Learn about Tagalog Language and Culture

Overview of the Tagalog Language

Tagalog (pronounced ta-GA-log) is the national language of the Republic of the Philippines. The Tagalog people migrated to the island of Luzon from the Malay Peninsula and settled around the area which today encompasses the city of Manila. Tagalog was selected as the national language of the Philippines in 1946 because it had a rich literary tradition, it was the most widely spoken language in the Republic, and it was considered the language of the revolution against colonialism.

Tagalog is a member of the Western group of Malayo-Polynesian languages. The Malayo-Polynesian languages are unique and do not appear to be related to any other language group. Other Malayo-Polynesian languages include: Malagasy, Malay, and Indonesian.

Other languages of the Philippine Islands include: Visayan, Pampangan, Bikol, and Ilocano. As a result of rule by the United States from 1899 to 1941, English is widely spoken and serves as a second official language.

The Tagalog Alphabet and Tagalog Vocabulary

The Tagalog alphabet consists of twenty letters: 15 consonants and 5 vowels. Because Tagalog is a phonetic language, each letter or letter combination almost always has only one pronunciation. This characteristic makes it easy to pronounce Tagalog words once you've learned the rules and basic sounds.

Tagalog has had a written form for hundreds of years. Over time, many words from Malay, Spanish, and English have been introduced. Tagalog grammar has retained its original form and has remained unchanged as new words have been incorporated.

Some of the vocabulary in Tagalog will be familiar to speakers of English: bangko means bank, sero means zero, tiket means ticket, and kompyuter is recognizable as computer. But don't be fooled, there are many other words that look the same yet carry very different meanings! For example, at means and, noon means at that time rather than "midday", and mama means uncle or mister.

Did you know that the English word boondocks is from Tagalog? In Tagalog, bundok means mountain.

Formal and Informal Address in the Tagalog Language

In Tagalog, the particle po is used to express respect for the person to whom you are speaking. If you meet a friend on the street you might say, Magandang araw (literally, beautiful day). If you meet an older person or a stranger, you might say, Magandang araw po. Po is often translated as "sir" or "ma'am".

Tagalog Grammar

The sentence order in Tagalog is markedly different from the sentence structure to which English speakers are accustomed. For example, in English you might say "The crocodile is big." A native speaker of Tagalog would probably say "Malaki ang buwaya," or "Big the crocodile."

To express plurals in Tagalog, the particle mga is often used. For example, "the child" would be "ang bata"; "the children" would be "ang mga bata".

Most nouns in Tagalog are neuter, but some of the nouns which have been borrowed from Spanish are gender specific. Of these, the feminine nouns such as "blusa" (blouse) almost always end in "a" while the masculine nouns such as "amo" (boss) usually end in "o".

Using numbers in Tagalog can be difficult because native speakers use not only Tagalog, but also Spanish and English numbers! Dates, for example, may be expressed in any of these languages. You might hear "sa August one" on August first; "unang araw ng Nobyembre" on November first, or even "a-primero ng Mayo" for May first! If you learn both Spanish and Tagalog numbers you'll be better equipped to deal with situations involving numbers such as dates, times, prices, and measurements.

It can be a lot of fun to learn Tagalog with good Tagalog software programs, like those from Transparent Language. We wish you the best with your language learning!

Start a free trial! Start learning Tagalog with Byki Deluxe Transparent Connect – Web-Based Course with Personal Coaching – Get Started »

Receive new words in your email: