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Is Filipino Hard to Learn? Here’s All You Need to Know.

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The Philippines is rich in cultural history, which is why it attracts a lot of visitors. If you want to visit the country or even live there, it only makes sense for you to learn the Filipino language by heart. Now, the question is this: Is Tagalog hard to learn? This is a subjective question with no short answer. And while Filipino (sometimes referred to as Tagalog) is the country’s national language, it’s not the only system of communication used in the Philippines. After all, the Philippines is an archipelago, with each region having its own spoken language and dialect. 

Perhaps one of the proofs that Filipino isn’t that difficult to learn are the foreigners who have learned to speak it fluently. For example, vloggers Dwaine Woolley and Wil Dasovich—raised in Australia and the United States, respectively—are both known to be fluent Tagalog-speakers. 

And that’s not to mention the number of other foreigners who have made a living as actors and actresses here in the Philippines. Dayanara Torres, Sandara Park, Sam Milby, Ryan Bang—most, if not all, of these celebrities had to learn Filipino, and they’re now able to speak the language fluently. 

Why is that? Of course, they did their part by studying the language. But another reason is that Filipino is actually one of the easiest and most fun languages to learn, and we’re going to show you why.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Learning Filipino Table of Contents
  1. Is it Hard to Learn Filipino?
  2. I Want to Learn Filipino. Where Should I Start?
  3. Tips for New Filipino Learners
  4. Why is FilipinoPod101 Great for Learning Filipino?
  5. Hindi Mahirap Mag-Aral ng Filipino. (“It’s not that difficult to learn Filipino.”)

1. Is it Hard to Learn Filipino?

Kid Listening to Filipino Podcast

“It’s more fun learning Filipino.”

Like in any language, there are factors that can make Filipino hard to learn. That said, it’s actually one of the easiest languages to study and master. That doesn’t mean that you can become fluent overnight, but compared to other languages, Filipino is a bit more straightforward.

One thing that makes learning Filipino fun is that Pinoys can be very encouraging and won’t hesitate to tell you that learning the language isn’t that difficult at all. Most Pinoys will even go the extra mile to help you sharpen your skills.

Another thing that makes Filipino an interesting language to learn is that around twenty percent of the language is based on Spanish. In a way, that’s like hitting two birds with one stone.

In the following sections, we’ll talk about what things might make the Filipino language hard to learn, how to overcome those challenges, and which things about the language are super-easy! 

A- The Challenging Parts of Learning Filipino

Like I said, Filipino is not a difficult language to learn and master. But just like any other language, it has aspects to it that require more effort, which we’ve listed below.

1 – The pronunciation of some words can be a bit tricky.

While most Tagalog words are pronounced the same way as they’re spelled, some words can be a bit more challenging than others. Tao (“man”), aso (“dog”), pusa (“cat”)—these words don’t pose any challenge at all. But what about words like nakakapagpabagabag (“worrisome”) and kumukutikutitap (“twinkling”)? Or kagilagilalas (“marvelous”) and nagsisiusyosohan (“watching with curiosity”)? 

And then there are words beginning with or including the infamous “ng” sound (pronounced like the “ng” in the words “ringing” and “clinging”), as well as words including the diphthongs ay, aw, iw, oy, and uy. If these words don’t twist your tongue (and your brain), I don’t know what will.

It’s a good thing that there are ways to overcome these hurdles, as described in our Filipino Pronunciation Guide. With practice, you’ll eventually master all the nuances of Filipino pronunciation: which emphasis to use and when to use them, how to correctly syllabicate certain words, and so on.

If you want to try your hand at more hard Filipino words to pronounce, see our relevant vocabulary list!

2 – Some words don’t have direct translations in English.

Another challenging factor of learning Filipino is that some words simply don’t have direct translations, at least in English. 

