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What Language Do They Speak in the Philippines?

What Language Do They Speak in the Philippines

Key Takeaways

Official LanguageFilipino (based on Tagalog)
Secondary LanguageEnglish
Total Languages SpokenOver 170 languages
Most Widely Spoken Regional LanguagesCebuano, Ilocano, Waray-Waray, Hiligaynon, Kapampangan
Percentage of English SpeakersOver 90% are literate in English

The Philippines, an archipelago nation in Southeast Asia, boasts a rich tapestry of languages and cultures. Over its long history, it has seen influences from Spain, America, and various Asian nations, all of which have left their mark on the country’s linguistic landscape.

A Dive into the Philippines’ Official Languages

Filipino: The National Tongue

Filipino is the national language of the Philippines. It’s grounded in Tagalog, which is native to the Manila region and neighboring provinces. Despite its base in Tagalog, Filipino aspires to be inclusive of other Philippine languages.

Features of Filipino Language:

  • Script: Primarily Latin alphabet due to Western influence, though ancient scripts like Baybayin also exist.
  • Vocabulary: While rooted in native words, it’s enriched with Spanish, Malay, Chinese, and English loanwords.
  • Grammar: Subject-verb-object order, but flexible.

English: The Lingua Franca

Colonial history has ensured that English is deeply rooted in the Philippines. It serves as a secondary official language, and is the medium of instruction in schools and universities.

English in the Philippines:

  • Usage: Used in business, government, and academia.
  • Accent: Filipino English has its unique accent, influenced by local languages.
  • Variations: Some colloquialisms and expressions are uniquely Filipino.

The Richness of Regional Languages

While Filipino and English are dominant, the Philippines is home to a myriad of regional languages. Each of these reflects the country’s diverse culture and history.

Regional LanguageEstimated Speakers
Cebuano20 million
Ilocano8 million
Waray-Waray3 million
Hiligaynon7 million
Kapampangan2.5 million


Cebuano, also called Bisaya or Binisaya, is the mother tongue for people in the Central Visayas region. It is the most spoken regional language.


Originating from the Ilocos region in the northwest, Ilocano speakers have migrated to various parts of the country, making it widely spoken.


Spoken in the Eastern Visayas region, Waray-Waray has a reputation for being soft-spoken and melodic.


Hiligaynon is predominantly spoken in the Western Visayas region. It’s also known as Ilonggo, named after Iloilo province.


From the Pampanga province in Luzon, Kapampangan is distinct, with its speakers known for their cultural and culinary contributions.

The Dwindling Indigenous Languages

The Philippines is home to over 170 languages. Many of these are from indigenous groups, and unfortunately, some are on the brink of extinction.

Endangered Philippine Languages:

  • Ata
  • Isarog Agta
  • Katabangan
  • Sorsogon Ayta

Efforts are being made to preserve these languages. Local initiatives and cultural communities are documenting, teaching, and promoting their use.

The Influence of Foreign Languages

The Philippines’ long history of trade and colonialism means foreign languages have left their mark.

  • Spanish: 333 years of colonization resulted in numerous loanwords in Filipino languages.
  • Chinese: Trade relations led to words, especially in commerce, being adopted.
  • Arabic: Seen primarily in Mindanao due to Islam’s influence.
  • Japanese and Malay: Less profound, but certain words and cultural nuances were adopted.


The linguistic landscape of the Philippines is a testament to its rich history and cultural diversity. From the national language of Filipino to the myriad regional and indigenous languages, each tells a story of a community, a history, and a way of life. With efforts to promote and preserve these languages, the Philippines ensures that its linguistic tapestry remains vibrant for generations to come.