Did you know that the Philippines actually has two official languages: Filipino and English?

I didn’t really realize this until I went there in 2009 (my first…and only time there).
I was so surprised that I took pictures while in Manila:

Filipinos start learning English from pre-school until college. It’s a required subject for all schools. It’s used in government and business. Filipinos have to learn English, one way or another, to get by.

My second day in the Philippines I was in the hotel lobby and I heard an argument. I looked over to the front desk to see the hotel clerk and a guest, both Filipino, arguing in English!

So why did the Philippines include English as an official language? Why not just use Filipino? The weird thing about Filipino is it’s not a language that developed organically; the Philippine government created it.

The base language of Filipino is Tagalog, with words from other dialects mixed in. Even though Tagalog is the most used language in the Philippines, only 31% of Filipinos speak it. There are 120+ languages spoken in the Philippines. Non-native Tagalog speakers have to learn Tagalog to learn Filipino.

Some non-native Tagalog speakers have a hard time learning Filipino because their language is entirely different from Tagalog. It’s hard to practice Tagalog if your family or community doesn’t use it.

It’s often easier to learn English because even though they don’t use it at home, they use it in school or work. They’re also constantly exposed to English through TV, movies, and books.

Here’s what my OFS, Julia, told me about how this weird language barrier affects their life.

I’m not a native Tagalog speaker, so I’m not that fluent in Filipino. I’m a Cebuano speaker.

My husband, Jam, is a native Tagalog speaker and is fluent in Filipino. Jam’s parents are native Ilokano speakers who are also fluent in Filipino because they live amongst native Tagalog speakers.

If you forced us to only speak in our native language, we wouldn’t understand each other. I don’t understand Ilokano. My in-laws don’t understand Cebuano. So when we get together, we use Filipino AND English to understand each other, but I lean more towards English because my Tagalog isn’t that good.

People often ask me if they can find someone who speaks good English in the Philippines.


It’s completely reasonable to find someone with perfect English.

When recruiting, see if you can find someone who uses English slang.  If they do, you know English is deeply entrenched in their life.