn't it?

Our banca drawn on the sand of Sandugan Beach in Siquijor: "In God we trust" ... (Philippines, February 2008)
Our banca drawn on the sand of Sandugan Beach in Siquijor: "In God we trust"... (Philippines, February 2008)
English is convenient to chat with your tricycle driver! (Philippines, Siquijor, February 2008)
English, it's convenient to talk with your tricycle driver! (Philippines, Siquijor, February 2008)

I promised myself to come back. Take the time to better discover the country, to return to explore the fabulous seabed. Next time, I will put myself more seriously to the language.

Just learn the basic phrases, to introduce myself properly, when the inevitable litany of questions arrives, always the same. Where I come from, where I'm going, and if it's my first time in the country, and how long I'm staying, and if I'm traveling alone, etc. etc. Questions that are as much curiosity as politeness...

But it creates a slightly different relationship, often warmer, when you are able to respond in a language other than English!

  Philippines: Visayas - February 2008

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  1. Your blog is fabulous !!! After a long trip to Malaysia and Thailand to dive I was secretly thinking about this country but was so afraid to go alone !!! Your posts reassure me. Your pictures are so beautiful. I wish I had you as a buddy, as I'm sure you would have enjoyed diving with me. I think I will be there around September for a long time. 2 years of wandering and diving in this area. Obviously, as a very active woman, I might get bored, so I'm thinking seriously about joining the usefulness to the pleasantness by starting a PADI diving club.
    I was very happy to follow you discreetly in your journey.

    My email is [xxxx] if you want to communicate and if you want to know more about me.

  2. Hello Nina,

    And first of all, thanks for the compliments! If you've already been around Malaysia and Thailand, you'll have no trouble adapting to the Philippines.

    It's good that my road book was able to reassure you about the country. Traveling alone there is neither difficult nor dangerous. In any case, if I trust my modest experience of a few weeks in the Visayas... 😉

    For diving, you will enjoy it. But as for setting up a club, I think it's a bit more difficult, you need to have a Filipino partner.

    I deleted your email from the body of the message so you don't get spammed. I'll send you another message, directly to your address.

    See you soon !

  3. Hello Corinne,

    It's always a pleasure, to browse your blog during my travel preparations. Your pictures of the Philippines are really beautiful, another incentive to travel for me. I practice only snokerling in Asia, because I think that my meager level 1 (FFESSM) will not be recognized in Asia.

    I'm going back to Malaysia for the second time (Sabah side), again it's thanks to your blog that I discovered the Perhentians

    A big thank you and see you soon

  4. @ Framac:

    I am delighted that my blog really plays its role of "travel incentive". Nothing makes me happier than a little message like yours, telling me that Petites Bulles d'Ailleurs has contributed to the departure and discovery of new horizons!


    For Level 1, you are wrong, it is recognized almost everywhere in Asia, including in the Padi centers. It is in France that it is not easy to be accepted in the FFESSM centers with a Padi training, in fact. But all this is evolving little by little.

    FFESSM Level 1 (N1) corresponds roughly to Padi's Open Water (OW) level, and neither is a "skinny level". In Asia, it is often the basic level that most recreational divers have.

    In the worst case, the instructors of the center, if they have any doubt, will make you do a rehabilitation dive, to see if you are comfortable or not under water. As long as you present the card that proves your level, there is no problem.

    Afterwards, what makes the difference is the experience. I stayed at the OW level for a very long time, but with a lot of dives. And I passed the next level, the Advance Open Water (AOW), much later, when I already had about 80-100 dives in my fins. So I had, in fact, a much better "level" than some French N2 who had only done a few dozen dives...

    Most of the centers in Asia are commercial structures, which accept divers from all types of training (NAUI, CMAS, FFESSM, etc.). In short, all this to say that you should not be intimidated by these stories of "level".

    Finally, there is of course a lot to enjoy, just by snorkeling, in these tropical waters!

    I wish you a very good stay in Malaysia.
    See you soon.