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How does the Filipino language sound to foreigners?

Filipino is the national language of the Philippines. Filipino is also designated, along with English, as an official language of the country.

It is a standardized variety of the Tagalog language, an Austronesian regional language that is widely spoken in the Philippines. Tagalog is the first language of about one-fourth of the Philippine population while mostly speak Tagalog as their second language.  Tagalog is among the 185 languages of the Philippines identified in the Ethnologue.

Officially, Filipino is defined by the Commission on the Filipino Language as “the native dialect, spoken and written, in Metro Manila, the National Capital Region, and in other urban centers of the archipelago.

Foreigner's Opinion of the Filipino Language

FROM: R. Jackson – Causacian 

Concerning the way Filipino languages sound to us foreigners, I can comment to an extent but I’m no linguist or expert. One must remember that there is something like 67 dialects and maybe 47 qualify as distinct, but related languages.

I commonly hear two, Tagalog and Cebuano, because I’m around people who speak them. They are quite pleasant, but that may be partly because the love of my life speaks both and there are a lot of memories surrounding scenarios where I listened to her talking to others as I was doing whatever I might be doing nearby.

Spanish and English words are mixed into both languages because of the Spanish and American colonial experiences in the Philippines. I believe that Spanish is more beautiful and musical than the Filipino dialects, but they are pretty as well. They seem to flow better than some other languages from the Southeast Asian region.

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FROM: Eun-KyungKorea

I have some Filipino classmates. They talk to each other in Filipino I guess, but I could almost still understand what they’re talking about as most of the words they use are in English. Is that normal?
Yes, it’s normal. This is called code-switching in linguistics. It’s very common among people who speak more than 1 language fluently.

Almost all Filipinos speak at least 2 or 3 languages, and one of them is English (which is one of the 2 official languages of the country), so it’s very common for Filipinos to mix native languages with English. It depends on what language is easiest to express something. Some sentences or phrases may be easier or better understood if it’s spoken in Tagalog, some may be better in English, etc.

FROM: Mac Mccarthy – English

I’m a foreigner who’s lived in the Philippines for many years. Filipino (the national language, as opposed to the various vernaculars) like Tagalog, has an awful lot of A’s…most all of them pronounced as “ah.” There are plenty of double-A’s & even triple-A’s. This makes attack articulations crucial…a voice heard unclearly or at a distance can sound like “ah, ah, ah ah ah, ah…” pa, sa, na, ba, besides being syllables, are words in themselves.

The difference between ba & pa, for instance, requires good hearing…or advanced expectation or understanding likelihood from context. Sound engineers like myself use more treble on voiceovers, for instance, so that the subtle articulations are clearer on radio or TV.

Grammar also has interesting effects. The Filipino language depends on simple root words conjugated by prefixes, suffixes & (most unfamiliar to English speakers) infixes. A Filipino root can be cut open in the middle to insert an infix that changes the grammatical use of the word—and that’s in addition to whole strings of prefixes & suffixes—think, “antidisestablishmentarianism,” as an English example—the root word is “establish.”

This means that even words you know—or have the feeling that you do or should know—can be hard to recognize in the grammatical wild. (Even learning to use a good translating dictionary requires you to be able to discern what the root is…the meaning of the usage of the word you’re looking for will be listed under the root.)

Then there’s the complication that Filipino accepts almost any foreign word, from almost any language as a root to be conjugated—”bumasketball” is a verb conjugation of basketball—the um being an infix. I once met an Israeli girl here who asked me why, when she asked her Filipino friends what the word for such-and-such was, they’d usually “just say the word back to me in a funny way.” Well, if it’s something modern—something that’s entered the culture since Spanish colonization—that’s probably the real Filipino word.

ALSO READ: Toxic Filipino habits that you need to change

Island-style feast in the Philippines
Island-style feast in Daku Island, Siargao Philippines

Foreigner's Opinion of the Filipino Language

FROM: Kyla Lee – Chinese

As a Chinese, the Filipino language sounds like a mixture of different languages — Spanish, English, and maybe Malaysian language. A typical Filipino sentence consists of different words from different languages.

