The Languages of the Philippines

The Philippines is a linguistically rich country, with a diverse range of languages spoken across its many beautiful islands. While many people may be familiar with the two official languages of the Philippines – Filipino and English – there are actually many other distinct native languages and over one hundred regional dialects spoken throughout the country. In this article, we’ll explore the languages of the Philippines to provide an overview of the country’s linguistic diversity.


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The Official languages of the Philippines

The Philippines has two official languages: Filipino and English. Filipino is the national language of the Philippines and is based on Tagalog, the language spoken in the capital city of Manila and surrounding areas. English, on the other hand, is the language of government, education, and business in the Philippines.

Let’s find out more about the status of each of these languages in the Philippines.


Filipino is a standardized version of Tagalog, which is the most widely spoken language in the Philippines. It is based on the Tagalog spoken in the Manila region, but has been standardised to include words and grammar from other Philippine languages as well. Filipino is written using the Latin alphabet and has many loanwords from Spanish and English.


The development of Filipino as a national language began in the early 20th century, with the aim of creating a unifying language that could be spoken by people from all regions of the Philippines. The first attempts to create a standardised Tagalog language were made in the 1930s, and in 1937 Tagalog was declared the national language. In 1987, the language was renamed Filipino to reflect its national character.

Filipino today

Today, Filipino is spoken by around 45 million people in the Philippines and is used as a lingua franca in many parts of the country. It is taught in schools as a subject and is the primary language of instruction in some areas.

In 1997, Mexican superstar Thalia released an album titled “Nandito Ako” (Here I Am). The album was recorded in English and Tagalog exclusively for The Philippines, where Thalia had become a sensation thanks to her telenovela Marimar.


English is the other official language of the Philippines and is widely spoken throughout the country. It is used as the language of instruction in schools and universities and is the primary language of business and government.

Why is English one of the official languages in the Philippines?

English became one of the official languages of the Philippines during the American colonial period, when the United States ruled the country from 1898 to 1946. The language was introduced as a means of communicating with the American colonial administrators and became increasingly important as the Philippines developed closer ties with the United States.

English today

Today, English is spoken by around 70 million people in the Philippines, making it one of the largest English-speaking populations in the world. The proficiency of English in the Philippines is often praised by foreigners, with many Filipinos being hired as call center agents and English teachers abroad.

The main native languages of the Philippines

In addition to Filipino and English, there are many other languages spoken throughout the Philippines. These languages and dialects add to the linguistic richness of the Philippines and reflect the country’s diverse cultural heritage.

Here are the main native languages in the Philippines:


Spoken in the southern Philippines, Cebuano is sometimes called Bisaya or Binisaya by its native speakers, and is sometimes referred to as Cebuan in English sources. Cebuan, an Austronesian language, is spoken by over 20 million people. One of its main features is that it has a complex system of endings  that can change the meaning of a word. It also has a unique pitch accent system, which means that the pitch of a syllable can affect the word’s meaning. A common greeting in Cebuano is “Kumusta ka, maayong pag-abot sa imong lugar?” which literally means “Hello, how are you doing in your place?”


With over 7 million speakers primarily among the Ilocano people, this language has a phonology that includes glottal stops and nasal sounds which are not found in other Philippine languages. It also has a rich system of verbal affixes that convey tense, aspect, and mood. A common greeting in Ilocano is “Kadi, naragsak nga naikararuba” which means “Hello, it’s nice to meet you.”


Often referred to as Ilonggo, this Austronesian regional language is spoken in the Philippines by more than 9 million people, primarily in Western Visayas and Soccsksargen. Hiligaynon has a unique stress system, where stress is placed on the penultimate syllable of a word. It also has a rich system of verbal affixes that convey tense. A common greeting in Hiligaynon is “Kumusta ka, maayong pag-abot sa imo” which also means “Hello, nice to meet you.”


Also known as Waray-Waray, this Austronesian language is spoken by over 3 million people. It is the fifth-most-spoken regional language of the Philippines, and it is originally from Eastern Visayas. Waray has a sound system that includes glottal stops and fricative consonants. A common greeting in Waray is “Hello, maupay nga adlaw” which means “Hello, good day.”


With over 2 million speakers, Kapampangan is the main language of the entire province of Pampanga and southern Tarlac. Originally, this language was spoken in the Kingdom of Tondo, ruled by the Lakans. A common greeting in Kapampangan is “Hello, meging metung kang masanting balen” which means “Hello, nice to meet you in this beautiful place.”

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The dialects and languages of the Philippines: FAQs

Here are some common questions and answers about the main languages in the Philippines.

1.   Are Filipino and Tagalog the same?

Many people often confuse Tagalog and Filipino, but they are not exactly the same. Tagalog is a regional language spoken in the Manila region, while Filipino is a standardized version of Tagalog that includes words and grammar from other Philippine languages. While Tagalog and Filipino are very similar, there are some differences in vocabulary and grammar.

One way to think about the difference is that Tagalog is a language spoken by a specific group of people in a specific region, while Filipino is a national language that has been streamlined to be understood by people from all regions of the Philippines.

2.   What languages are dying in the Philippines?

The Philippines is home to many indigenous languages, but unfortunately, some of these languages are dying out. According to UNESCO, there are 17 critically endangered languages in the Philippines, including Ayta Abellen, Kinaray-a, Yami, and Bantoanon, among others. These languages are at risk of becoming extinct within a few generations if no action is taken to preserve them.

3.   Why are indigenous languages dying in the Philippines?

There are several reasons for the decline of these indigenous languages. Migration, urbanization, and the prevalence of Filipino and English as official languages have led to a decline in the use of native languages. Additionally, there is often a lack of government support for the preservation and promotion of these languages, and they may not be taught in schools or used in official settings. Economic reasons and cultural assimilation are also factors contributing to the decline of indigenous languages, as younger generations may choose to adopt languages that offer greater economic opportunities and cultural relevance.

4.   Is Spanish one of the official languages of the Philippines?

Spanish was once an official language of the Philippines during the Spanish colonial period, but it is no longer an official language today. Filipino and English are the two official languages of the Philippines, while there are also many native languages spoken throughout the country. Today, Spanish is spoken mainly by Filipinos of Spanish descent or those who have studied the language. Additionally, it is still taught in some schools as part of the foreign language curriculum.

To sum up, the Philippines is home to many different languages and dialects that have been shaped by the country’s long and diverse history. While Filipino and English are the official languages of the country, there are also many indigenous and regional languages that continue to be spoken today, even if some of them are in danger of becoming extinct. Understanding the languages and dialects of the Philippines is an important part of understanding the country’s history, culture, and people.

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