Learn Tagalog: A Beginner’s Guide

learn tagalogTagalog is the primary language spoken in the nation of the Philippines, a chain of islands located in the Pacific Ocean in Southeast Asia. Tagalog is spoken as a first language by about twenty-two million people throughout the world, concentrated in the Philippines, and by roughly sixty-five million more people as a secondary language. Tagalog is referred to as an Austronesian language, a class of languages that are spoken in the geographic areas of Southeast Asia and Oceania, as well as Madagascar and Taiwan.

Austronesian languages are spoken by nearly three hundred and ninety million people worldwide, mostly distributed among the island regions of the South Pacific. Tagalog is a fascinating language, very different from both Romance languages and Slavic languages, which are more commonly studied by English speakers. If you are planning to travel to the Philippines, studying Austronesian language conventions, or just interested in learning Tagalog, this introductory guide will help you with your study of this language.

The Philippines

Tagalog is the official language of the Philippines, and native speakers of the language are almost entirely inhabitants of this island chain. Around 95% of those living in the Philippines can speak and understand Tagalog, even though native speakers are outnumbered by those who consider Tagalog a second language. English is also an official language of this nation, and there are nineteen unique tongues recognized as regional languages. The Philippines consist of more than seven thousand individual islands in the western Pacific Ocean, which are classified into three geographical groups called Luzon, Mindanao, and Visayas. Known formally as the Republic of the Philippines, this nation is governed as a presidential constitutional republic.

The population is just short of one hundred million people, and the collective area of the nation is one hundred and twenty thousand square miles. Despite its relatively small land area, the Philippines is the seventh most populous country in Asia, and the twelfth most populous country in the world. Ethnicities and dialects are very diverse in the Philippines, since segments of the population on each island are somewhat isolated from the others. Impressively, the Philippines have a simple literacy rate of ninety-three percent. The culture of the Philippines is thought of as an a combination of eastern and western traditions, as Asian, Spanish, and American influences can be found in the country.


Tagalog is the first language of only about one quarter of those living in the Philippines. The standard form is known as Filipino Tagalog, but there as many as ten distinct dialects of the language spoken throughout the Philippines. These dialects, as well as accents, differ pretty widely based on geography. The origin of Tagalog is a bit of a mystery for linguists, but they do know that the word roughly translates to “river dweller.” The first written example of Tagalog dates back to 900 AD, and the first completed book written in Tagalog, a translation of the Doctrina Christiana, appeared in 1593. Tagalog has been the official language of the Philippines since 1897, though English is an official language today as well. It shares some characteristics with other Austronesian languages, including Indonesian, Javanese, and Tao (spoken in Taiwan).

Tagalog consists of ten vowels, half of which are long and half of which are short. They are associated with sounds similar to English’s vowels. The language also consists of four diphthongs, or pairs of vowels that signify a specific sound. They are ‘aj’, ‘uj,’ ‘aw,’ and ‘iw.’ You will see these pairs often in Tagalog words.

The Tagalog language is written today using the Latin alphabet, a practice that was introduced to the country during Spanish colonial rule. Before that time period, however, Tagalog was written using an alphasyllabary system called Baybayin. In Baybayin, symbols are used to represent particular syllables, as opposed to the Latin alphabet system, in which letters represent individual sounds. In 1987, the Philippine government officially adopted a Latin alphabet consisting of twenty-eight letters, The letters match the English alphabet, plus two more: ng and ñ. This new alphabet was put into use primarily to allow people to more easily spell names and words that were a product of Spanish and American influences.

Useful Words and Phrases

When beginning to learn a language, the best way to dive right in is to familiarize yourself with the basic kinds of words and phrases that native speakers use in every day situations. It’s also useful to learn words and phrases that you may need when you are travelling in a foreign country, allowing you to communicate in the event that you are lost or need help. The following is a list of these types of phrases in Tagalog:

Good morning – Magandang umaga

Good evening – Magandang gabi

How are you? – Kumusta?

I am fine – Mabuti naman

And you? – At ikaw?

Pleased to meet you – Kinagagalak kong makilala ka

Goodbye – Paálam

Cheers – Mabuhay

Have a nice day – Magandang araw sa’yo

Excuse me – Ipagpaumanhin ninyo ako

Thank you – Salamat po / Maraming salamat po (formal)

You’re welcome – Walang anuman

Hey – Kaibigan

What’s new? – Anong bago?

Nothing much – Wala naman

See you later – Sa muling pagkikita

My name is – Ako ay si

What is your name? – Ano ang pangalan mo?

Where are you from? – Taga-saan ka ba?

I am American – Ako ay Amerikano

Where do you live? – Saan ka nakatira?

I live in – Nakatira ako sa

I am from – Tago (location) ako

What do you do for a living? – Ano ang ikinabubuhay mo?

I work as a – Nagtatrabaho ako bilang

I am (number) years old – Ako’y (number) taon gulang na.

How old are you? – Ilang taon ka na?

I’m sorry (not hearing) – Pakiulit nga po

I’m sorry (apologizing) – Pasensya na

I don’t know – Hindi ko alam

I don’t understand – Hindi ko alam

What is this? – Ano ito?

How do you say (word) in Tagalog? – Paano mo sabihin ang (word) sa tagalog?

Today / Now – Ngayon

Tomorrow – Bukas

Yesterday – Kahapon

Yes – Oo

No – Hindi

I am hungry – Ako’y nagugutom

I am thirsty – Ako’y nauuhaw

In the morning – Sa umaga

In the evening – Sa hapon

At night – Sa gabi

This – Ito

That – Iyan

Here – Dito

There – Dyan

Me – Ako

You – Ikaw

Him or Her – Siya

What – Ano

Where – Saan

When- Kailan

Who – Sino

Why – Bakit

What time is it? – Anong oras na?

One – Isa

Two – Dalawa

Three – Tatlo

Four – Apat

Five – Lima

Six – Anim

Seven – Pito

Eight – Walo

Nine – Siyam

Ten – Sampu

I need a doctor – Kailangan ko ng doctor

I will be right back – Babalik ako

I have to go – Kailangan ko ng umalis

Help – Saklolo

Fire – Sunog

Stop – Para

Hurry – Dalí

Call the police – Tumawag ka ng pulis

Where is the bathroom (comfort room)? – Nasaan ang banyo?

I don’t speak Tagalog – Hindi ako marunong mag-Tagalog

Can you speak in English? – Marunong ka ba mag-Ingles?

Can you help me? – Pwede ba ninyo akong tulungan?

How much? – Magkano?

Because – Kasí

Again – Mulí

Learning More

Now that you’ve developed a basic understanding of Tagalog, you can further your study of this language, and other Austronesian languages. The ability to communicate in this language will be very helpful to you if you’re planning to travel to the South Pacific region of the world, and especially helpful if you are traveling to the Philippines. Hopefully you will take your new Tagalog phrases and skills and put them to good use, using them as a foundation on your way to becoming an expert in this interesting language.