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Challenges in the Philippines + video in Tagalog

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?

I've already settled into Austin and am well into my ASL mission (first impressions & hopefully another video in ASL coming on Saturday!) but I thought I should wrap up the story of my time in the Philippines first!

The last time I updated I had just moved into the cottage on White Beach in Puerto Galera. My plan was to speak as much Tagalog with those working on the beach as I could during the week and then use weekends for when the beach would be packed with Manila tourists to really get some conversation practice. Didn't quite work out so easy!!

Trouble in paradise

After a short time in Puerto Galera, I started to realise that it was actually a very bad decision to move there for the purposes of what I wanted to achieve in the Philippines! Unfortunately to save money on not paying per day, I had already paid for rental for an entire month on the cottage, so leaving was too complicated.

I chose Puerto Galera based on the advice of those I was hanging out with in Cebu for a fun spot that speaks Tagalog that isn't Manila. I was clear that I didn't want to stay in Manila because of the pollution (but see below for why that was a bad idea!) and I don't like villages, so at least a well touristed beach would have some fun things going on. I've lived in touristy cities before (like Rio, Rome etc.) and learned languages no problem – it's just a case of hanging out with the right people. In any city there are plenty to choose from!

But this was the first time in a while that I was attempting to learn a language in a small place like this. There were indeed things to do; I could continue my diving lessons to reach Advanced (and even added a Nitrox certificate to it for good measure), I got several diving lessons in French and spoke more French than English on the beach due to the amount of French tourists there were, there were parties almost every night, people from all around the world, and even a music festival with concerts. In fact, taking advantage of the tourists I spoke nearly all my languages on a regular basis!

So I did indeed have a lot of fun!

However, I didn't manage to find my social balance to speak the local language as often as I usually do. The only Filipinos in that area were working 12+ hours a day (as waitresses, shopkeepers etc.) and were too busy to converse while working and too tired to hang out after work. In cities I always find students, or people that work 40 hours per week with free time etc. but I couldn't find any Filipinos who could just hang out! Not any from the age group I usually spend time with anyway.

Actually, I did have Filipino friends not working full-time, but they were from other parts of the country and ironically couldn't even speak Tagalog!! (Although they could understand it perfectly)

This hiccup costed me in terms of progress in the language, since all my conversations were brief and superficial. This is what those who are afraid to speak think it's always like when you first try to learn a language. It's not like this at all when you take part in real social interactions! That's the reason I usually learn so quickly, and it's something I was missing out on in Puerto Galera.

It turns out the Manila tourists would only come for one or two days maximum and be in tight groups not so interested in meeting others.

In general, as much fun as I did have, I can't say I had the best time there. A beach destination like that sounds like a dream come true, but it's really more suited to groups of people. As a single traveller, I will be avoiding such places for more than weekend trips from now on.

People ask me a lot if travelling by myself is “lonely”. The short answer is NO – it got me out of my shell of shyness and I have many deep relationships with people I meet when I genuinely live in a city, even if just for a few months. However, my time on this beach was frustrating and a bit lonely due to how superficial friendships with people just passing through was bound to be.

Good opportunity to learn about learning

Of course, I had been studying during that month in Puerto Galera, but passive studying with almost no speaking can only get you so far. There's no way you can reach any decent spoken level just with books & audio, but at least I had quite a good passive understanding when people spoke and I could enjoy watching TV in Tagalog.

Rather than be full of regrets, this is part of the learning and experimentation process. When people think that the only challenges in reaching fluency are grammar and vocabulary I feel like they have very bad tunnel vision. Speaking a language is made up of so many factors, mostly influenced by social, psychological and lifestyle factors. Many of these will help you progress fast. And in my case, this time the challenge in finding the right people to even practise with due to choosing a touristy beach to live in was what held me back.

Ironically, it would have been easier for me to speak Tagalog consistently in many places outside of the Philippines 😛

As always, any mistakes are to be considered ways that you learn what not to do. And this is no exception 🙂 The language itself posed no major problems, and I actually quite liked it as explained here.

