Thursday, June 19, 2008

How hard would it be to learn Tagalog?

Someone asked me this question. And he/she also said that he/she is a Spanish speaker and wants to know how hard it is and how long it should take. Here are my answers:

"Although some Filipinos think that their language is closely related to Spanish, I would caution you that only some 10% of vocabulary is Spanish-based,and it is nothing like Spanish grammatically. The good thing is that it is a stacatto-sounding language and it sounds somewhat like Spanish, but then, so does Japanese, in a way.To reply to your question- if you study two hours a day, it will take you somewhere around six months to attain "fluency" as in being able to carry on a conversation without always stopping and without making grave errors in grammar. How hard? Hmm, harder than a European language, but not as hard as studying Arabic or Chinese. There are no tones or weird sounds bar some.It is imperative that you buy a conservative Tagalog study book that covers grammar and verb conjugations and study those seriously. These are not easy at all and require patient drilling. Also, buy as many travel/phrase books as you can so that you can practice many common phrases, and combined with grammar study, all this will enable you to "weave" correct sentences.Tagalog is often spoken "backwards", with many verbs in passive voice, so the sentence structure is very unusual for Westerners. It is hard to initially figure out where the subject and the object are. Many Filipinos, being familiar with both Tagalog and English since childhood, cannot appreciate just how difficult Tagalog can be for foreigners.Another thing to keep in mind is: you need a very good dictionary, and these are hard to find. I had to buy many of those and consult them all because some do not have all the words. Even then, I found it necessary to ask Filipinos for clarifications and translations which only the very educated can provide.So, a part time tutor will be necessary- at least once ot twice a week to help you unravel sentences, compose correct ones and translate meanings.After you spend time speaking and composing sentences, buy magazines, newspapers, books, and read, read, read. It will also require patience and the consistent consulting with your dictionary (and your tutor when words that are not in dictionary, confusing sentences and idioms come up).I also like to read dictionaries from cover to cover and write out words that I will be most likely to use. It takes about a month and a half to do, and then, I just sit there and compose sentences with those words. With all that, yes, about six months will do the trick. But you will be dog tired.Get some people to talk to you in Tagalog as well- have a few hours of conversation practice a week. Taxi drivers are the best :). Chat with Tagalog speakers online.Note 1: Many, if not most foreigners, never study Tagalog, and most Filipinos do not mind. Such foreigners seem to live happily in the country,the people gladly oblige them by speaking to them in fluent English and bending over backwards to help them feel at home because they are such a hospitable race. The foreigners have Filipina wives, oodles of friends, businesses and do just fine without a word in Tagalog for decades. The wives and families are happy to practice and improve their English with these foreigners. So, learning Tagalog is not really practical as it would be, say learning Chinese because few Chinese speak English.It seems that most foreigners think that in an English-speaking country of the Philippines, spending time studying Tagalog is a wasteful and useless undertaking. They seem to think that that time should be spent making money or socializing with Filipinos in English which Filipinos will do gladly. The natives are used to foreigners speaking only English to them and seem to adopt to foreigners ( many other countries expect foreigners to adopt to the locals and learn the language, but not the Philippines). In the case of the most numerous foreign group in the Philippines now- the Koreans, not only most of them cannot speak Tagalog, but they can barely speak English. However, they bring in money and again are as happy as larks there. Sometimes, believe it or not, I regret having studied Tagalog. Somehow, I feel that when I spoke only English, people respected me more, there was a polite space between me and them, and they treated me as a guest of honor. Now, that I speak it, I have all kinds of irritations: people ignore my Tagalog and answer in English- they think they are doing me a favor- I feel like they are treating me as an outsider-which I am sure they are not as they are very accepting people. Some speak to my Filipino companions and not me when I am there and talk about me in front of me in third person ( even though I am the one paying for everything) Some are in shock and scream "Magaling Magaling!" and do not carry on a conversation beyond that. Most immediately ask me if my wife is a Filipina and if she taught me Tagalog- if they only knew how many years I spent studying it with dictionaries and books and tapes and all that. Some laugh at me and say-"Your face is American ( whatever that means), but you speak Tagalog, bwahahahaha!".All that can be very frustrating.But the very poor people who did not go to school are grateful and happy and answer to me in Tagalog. And if you want to work to help poor masses of people there as a missionary or a volunteer of sorts, knowing Tagalog will be priceless.Tagalog is a window into the "soul" and "heart" of the people if those things matter to you. To many foreigners these do not , and they bring money into the country, get married, buy houses and businesses and live happy lives and never speak Tagalog. Which sometimes makes me wonder if I have wasted all that time.Note 2: From the middle of the Philippines down the most popular language is Cebuano which is as different from Tagalog as Romanian would be from Spanish. In Cebu, Tagalog is more of a foreign language than English, so if you plan to move to Cebu, you might as well study Visaya or stick with English as people are very fluent in it.Consider all this before you begin studying that difficult language and examine your goals very well as it will be more of a "romantic" than a utilitarian study.Anyway, to get back to your question the answer is: it will be moderatly hard and will take 6 months to year if you study 2 hours a day as I outlined above".

