Filipino English can be hard to understand at first


While English has been taught in Philippine public schools since the early 1900s, Filipinos apply the peculiar sounds of the Tagalog dialects they speak. Sometimes I had to listen hard to determine whether they were speaking English or not.

Few Filipinos will distinguish between the short 'i' sound and the long 'e' sound; so big will sound like beeg. The mixed 'ae' sound in 'ham' will sound as hum to a Westerner. Filipinos use vowel sounds as in the Spanish five vowel sounds without the complex and illogical phonetic variations English gives to these vowels.

While Filipinos as a people is with an F, the language is Pilipino with a P. This is because their indigenous languages don't have the "f" sound, which is substituted by "p". That is why at first Filipino English is hard to understand until you get use to the absence of certain sounds we are use to in U.S. or British English.

The taxi drivers really have fun as one discussed with me. Germans speaking English sounds much different and uses some slang expressions that are very different, likewise Australian English sounds different from Americans English or British English etc. So Filipinos also have a hard time understanding different types of English. But they seemed to understand my English better than I could understand them. They of course are more use to hearing different forms of English and if I spent more time in the Philippines, I would probably get use to their pronunciation also.

As Kabayo pointed out: " Remember that Americans are in no position to correct Filipinos on their English usage. Filipino English is a dialect in its own right, just as is American English or Australian English. If fact, the Philippines is the third most populous English speaking country in the world, after India and the United States."

Kabayo also pointed out:
I would add to your comments that Filipinos speak more deliberately and more
clearly than Americans, whether they're speaking Tagalog or English. Filipinos say that Americans speak 'slang', which itself has a different meaning to Filipinos than it does to Americans. When a Filipino says 'slang', he means 'to mumble or speak unclearly'. Listen to Filipinos speaking. You can define each separate syllable. Now listen to Americans. All of the words are run together. You're lucky if you can tell where a *sentence* ends, and another starts. No wonder foreigners have such a difficult time trying to understand American English, even if they have studied English in their own countries. So, when in the Philippines, try to speak as the Filipinos do. Not baby talk, but clearly annunciated standard English, free of American idioms and slang (American usage of this word now). You will be understood by nearly everyone when you take the time to speak carefully. They're not deaf, so don't shout at them! Remember, we are guests in their country / neighborhood / store/ etc.

P.S. Did you know that there is at least one Tagalog word in contemporary American English? It's 'boondocks', derived from the Tagalog word 'bundok', meaning 'remote places' to Americans, and 'mountain' to Filipinos. This word was apparently brought back by the turn of the century soldiers or teachers.

Joe added:
Am reading your site and saw the reference to 'boondocks' as a filipino word taken up in common English.

I'll give you 3 more:

Yoyo, actually a filipino invention and known widely by its original name.

to run amuck (amock?) Amok is actually a filipino word (malay origin) and means the same in English - to lose control and act dangerously / crazy.

Poontang - As a kid I often heard this referred to when talking about women or sex, as in "I'm gonna get me some poontang (pussy)" or "that was a sweet piece of poontang" referring to a sexy girl. I never gave it any thought until I learned to speak Tagalog and realized that a common slur on someone is 'Puntang ina mo' - your mother is a prostitute (Puta). I'm sure the navy/airforce coined the word poontang and brought it home - lucky us (very sarcastically).


Other points people have pointed out:
When a lady friend tells you she's "penis eating", she doesn't mean she enjoys giving BJs.

If a coworker tells you he brought with him some "FUCKED LUNCH", he means he enjoys home cooking a lot!

As the Phil. secretary will say, "The meeting will push through for a moment." Say what?????

Azil further commented:
One of the other peculiarities of Filipino English (from an American viewpoint) is that in some cases the same phrase can have a nearly opposite meaning. For example, "every now and then", which Americans use to mean "occasionally", is used my Filipinos to mean "often".

I was once managing an office and a Filipino employee complained to me that her supervisor was checking on her work "every now and then." I was confused, because I thought this was pretty reasonable behavior on a supervisor's part. It turned out, of course, that she felt the supervisor was constantly bugging her.

Back to the Philippine Report Contents Page