Tagalog Learning Resources

This page is based off of scattered sources, some of which only exist as books.

These web resources are the best free ones for beginners:

http://www2.hawaii.edu/~bender/tagalog.pdf – PDF of verb forms
http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Tagalog/ – great site. best parts imo are the straight-to-the-point grammar, the glossed stories at http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Tagalog/Tagalog_for_Kids/mga_pabula_ni_Aesop.htm and the verb table at http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Tagalog/tagalog_verbs.htm .
https://samutsamot.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/mga-pandiwa-sa-ibat-ibang-panahunan1.pdf – more verbs
https://www.filipinolessons.com/words/tumakbo.php#conjugations – very interesting automatic Tagalog verb conjugator / dictionary

Surprisingly, Yahoo! Answers is sometimes a good place to find word usage information and translations from native speakers.

If you have a grammar question, the official terms used by grammar resources in Tagalog are all here: https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Tagalog I learned tons about pandiwa (verbs) and panlapi (affixes) just by searching for those words in Google instead of “tagalog verbs” or “tagalog affixes”. Unfortunately the Wikibook itself is mostly useless due to incompleteness – I use it as a glossary at this point.

I use Wikipedia a lot every day, but the Wikipedia page about Tagalog grammar, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tagalog_grammar#Verbs, is incomprehensible at vital points. I have not seen any other source lay out the verb triggers that way, with Roman numerals and with no explanation of the differences between them. There is some good on that page, but don’t become discouraged from it because it’s also flawed.

If you’re at an advanced level, this site is invaluable. I refer to this page a lot: https://teksbok.blogspot.com/2010/08/mga-pokus-ng-pandiwa.html

Books I refer to:

  • Beginning Tagalog: A Course for Speakers of English (1965) by J. Donald Bowen – this book is excellent. If you only read one, forget everything released in the 50 years after this one and get this one.
  • Essential Tagalog Grammar 2nd ed. by Fiona Vos – this is all around a good grammar. Some of the definitions Vos uses are strange though – especially her insistence on her made-up grammar terms “POD” and “the news” can be grating. This book used to cost money, but is now free on her website! I don’t know how long this will last.
  • Everything ever written by the magnificent Dr. Teresita V. Ramos. One of my favorite works of hers is called Handbook of Tagalog Verbs: Inflection, Modes, and Aspects. This book, along with Tagalog Structures, will help your grammar tremendously.
  • and of course, the Tagalog-English dictionary by Father Leo James English, C.Ss.R. Don’t bother with any other dictionary, this is the one to get. I have five T-E dictionaries and the only one I ever refer to is Father English’s. The others range from lukewarm to rubbish. The “Pocket Tagalog English Dictionary” at National Bookstore is firmly in the rubbish category.

Every “slang” dictionary/grammar I have seen thus far was pure rubbish and was not worth the paper it was printed on. Do yourself a favor and learn it the right way, don’t take shortcuts. My eighth grade English teacher gave excellent advice – You have to know the rules to know when it’s okay to break them – that definitely holds true here.

On the other hand, the best online T-E dictionary is Glosbe. A runner up would be http://tagaloglang.com/, simply as it’s totally human produced and is all original content. It lacks completeness in some areas, but others I’ve found online, like the one at pinoydictionary.com, have glaring errors. The dictionary that’s part of Google Translate works sometimes too.

Tagaloglang.com has lots of example sentences, but the Tatoeba project has more. https://tatoeba.org/eng/sentences/search?from=und&to=tgl&query= Some TED talks have Tagalog subtitles, good for getting many example sentences. – https://www.ted.com/talks?language=fil

In 2018, the tremendous UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino became available for free online. Before this it was very hard to find in print. The print version and the online version match up exactly, all that’s missing is the forewords and information about the shorthand used in the dictionary. However, as always it’s unknown to know how long this will last. Perhaps scrape it while you can? This dictionary is essentially useless to beginners – it’s pure Tagalog. But for advanced learners it’s a blessing indeed.

All of this is skewed towards how I prefer to learn langauges, by studying their grammar and reading. I also practice speaking often since I live in the Philippines, and in the increasingly rare occassions I don’t understand the derivation of a word I ask for its spelling. I would urge you to do the same, at least until you can hear an unfamiliar word and immediately know its spelling and likely root word.

In many other countries I’ve been to, locals assume that their language is hard to learn. The opposite is true in the Philippines, most Filipinos will swear up and down that Tagalog is easy. But more on that later.

It is sometimes easy to become discouraged by the dearth of good materials concentrated on the study of this language. Remember: Tagalog is not a “prestige language” like Mandarin, English or Japanese. There is not a large market for people studying it. Even within the Philippines, good English is more important than good Tagalog for success. I’ve met foreigners who have been in the Philippines for more than fifteen years who do not understand any Tagalog. If in doubt, ask a native – they’ll probably be surprised you’re studying it. 🙂

Conclusion

Overall, Tagalog is a more interesting language than most of the foreigners I know give it credit for. Other Americans especially wax ignorant about it: I actually started studying in earnest because I was told that Tagalog is “only adjectives” and “is only suitable for writing love songs”. I wondered how such a language worked. In my studies I see conclusively that neither of those is true (how the only adjectives niggle was even thought of confounds me, as it is obviously not true even at a cursory glance – if anything adjectives are second class citizens in Tagalog, most all formed by tacking the prefix ma- onto nouns).

It’s obvious that you don’t need to learn it to have a good time, or even to have a great time in the Philippines, but I can state quite conclusively that you will (1) never be accepted* in Philippine society without knowing at least one vernacular language and (2) every word you learn will break down a small barrier in your life in the Philippines.

* Depending on how foreign your appearance is, it might be impossible for you to be fully accepted in Philippine society. Learning Tagalog will help a lot people of all racial groups, but if your appearance is very Caucasian or very African, you will always at some level be an “other” in the Philippines.

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