41 comments:

The DILFED Forum said...

"In Cebu, Tagalog is more of a foreign language than English, so if you plan to move to Cebu, you might as well study Visaya or stick with English as people are very fluent in it."

Truthful insight indeed.

Why don't you join us?

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iel said...

"In Cebu, Tagalog is more of a foreign language than English, so if you plan to move to Cebu, you might as well study Visaya or stick with English as people are very fluent in it."

- this is because a lot of Visayans (Ilocanos too) stick to their pride of resisting to learn Tagalog knowing that IT IS THE NATIONAL LANGUAGE... not being able to speak TAGALOG when you are a natural-born citizen is a shame in my opinion... remember the phrase of our national hero? "ang hindi magmahal sa sariling wika, daig pa ang malansang isda"


- not all of TAGALOG speakers that you will encounter will answer you in english especially if you request to be replied back in TAGALOG reasoning out that you want to learn the language... there would be some hospitable folks that would gladly teach you...

it is not uncommon in the country that there would be some crab-mentalist that will put down anybody who wanted to learn as much... stay away from those ugly ducklings...

...even in pure Filipino realm, there would be some trying-to-be-smart-looking asshole who would try his/her best to speak in english when the whole bunch speak tagalog... they're a real eyesore to me ^^

Isagani Banal said...

Nang mabasa ko ang iyong blog, naalala ko ang aking pinsang kalahating-Pilipino. Sinabi niya na "conjugation's a bitch in Tagalog,"at bilang isang katutubong mananalita nito, sa kabila ng hindi ko lubusang matanto ang kahirapan ng mga lapi, sumasang-ayon ako na malamang hindi ito madali para sa mga nag-aaral ng Tagalog.

Napakasakit at nakaaiiyak basahin na ang karamihan ng mga dayuhang naninirahan sa Pilipinas at pati na rin ang karamihan ng kabataang nasa mga lungsod ay walang pakialam, walang nais matutunan ang Tagalog o anumang katutubong wikang Pilipino.

Para sa akin, mabuti nga rin na nakakaunawa ang mga Pilipino ng mga wikang banyaga ngunit sana ganoon din ang pakikituring ng mga dayuhan sa salita ng mga Pilipino, bilang 'ika mo nga, "a window into the "soul" and "heart" of the people."

Huwag ka mag-alala kung hindi ka isinasagot sa Tagalog kasi, gaya ng sabi mo, "they're doing [you] a favor." Likas na sa aming kultura ang pagsisigurado na hindi mahiya man o mahirapan ang ibang mga tao, lalung-lalo na ang mga bisita. Kapag pinagtatawanan ka, huwag mo na lang pansinin yung mga 'yon dahil hindi nila alam ang kahalagahan ng iyong paghihirap sa pag-aral ng aming wika. Mas mataas naman 'di hamak ang iyong pag-iisip at mga adhikain sa simpleng katatawanan lamang.

Aaminin ko nga lang na ako'y halos nabibighani na mayroong dayuhang marunong at magaling managalog o magbisaya o magsalita ng anumang wika, at aaminin ko rin na kung minsa'y sa kabila ng aking paggiging katutubo, ako ri'y nakakalilimot ng mga salita o tamang paggamit at kung minsa'y nagnanais na lamang gumamit ng Ingles.

Ako mismo'y nasisiyahan at naaliw na ika'y labis na nagpagal upang matutunan ang Tagalog. Gaya nga ng binanggit mo, bihira lamang ang mga dayuhang (at pati na rin ng iilang mga katutubo) ang nagkakaroon ng pagpapahalaga sa wika namin gaya mo. Kaya ako, saludo sa iyo buhat ng iyong pagmamahal sa wika (at kultura) naming mga Pilipino!

