How to Learn Tagalog—A Beginner’s Guide

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Want to learn Tagalog? If yes, then you’re about to make a great choice! Even though Tagalog is predominantly spoken in the Philippines, it is the fourth most-spoken language in the United States (behind English, Spanish, and Chinese). It’s both an attractive and entertaining language for those who speak it and those who hear it. This combination makes it a ton of fun to learn. By the end of this article you’ll have a solid grasp for speaking Tagalog and a foundation for how to go about learning it.

Tagalog vs. Filipino

First, it’s important to know that with 170+ languages spoken across more than 7,100 islands of the Philippines, the topic of languages can be a bit confusing. One point of confusion that people ask, “Is the name of the language Tagalog or Filipino?” Technically speaking, Filipino is the official Philippine language based on the dialect, Tagalog – which means it’s fine to use both interchangeably.

Filipino (Tagalog) is mostly spoken in the Manila region where the capitol resides and is the first language for about 1/3 of all Filipinos. The other 2/3 speak Tagalog as a second language. That’s why of all the 170+ languages in the Philippines, Tagalog is the language to learn — let’s get started!

Getting Started with Tagalog – It’s All About F.U.N!

Before you get started learning a language it’s important to identify why you are learning it and what you want to accomplish. Maybe you want to better communicate with a Filipino friend or visit the country. Whatever your reason, the first step is often speaking words and phrases. From there you’ll start to understand when others speak, and by-and-by you’ll master the language.

3 Core Pillars of Language Learning

My method on how to learn Tagalog has 3 core pillars, and it’s all about having F.U.N.! This is my go-to acronym to help me remember the foundational method…

F – Focus on Pronunciation. Feel comfortable with the sounds of Tagalog first, rather than focusing on the structure of the language.
U – Understand through Practice. Speaking Tagalog should not involve too much thinking, but must come second nature to those who speak it. Regular practice and review will help build a solid foundation.
N – Nurture the Connections. Natural, real-life dialogues are irreplaceable. Becoming fluent is not all about applying rules but rather through exposure and repetition of mental, natural and authentic connections and dialogues.

This site is all about nurturing those connections and dialogues through technology. That’s why I often put audio files and videos in my articles. Let’s go over pronunciation next.

Focus on Pronunciation – Give it a Go!

Because the sound of each and every syllable in Tagalog is bold and captivating, it’s hard to not want to learn. And really, who doesn’t want to sound both bold and captivating when speaking!? Let’s give it a try.

Try saying this phrase aloud. Say it without listening to the audio pronunciation yet (found further below):

“Kakabakaba ka ba?”

How did it go? It sounds so much like gibberish that most people have to hold back the giggles while trying to say it.

If you gave it a try, then congratulations! Being willing to try is all you need to learn this language. You’re now ready to have some fun. Let’s keep going…

NOTE: Now, if you skipped reading the words or only read them in your head, go back and give it a try out loud. You’ll love it or at least laugh trying it! For those that said it out loud, let’s now learn it right. Listen to each audio below and say it out loud until you are comfortable with it. We’ll start slow and work our way up to fluent speed. The audio recordings below will help you get there.

Slowly Say the Syllables

Follow along and say these syllables as you listen. Keep listening and repeating until you are comfortable, then move on to medium speed below. Once you’re happy with medium speed, give fluent speed a try.

“Ka-Ka.”
“Ba-Ka.”
“Ba-Ka-Ba.”
Click the play button below to listen:

^ Slowly spoken syllables: “Ka-ka baka ba-ka-ba?”
Medium Speed, “Kakabakaba ka ba?”
^ Medium speed: “Kakabakaba ka ba?”
Fluent Speed, “Kakabakaba ka ba?”
^ Fluent speed: “Kakabakaba ka ba?”

Wow, now you’re talking! You’re speaking Filipino (Tagalog)! I’m so proud of you. Keep practicing until the normal-fluent speed flows easily.

What You Said

Now for the translation! In Tagalog, You asked, “Are you nervous?” (“Kakabakaba ka ba?”) Hopefully not anymore. By now you’ve shaken off all those nerves and are ready for more.

And I hope you had fun with this, because that is my first rule for learning Filipino: Have Fun with It!

Why Learning Tagalog Really Is Fun

Besides the learning method of F.U.N., Tagalog really is fun! You probably felt it as you managed to say some of those repetitive, rhyming syllables in Filipino. And it was actually kinda fun, wasn’t it?

But for some I realize that it’s not fun all the time. Learning a new language often feels nerve-wracking, overwhelming, and awkward. New sounds, new words and anything new can be quite intimidating (if we allow it to). The good news is that when learning Filipino, there’s NOTHING to be nervous about. That’s why all you need to do is allow the flow of fun to surge through your body as you learn. And together, we will take simple, exciting steps to help you achieve your goal of learning Tagalog.

Lesson 01: Saying “Tagalog” Correctly

Since you’re learning Filipino, the lesson of the day is to pronounce “Tagalog” correctly. Pronouncing “Tagalog” correctly not only makes you sound fluent, but you’ll really impress the native speakers. The sounds are broken up like this:

TAH – GAH – LOG: You put the stress on the “tah,” belt out a “gah,” then end with a “log.”
Take it easy. Now, say it slowly.

TAH (Pronounced ‘taw,’ not ‘tag’.)
GAH
LOG
TAH-GAH-LOG. TAGALOG. Now listen to the audio:

^ Tagalog

Keep practicing until it flows naturally. That wasn’t so bad, was it?

Two More Fun Phrases to Practice

Another benefit of learning Tagalog, is that after a while you’re going to get really good at any tongue twister that’s thrown your way. Let’s practice a little bit more:

“Maganda ka.” = “You’re beautiful.”

^ Maganda ka. (You’re beautiful.)

“Nakakatawa ka.” = You’re funny.

^ Nakakatawa ka. (You’re funny.)

How have you felt while learning a little Tagalog? For me, it’s so hard not to smile while speaking it. And it’s proven that smiling elevates your mood (and health). Now I call that a winning combination (Attractive + Entertaining + Happy = Tagalog for the win)!

Before You Go

Before you head off on your language learning journey, remember that focusing on the pronunciation is just the first pillar. To become a master you will also have to learn how to ‘Understand Through Practice’ and ‘Nurture Connections,’ which we will cover in separate posts. For now, I hope you’ve realized that learning Filipino (Tagalog) is easier than you think (as far as learning languages goes). Let’s try one more short phrase before you go:

“Halika na!” = Let’s go!

^ Halika Na! (Let’s go!)

Let the F.U.N. begin. Halika na!

Rizza Huetter

Now living in the United States, I know what it takes to master a new language and have a lot of fun doing it. I currently teach English online, but Tagalog Fun has become a passion project of mine and I hope it helps many people fall in love with Tagalog and the Filipino culture.


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