But the first weeks of travelling and the one month of barely speaking meant that I didn't find the consistent immersion environment I usually rely on, so I didn't precisely reach the conversational level I was hoping for. I could have limited conversations on particular topics, could speak myself slowly, and could understand the vast majority of what I'd see on TV or what someone would say when speaking to me if they did it slowly. (Interestingly enough, TV was easier since a lot of shows use a lot of Taglish, especially compared to how people speak outside of Manila).

This level I'm at is actually a pretty good place to be after just one month of genuine work (since I didn't do anything with Tagalog while travelling in Cebu), but it's less than what I tend to aim for and less than my target to speak like I could in Hungarian after two months.

Things got way better back in Manila!

Despite the majority of the time not spent speaking, when I got back to Manila for my final days I made dramatic improvements to what I had!

I feel so stupid now in the decision not to live in Manila – as I always say, cities just suit me better due to the many opportunities. My decision to not stay in Manila was based on the level of pollution I could actually feel when breathing on arrival. What I didn't realise is that this was more due to the city district I was staying in, Ermita, which residents of Manila all agree is not pleasant to hang out long in.

When back the second time I was in another part of the city and it was actually fine! Since I have little experience with the level of pollution produced in Asian countries, I didn't realise that it changes so dramatically between different districts. Had I known this, I simply would have moved a few miles and settled there for the full two months! Another lesson learned! [Doh!]

Manila would have suited me better because once I got back, I got into the usual flow I tend to have, meeting lots of people and practising nearly all the time. I progressed a lot in those last days!! If I had kept it up for several weeks, I would have actually gone beyond what I had done in Hungarian.

Singing Karaoke in Tagalog!

Since I promised a video anyway, here it is!

It shares something I did do in Tagalog a lot, even in Puerto Galera: singing! (In case you aren't sick of hearing me sing in German, French and Spanish already!) I introduced the video in spoken Tagalog so you can hear the general flow I have now (still hesitating and lots to improve, but able to speak about a random topic)

In the intro I say:

[I'd like to share some Filipino karaoke with you! Karaoke is very important in the Philippines. It's actually called “videoke” since there are random other videos in the background, along with the lyrics of the song. Now, I'll sing to you!]

You might recognise the first song as the pop song “Umbrella”. This Karaoke machine didn't have the lyrics of that song in Tagalog, but I didn't need them after hearing it on the radio so much 😛 That's why there is actually English behind me that I'm ignoring.

Next is a Taglish song that you'll half understand (“pare” is like a manly way to say “dude”/”mate”), and finally a rap song! I thought Filipinos would like this choice with this white Irish guy is singing “I'm Filipino!” Then I end with a [thank you very much!]

What I was actually hoping to do was to record this in a public place that has Karaoke machines that look like weird video arcade machines, which I never saw before going to the Philippines. But after walking around for a few hours we could only find private stalls like this. It's a pity as the environment with the silly old machines is much more fun – but apparently they are only really popular in the provinces.

Karaoke is so huge in the Philippines that it seemed appropriate for me to make the Tagalog video around this 🙂


I was sad to leave Manila! I was starting to have a lot of fun there, now that I could breath this time!

My favourite part of the country (apart from the karaoke) was definitely its people! Filipinos are so friendly, open and easy to get along with, and definitely encouraging with people learning their language! After 25 or so countries the Philippines now rank as my second favourite in the world! The top spot continues to be held by Brazil, but that could be challenged when I make it back to the Philippines some day and pick a better place to live in and get to know more people!

Since I will be very busy with other languages this year, I will not be working to maintain my Tagalog (the good news is that I am at least progressing in ASL in my first days at the rate I like). I will definitely consider getting back to it at a later time though! I didn't get to know people deeply through the language as I usually would, but when they saw that I was trying to learn they really appreciated it, and it helped me to understand parts of the culture that other English-only expats are missing.

If you go to the Philippines and live around Manila, then I highly recommend you give it a try. Start dropping words into your English speech immediately to ease in with some Taglish and go out and sing a few karaokes 🙂

And keep it warm for me for when I get back 😉

Maraming salamat!

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Benny Lewis

Founder, Fluent in 3 Months

Fun-loving Irish guy, full-time globe trotter and international bestselling author. Benny believes the best approach to language learning is to speak from day one.

Speaks: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, Mandarin Chinese, American Sign Language, Dutch, Irish

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