Take the word tampo, for instance. Filipinos use this word to express that feeling you get when someone has disappointed you. But it goes beyond simply feeling bad toward the other person. It’s like holding a grudge, but to a lesser degree. It’s the act of ignoring the person you’re mad at, but at the same time expecting the other person to comfort you. It’s like…okay, I give up. Like I said, there’s no direct translation for this word. 

And I haven’t even mentioned words like kilig (somewhat similar to having butterflies in your stomach when you see your crush), or alimpungatan (that feeling you get when you’re suddenly awakened just moments before entering a deep state of sleep). 

But wait, there’s more!

3 – Verb conjugation can be baffling at times.

Just like in English, Filipino verbs are conjugated by attaching a variety of affixes to action words. Unlike in English, however, these affixes reflect not only tense, but also aspect, voice, focus or trigger, and a variety of other factors. For instance, in English grammar, verbs are categorized as either regular or irregular. In Filipino, verbs are categorized according to the verb group they belong to: mag-, ma-, um-, in-, and i-, not including irregular verbs. 

And then there’s the trigger system, which is a central feature of Filipino verbs. This system also makes use of the affixes I mentioned, plus a few more. The three main affixes, however, are -in, i-, and -an:

  • -in

This is used when an action is done toward the actor. For example: bitbitin (“to carry something”). It’s also used to describe actions that produce change: biyakin (“to crack open”).

  • i-

This is used when an action is done to move something away from the actor. For example: itapon (“to throw something”). 

  • -an

This is used when the action done produces a change in something’s surface: punasan (“to wipe”) or hugasan (“to wash” or “to rinse”). 

Where’s the confusion, you ask? Well, let’s take a look at this example:

  • Bitbitin mo ang sako. (“Carry the sack.”)
  • Magbitbit ka ng sako. (“Carry a sack.”)

In the English translation, only one article needed to be changed to alter the sentence’s meaning. In Filipino, however, only the word sako (“sack”) remained unchanged.

B- The Easy Parts of Learning Filipino

Now that we’ve got the difficult aspects of learning Filipino out of the way, let’s move on and look at the top reasons why learning Filipino is easy.

1 – Gender-specific pronouns do not exist in Filipino.

This can be a confusing aspect of Tagalog to some degree, but it’s also one of the easiest parts of studying the language. In Tagalog, there’s only one word used to refer to a person: siya. There’s no “he” and “she” or “him” and “her.” There’s also no “they” or “them,” but sila is used instead. 

In the same manner, there are no separate Tagalog words for “husband” and “wife.” In Tagalog, both are translated as asawa or kabiyak, meaning “spouse.”

Glass Door Signs for Female and Male Entry

In Tagalog, there is only one word used to refer to another person: “siya.”

2 – Spelling is not an issue.

Perhaps one of the easiest aspects of the Filipino language is the spelling. Unlike in many languages across the globe, in Filipino, words are spelled the way they sound. You don’t need to worry about “k” sounds that are spelled as “ch,” or “tō” sounds that are actually spelled as “teau” (as in “plateau”). There are also no “th” sounds in Tagalog as in “mouth” or “thirst.” Even lengthy words are spelled with little to no complications.

3 – Phonetics are a no-brainer.

Tagalog phonology and phonetics do have more complex aspects, such as fricatives and affricates, but since words sound just as they’re spelled, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. All you need to do is memorize how patinig (“vowels”) and katinig (“consonants”) sound, and you’re good to go. You’ll have to deal with stresses and glottal stops later on, but for the most part, Tagalog phonetics isn’t much of a hindrance when you’re studying Filipino.

4 – It’s more fun learning Filipino.

The slogan “It’s more fun in the Philippines” has been around for years now, and the country’s Department of Tourism says it’s not going to go anywhere anytime soon. And if there’s one way to describe the Filipino language learning experience, it’s through this slogan. One reason why learning Filipino is fun is that when you’re studying the language, you’re not only learning about words and sentences—you’re also learning about the culture of the country and its people.

2. I Want to Learn Filipino. Where Should I Start?

Are you ready to embark on the journey of a lifetime, but don’t know where to start? Here’s what we recommend:

1 – Start with everyday phrases.

