Do People In The Philippines Speak Spanish? (Not Quite)

  • Jada Lopez
    Written byJada Lopez
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Do People In The Philippines Speak Spanish? (Not Quite)

A lot of people are curious if Filipinos speak Spanish.

After all, the Philippines was at one point colonized by Spain (between 1565 and 1898), and Spanish was an official language until only very recently (1987).

There’s no doubt that the Spanish language and culture has left its mark on the Philippines.

But do Filipinos actually speak (or understand) Spanish today?

Can Filipinos understand Spanish?

The answer is no. Most Filipinos do not speak or understand Spanish, and the Filipino language is not close enough to Spanish for significant mutual comprehension (though there are many loan words from Spanish and some grammatical influence).

Only about 2-4% of the Philippines population are proficient in Spanish.

That’s around half a million Spanish speakers (out of a population of 110 million).

There’s also a Spanish creole in the Philippines called Chavacano, spoken by around a million people, and this is somewhat understandable by Spanish speakers.

Some Spanish words in Tagalog/Filipino

There are so many Spanish loan words in the Filipino language.

Here are some examples:

Numbers

FilipinoSpanish
Unouno
Dosdos
Trestres
Kwatrocuatro
Singkocinco
Saisseis
Syetesiete
Otsoocho
Nuwebenueve
Diyesdiez

Common words

FilipinoSpanish
Gustogusto
Kusinacocina
Pamilyafamilia
DiyosDios
Kuwentocuento
Orashoras
Medyasmedias
Lugarlugar
Kotsecoche

Months of the year

FilipinoSpanish
Eneroenero
Pebrerofebrero
Marsomarzo
Abrilabril
Mayomayo
Hunyojunio
Hulyojulio
Agostoagosto
Setyembreseptiembre
Oktubreoctubre
Nobyembrenoviembre
Disyembrediciembre

Obviously, there so many more words I could add here, but these should serve as good examples.

How Spanish came to (and left) the Philippines

The Philippines is an archipelago of 7,107 islands and there are over 120 languages that exist.

Prior to the arrival of Spanish in the Philippines, these hundreds of individual languages thrived, and Tagalog, which is where today’s Filipino language comes from, was on the island of Luzon.

Following Spanish colonization, the Spanish language became the lingua franca of the Philippines and eventually the nation’s official language. From the end of the 19th century onward, more than 60% of Filipino people spoke Spanish.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that American influence led to the prominence of English in the Philippines and diminished value of Spanish. Gradually, schools replaced Spanish with English.

Spanish was ultimately removed the Philippines constitution in 1987 after decades of American influence.

Is it possible to use Spanish exclusively in the Philippines today?

Not at all.

Since such a small amount of people in the Philippines actually speak Spanish, you’re not going to be able to achieve much trying to use Spanish to get around.

Especially outside Manila.

If you’re fortunate enough to meet the 4% of the local population who speak Spanish or the creole speakers, you might have some luck.

I recommend learning the Filipino language instead (try FilipinoPod101 if you’re looking for a good starting point).

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek
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