Since the Philippines has been colonized by multiple countries, Filipinos have adopted many words from Spanish and Americans. The numbering system of the Spanish (uno, dos, tres, so on) and many American words are still used by Filipinos today.

I’ll give you an example, “Dos na lang natira sa wallet ko.” which translates to “I only have ₱2 left on my wallet.”

With the use of “dos”, a Spanish word meaning “two”; the English word “ wallet”, a sentence is constructed. See the existence of multiple languages used in a single sentence? This is what I find amazing with the Filipino language. It is really flexible and could easily adapt to multiple languages.

FROM: Wayne Spillitte – British

I’m a Brit living in Manila with my wife, who speaks two of the Philippines’ languages, Bikol and Tagalog. On a technical level, there is a big Spanish influence, so many words seem familiar to speakers of Latinate languages, and also to English speakers even though our linguistic links to Latin are mainly through French.

In terms of how the Filipino language sounds when its spoken, it is very animated. My wife often laughs because she can finish a conversation with family or friends and I’ll ask her if anything is wrong, Filipino speakers often sound angry when they are not – but to a European ear, this is true of many Asian languages.

Luneta Park
Luneta Park one of the largest urban parks in Asia. A map of the Philippines inside the park.

Foreigner's Opinion of the Filipino Language

FROM: Leave Velasco – Filipina in Germany

I made a German friend listen to some Filipino music just recently, and what he said was actually very interesting as it’s the first time I’ve ever heard a non-Filipino tell me how the Filipino language sounds like to them.

He said, “The Filipino language is like a mix of Bahasa and Español.” I can quite understand this interpretation, and it’s so perfectly well put.

It’s basically breaking down the ingredients that made the Filipino language what it is now; southeast Asian (More probably Malayan) + Spanish influences.

FROM: Jarrold B – American

As a full-fledged American-born citizen, I’ve been taught primarily in English. My parents and grandparents never bothered to teach Filipino or Ilocano to me and instead talked to me in English.

Filipino language sounds a bit like you’d expect other foreign languages in the geographic region to, down to the emphasis on the hard “k” sound, the “a” in “father” sound, and the “long e for the letter i” sound. Filipino, when spoken really quickly, can actually sound as coherent as it is spoken slowly, in my opinion. It’s the same when Filipino is spoken loudly.

FROM: Haya Blue – American

A few summers back, I had attended a summer school in a foreign country and had instantly clicked with a Filipino girl. Since we were roommates, I’d hear her talking or skyping with her family. It was a beautiful language but I found it really… I don’t know… how to say it – but I think the Filipino language is a bit harsh? Half of the time I thought she was screaming into the phone. But I guess it depends from person to person.

FROM: Billy Long – Indonesian

I am English speaking with a university education The Filipino language sounds very harsh to my ears and it sounds like fighting This has no reflection on the people though They are warm and friendly people I married one 2 years ago

Filipino language -russian
A Russian vlogger thinks that Filipino language is sexy
FROM: Valentine Santos – Filipino American bred

Depends on what kind of Filipino language you mean, we have lots of languages here. Cebuano and Waray both sound angry/aggressive, Ilonggo sounds sweet and melodic, and Tagalog is kind of soft and feminine(depends how they use it). Kapampangan/Pampango sounds like a mix of Tagalog and Bahasa Indonesia, Ilocano sounds funny to me, Panggalatok/Pangasinense sounds like Ilocano but a lot lesser when it comes to the ‘Ilocano sound’ since some words are borrowed/originated from the national language, which is Tagalog. We have more languages as well like Maranao, it sounds fast, uneasy, quite mad, and a bit gibberish. Maguindanaon is the slower and more casual version of Maranao, Tausug sounds casual as well, quite the same as Cebuano.

FROM: Daniel Pegg –  Filipino Chinese

A small bit of context: I am half Filipino (Mother’s side), but my Dad has no siblings, and only one Aunt. As you might know, Filipinos generally have really big families.. so I am more exposed to my Filipino side rather than the other. I still don’t speak the language though.