The best way to start learning a new language is to familiarize yourself with everyday phrases or words that you would use on a daily basis. Here are a few common Filipino expressions you can begin learning today:

  • Magandang umaga. (“Good morning.”)
  • Kumusta ka? (“How are you?”)
  • Anong oras na? (“What time is it?”)

2 – Build your vocabulary.

You can’t survive learning a new language if you don’t make the effort to build your vocabulary. Spending at least fifteen minutes a day learning a new word is enough to bring about an immediate improvement in your Filipino vocabulary skills. You can start by investing in a Tagalog dictionary. Of course, you can always download an app or study our list of 2000 Core Filipino Words. It would also be an excellent idea to keep a journal of new Tagalog words you’re learning. Writing words down on paper will help reinforce them in your memory, and you’ll have something to pull out of your reservoir during conversations.

3 – Read Filipino literature.

Memorizing words from a list is a good strategy, but reading regularly from a variety of sources is a much better way to improve your vocabulary. Don’t worry about people calling you a bookworm or a nerd. Studies have confirmed over and over that reading regularly fosters language development and helps one become much more expressive. You can check out our entry on The Power of Reading that offers a fun explanation of this process.

4 – Listen to Filipino songs.

Aside from simply reading good Filipino books, listening to OPM (Original Pilipino Music) songs is another great way to help you learn Filipino. Music can be a powerful tool for learning, not only because singing is fun and relaxing, but also because song lyrics have a way of getting stuck inside a person’s head. That said, most songs, particularly OPM, are written in a poetic manner. This means that the lyrics you hear and repeat may not map directly onto day-to-day conversations. But that’s okay. In fact, songs are a great way to learn Tagalog words in their formal structure.

    Did you know that one of the best times to learn Filipino through music is while you’re stuck in traffic?
A Taxi Driver Listening to a Filipino Lesson

Who says you can’t drive and study Filipino at the same time?

5 – Watch Filipino films.

Just like listening to OPM, watching Filipino films is a fun approach to improving your Tagalog. We have an entry on the top Filipino TV shows to watch to improve your language skills, where we mentioned that while watching Tagalog films and shows won’t make you a master of Tagalog overnight, it sure can bring your skills up a notch. Speaking of Filipino films, check out our entry on the Top 10 Filipino Movies: Jose Rizal. This film will not only help you improve your vocabulary, but also teach you more about the life of the national hero of the Philippines.

6 – Make lots of Tagalog friends.

Remember when I said that it’s more fun learning Filipino? Well, one of the main reasons is that Filipinos are more than willing to help you learn their language. We Filipinos are known to be very welcoming and friendly to strangers. What a lot of people don’t know, however, is that our hospitality doesn’t end with our making sure your stay is comfortable. 

We’re also very generous—not only with our material possessions, but also with our wisdom and knowledge. If you want to make learning Filipino much easier, just make more Tagalog-speaking friends. You’ll learn simply by having daily conversations with them. And if you’re lucky, the sincere ones will even give you language lessons for free!


3. Tips for New Filipino Learners

1 – Be committed.

Learning a language starts with the desire to learn and master something new, but if you’re going to succeed, you’ll need to commit to the task. Filipino is not a very difficult language to learn, but there will always be a learning curve when you’re first starting out. Before you even begin, make sure that you first cultivate a commitment to learning. In one of his interviews, the founder of Innovative Language, Peter Galante, said that big commitments can turbocharge one’s learning. In fact, it was his decision to commit that helped him ramp up his own progress.

2 – Be patient.

I can confidently say that you’re going to go through a lot of discouraging moments while learning Filipino. Be patient with yourself and trust the process. There will be times when you feel you’re making a lot of progress, but there will also be times when you feel you’re not advancing at all. It’s during these times that your patience matters the most. If you’re losing your patience because learning Filipino is starting to feel very difficult, just remind yourself of what Theodore Roosevelt said: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, and difficulty.”

