Over the years, I have heard some talk among other foreigners about language and the Philippines. There is some minor misunderstanding among many foreigners when it comes to language. Most foreigners decide not to try to learn any local language when they move here, while others struggle with the question of which language to learn.
First, let’s look at the question of National Language. Well, the reality is that there really isn’t a “national language” except under the law. There is not any national language in terms of a language that everybody in the nation speaks with regularity. Under the law, the National Language is Pilipino. No, it’s not Tagalog. A few decades ago, lawmakers decided that instead of forcing everybody to learn Tagalog, they would create a new language, and call it “Pilipino,” which sounds so inclusive of everybody.
This new language was supposed to incorporate words and sayings from all of the various languages used around the country. Did you know that there are over 80 different languages used in the Philippines? So, a team was assembled to begin creating this wonderful new language that would be so inclusive. Funny thing happened along the way, though. Basically, Pilipino became Tagalog! Why? I don’t know for sure, although I have been told that most of the people who were officially tasked with creating this new language were Tagalogs, and that probably resulted in the “new language” of Pilipino basically just coming out as Tagalog under a different name. As a matter of fact, if you look at many references, they will list “Tagalog” as the official language of the country, even though by law it is not.
Based on Census data, do you know what the most widely spoken language is in the Philippines? I am talking the most widely spoken first language now. It is Bisaya, by about 5 million people. Yes, there are around 5 million more Bisaya speakers than Tagalog speakers! If you look at the data from a standpoint of the language that can be spoken by the most people that is Tagalog, but if you look at the number of people who report their first language (language of choice), Bisaya is the clear winner.
Next choice, for a foreigner who wants to learn some language is – “Which language should I learn?” Well, in my opinion, that depends on where you plan to live. If you are going to live in the Visayas or Mindanao, I would encourage you to choose Bisaya. Be it Cebuano or one of the other Bisayan languages in the region. I mean, no doubt if you live in Bohol, you should learn Boholano instead of Cebuano most likely. But, if you live anywhere in the Visayas or Mindanao, my recommendation would be to learn Bisaya. If you live in Luzon, learn Tagalog, Ilocano or whatever language is spoken in the part of Luzon where you choose to settle.
Think of it like this… You are probably wanting to learn a bit of language so that you can communicate with as many people as possible in your chosen region. So, learn the language that they speak regularly. If you were going to live in Brazil, would you learn Spanish? Probably not, because they speak Portuguese there! Spanish and Portuguese are similar to each other, even share some words, and almost all of South America speaks Spanish, so why not learn Spanish? Well, because Spanish is not the language that is spoken in Portugal! Thus, if you want to live in the Visayas or Mindanao, why not learn that language that is widely spoken in that region. And, if you are going to live in a Tagalog area, by all means, learn Tagalog!
Now, let’s look at another question. Do you have to learn the language to live here? Absolutely not! You can speak English here and live a happy life, no doubt about that. That said, however, I believe that you will lead a more enriched life, be better accepted in the new society that you have chosen to live in, and overall have a better quality of life if you make the effort to learn to converse in the local language. I know that I went for more than 7 years without learning the language. When I started formally learning to speak Bisaya last year, I saw that a lot of doors into the culture opened for me. I have gotten where I better understand what is going on around me, and I have a better appreciation of life here. So, no, you don’t have to learn the language at all, but I recommend that you learn at least some. Actually, living here, I don’t think it would be possible to not learn some, I mean when words are spoken in front of you on a daily, even hourly basis, you can’t help but learn what some of those words mean.
I have had a few questions on what language I recommend for people to learn. That is why I have written this piece. Of course, this is just my opinion as is everything else that I write. I just feel, though, that if you want to live in Davao or elsewhere in the south, Bisaya is the way to go.
What do you think?