Mabuhay ka at Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!! :D

Anonymous said...

Nakakabilib na pinagtuunan mo ng pansin ang pag-aaral ng Tagalog. Salamat at binibigyan mo ng halaga ang aming wika. Nakakhiya nang aminin na ang mga kabataan sa ngayo'y hindi nagpapahalaga sa Tagalog at ang iba pang lokal na wika. Ang lahat ng wika sa mundo ay salamin ng kanilang kultura, tama nga na walang mas "magaling" na wika. Kung sa totoo lang mas mahirap pang matuto ng Tagalog kaysa Ingles. Kung sa akin lang, ang lahat ng wika ay pantay-pantay at dapat ay pahalagahan. Kahit man ito ay pranses, ingles, hapon, aleman o kastila. Lahat ng ito ay napakahalaga.

4179 said...

Sometimes, believe it or not, I regret having studied Tagalog. Somehow, I feel that when I spoke only English, people respected me more, there was a polite space between me and them, and they treated me as a guest of honor. Now, that I speak it, I have all kinds of irritations: people ignore my Tagalog and answer in English- they think they are doing me a favor- I feel like they are treating me as an outsider-which I am sure they are not as they are very accepting people. Some speak to my Filipino companions and not me when I am there and talk about me in front of me in third person ( even though I am the one paying for everything) Some are in shock and scream "Magaling Magaling!" and do not carry on a conversation beyond that. "


Please dont think that you wasted your time learning the language because of these reasons. I am studying another language now and I also experience the same thing that you noticed about talking the native language with the native speakers. I think it is a natural response so please dont feel discouraged. I think most natives find foreigners great if they can speak the local language. besides, you can know what they talk about when they have a conversation (for example when they talk about you). Ganbatte ne! :D

Anonymous said...

"Sometimes, believe it or not, I regret having studied Tagalog. Somehow, I feel that when I spoke only English, people respected me more, there was a polite space between me and them, and they treated me as a guest of honor. Now, that I speak it, I have all kinds of irritations: people ignore my Tagalog and answer in English- they think they are doing me a favor- I feel like they are treating me as an outsider-which I am sure they are not as they are very accepting people. Some speak to my Filipino companions and not me when I am there and talk about me in front of me in third person ( even though I am the one paying for everything) Some are in shock and scream "Magaling Magaling!" and do not carry on a conversation beyond that. "

please dont feel that you wasted your time learning tagalog. I am also learning a foreign language now and believe me, the natives do react the same way as you have described in your blog. I think it is normal for native speakers of the language to react that way if a foreigner can speak their language. so please dont mind it. Whats important is you know a foreign language. I think natives tend to think that youre great if youre a foreigner and can speak the local language. Besides, you will know what they are talking about (if they are talking about you)... ;D Ganbatte ne!

E

NeoSoftware said...

This post is 4 years old but I just had to comment on it.

@iel

I'm from Manila but I personally do not consider Tagalog to be the national language. Call it by whatever name you want: Tagalog, Pilipino, Filipino. The fact is that it is still Tagalog and is a language that originated from civilizations that developed along the Pasig River. Today, it is spoken mostly by people from the National Capital Region and nearby regions. Not exactly the entire Philippines. Saying that the different languages of people from Visayas and Mindanao are un-Filipino is discrimination against your own people and culture. Tagalogs have forced their own language on other people and deprived them of appreciating their own mother tongues making Tagalogs no different from the colonizers and imperialists of the past.

In addition, I love Jose Rizal but I believe that when he mentioned that quote, he did not limit it to just Tagalog. The man knew several Filipino dialects but spoke mainly in Spanish. Does that mean he didn't appreciate his country's languages? He also learned several other Asian and European languages. Loving other languages is not forsaking your own. I bet he even thought that Filipinos are very much capable of learning multiple languages since we've been bilingual for centuries.

Finally, speaking in English in the Philippines is not a bad thing. I have friends from the provinces tell me that learning English is really important for them because it is the only way to communicate with people who do not speak the same dialect. I think my friends and I are convinced that the true national language of this country is not Tagalog, it's English. Much like in Singapore, English is used in education, business and connecting this country's many regions together. Learning Tagalog alone will unfortunately limit you to the Tagalog regions. It's the same for the other dialects. We need to accept the fact that our country is multicultural and multilingual in order to move forward. We're some of the best English speakers in Asia, with a little training. Why can't we be proud of that? Why do we have to keep belittling our English potential?

My thoughts.

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