3 – Be persevering.

All your hard work will come to nothing if you give up the moment the going gets tough. Commit to persevere. If you do, there’s no question that you’ll reach your goal. One thing you can do to make sure you don’t quit in the middle of your learning adventure is to remind yourself of why you’re learning in the first place. 

Why are you studying Tagalog? Why spend time and money learning a new language? The only reason we often give up on what we’re doing is that we’ve forgotten the “why” behind our “what.” At the same time, however, see to it that you’re not too hard on yourself. Don’t beat yourself up every time you make a mistake. Keep in mind that making mistakes is a part of the process. If you feel you need to take a break, don’t hesitate to do so. Sometimes, it’s all that your mind and body need to recharge.

4 – Think big.

Finally, believe in yourself. If you don’t believe that you’re going to succeed, you’re right. When you’re just starting your journey of learning Filipino, never underestimate yourself. Keep in mind that you have the potential to actually acquire a new language the same way you acquired your first. Believe in your potential, and nothing will stop you from becoming an expert in Filipino.

A Man Standing on Top of a Snowy Mountain

“Endurance is nobler than strength, and patience than beauty.” – John Ruskin

4. Why is FilipinoPod101 Great for Learning Filipino?

In addition to the four previous tips for new learners of Filipino, one of the best ways to accelerate your progress is to sign up for a FilipinoPod101 account. Here are three reasons why this language-learning system will help you speak like a native Filipino in no time.

1 – Unique Learning System

There are quite a few language-learning systems online, so why choose FilipinoPod101? Well, unlike most language-learning systems, FilipinoPod101 uses a unique method that combines techniques you won’t find in a traditional classroom. For instance, all the materials offered by FilipinoPod101—from blog articles to PDF lessons to live video tutorials—are created using a variety of writing and speaking styles. In that manner, you’ll be exposed to different elements, which is vital for developing reading comprehension, pronunciation, and even a proper accent. 

Moreover, with FilipinoPod101, you’ll be exposed to learning materials dedicated to cultural information, so that you’re not only learning about Tagalog grammar but the Filipino culture, as well.

2 – High-Quality Resources

When I say high-quality, I’m talking about lessons—written, audio-recorded, and filmed—that have been prepared by the best writers and teachers. All content offered here is fresh and up-to-date, each one designed to keep current events and pop culture in mind, so that whenever you decide to start, you can rest assured that you are given relevant lesson materials tailored to meet your needs. Most importantly, all content released by FilipinoPod101 is screened and approved by a certified Filipino teacher, so that you can be sure every time that the information you’re receiving is accurate and reliable.

3 – One-on-One Coaching

Speaking of teachers, perhaps one of the most distinct attributes of FilipinoPod101 is our MyTeacher feature. This feature allows you to sharpen your Filipino skills at a rate like no other. Imagine being able to receive non-stop feedback and corrections, as well as one-on-one interaction with a personal teacher. With this approach, you’re sure to receive the guidance necessary to grow and improve your Filipino language skills.

A Woman Teaching a Girl How to Write Something in Filipino

Sabi ko sa’yo eh. Hindi mahirap mag-aral ng Filipino
(“What did I tell you? It’s not that difficult to learn Filipino.”)

5. Hindi Mahirap Mag-Aral ng Filipino. (“It’s not that difficult to learn Filipino.”)

No, it’s not that difficult to learn Filipino, especially if you have FilipinoPod101 as your partner. As mentioned, FilipinoPod101 is a unique language-learning system that offers everything you need to learn Filipino all in one place. What’s unique about FilipinoPod101 is that your learning goes beyond reading, watching, or listening to lesson materials. If you need a quick answer to a question, you can always depend on our community of helpful students and teachers.

So, are you ready to learn Filipino? Do you have questions that weren’t answered in this article? Don’t hesitate to drop them in the comments section below! And if you believe you’re all set to embark on the journey of learning this one-of-a-kind language, sign up now!

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