To me, the Filipino language sometimes comes off a bit funny, A lot of the time it sounds like two speakers are angry at each other, even when they’re joking.

I also feel like it’s usually spoken very fast, words like “magaringganap” or “maalaala” or “nililibanan” are hard and feel like tongue twisters (even when I try to pronounce them slowly TT) but my aunts and uncles speed through them, no stutter, no pause.

News reporters (women, mostly) have a very specific way of delivering sentences when they speak. I also just generally hear it anytime someone is doing public speaking from a script. It might be hard for me to explain it through words, but if you can imagine the intonation being: A sentence starts off at a low intonation, moves higher, has a pause in the middle of the sentence, and then starts going back down again. Like a mountain with a ravine at the peak

Travel blog intro - 2hottravellers
Most tourists think that the Philippines is just about beaches but actually, it’s much more.

- The Filipino Language -

FROM: Jeff Tam  – American in the Philippines

I’m an American living in Binalbagan, Negros Occidental. The language sounds like a combination of South Pacific Islander and Spanish.

FROM: Gil Lambert  – Scottish

A bit sing-song, depending on the person. The really sing-song exponents just put it on and sound so fake. See them on morning tv shows. I live in Mindanao, CDO area, where the Visayas is spoken which sounds a bit harsh, I don’t speak it except for a few common greetings and salutations

FROM: Mark Riley – Australian

Many nouns use the same or similar Spanish word. The language used around Zamboanga sounds a bit like Spanish. Tagalog, one of the two dialects/languages I am most used to hearing is heavy to my ear on the hard ‘g’ sound, particularly at the end of syllables and the K sound is used frequently. Illongo, the other I m used to hearing, is softer and more pleasant though to be fair I am under some family pressure to think that.

FROM: Ethan Coronel –  Spanish American

Most Filipinos find it easy to speak in mixed English and Filipino languages, but find it difficult to speak fluently in purely Filipino and purely English manner. Why is that so?
It usually has something to do with the lack of fluency in one or both languages.

Filipinos who speak Tagalog as their native language aren’t technically fluent in it. They actually speak Taglish with more Tagalog words than English, obviously because they’re not proficient in the latter.

FROM: Sherwin J  – Filipino in the USA

Why do many Filipino languages have somewhat American-sounding accents? One reason is the prevalence of American movies, TV dramas, sitcoms, magazine shows, and cartoons on TV. For example, the Voice of America and the American Top Forty radio programs broadcast for several decades on the airwaves. It’s only in certain films (James Bond or Harry Potter) that the British accents and manner of speech were presented to the Filipino people and this still confuses many Filipino viewers.

Even today, and especially after their liberation during World War II, Filipinos tend to hero-worship most Americans. They adopted their fashion (Converse, Levi’s, checkered shirts, hippie culture), sports (boxing, basketball, bowling, baseball), and vehicles (jeeps, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Ford, and Cadillac). Even the appliances (Frigidaire, Hoover, Kodak, IBM, Remington), music (rock-and-roll, folk and country music, Gospel, Motown sound). The outlook throughout the 1920s to the 1960s was mostly pro-American with a slight influx of British, Aussie, and European influences from the 1970s to the present.  American-style English is still much easier for Filipinos to understand and copy than British- or Australian-style accents, pronunciation, tone of voice, and choice of words.

Finally, the initial wave of call centers established in the Philippines catered to North American companies and their American or Canadian customers. Voice coaches tried to “neutralize” the choppy-sounding Spanish-influenced Filipino accent. How?  Well.. by Americanizing it into the smoother and slower drawls and blended syllables of the American cowboy or teenager. It’s only recently that call centers for British and Australian clients have been set up.

The Filipino accent is not just one accent because Filipino speakers could have different mother tongues depending on where and how they grew up. However, the Spanish pronunciation and articulation of syllables had long been adopted by Tagalog. And other local languages so the Filipino’s “not-yet-neutralized” English accent sounds somewhat similar to a general Spanish speaker’s accent (but still different from a Mexican’s).

- The Filipino Language -

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