The Languages Of Manila - Which Languages Are Commonly Spoken In The Philippine Capital?

avatarMille Larsen
5 mins read

The Philippines is an archipelago located in Southeast Asia, counting a grand total of over 7000 islands. It has a population of over 100 million people who speak approximately 180 local languages. The country’s capital, Manila is known as a very popular tourist destination, commonly seen as a melting pot of cultures. People from all over the world flock to see what the fuss is all about, from the buzzing nightlife, tourist attractions, and to the wide variety of cuisine and street food.

The Philippine capital, Manila is home to a blend of different people, cultures, and, of course languages such as Tagalog, English, Cebuano, Spanish and Hokkien to name a few. 

Here’s a closer look at these languages:

1. Tagalog, Manila’s Mother Tongue.

Kamusta, kaibigan? (How are you, friend?)

First on our list, of course, is the country’s national and official language, Tagalog, an Austronesian language first spoken by the native Tagalog people of Luzon, located at the northern end of the Philippines.

It’s the most commonly used language in Manila and it’s the only Filipino language that can be spoken and understood in most parts, if not all parts of the Philippines. Over 28 million Filipinos speak Tagalog as their mother tongue, and many more as a second language making it one of the biggest Filipino languages.

 (Fun fact: The word Tagalog Is derived from the word “taga-ilog” which means “River-dweller” in Tagalog! )

For an example of Tagalog (and English and Spanish as it's spoken in the Philippines) watch this video:

2. English, Manila’s Other Official Language!

Welcome to Manila!

That’s right! Alongside Tagalog, English has been named one of the Philippines’ official languages. Being one of the most used languages on the planet, English is almost as commonly understood and spoken as Manila as Tagalog, with around 76 percent of Filipinos saying they understand English. The English language is taught and used in almost all schools in Manila, in establishments, workplaces, and even for government needs. 

(Fun fact: Taglish is what the locals call a sentence with a combination of Tagalog and English words, for example: “I’m so gutom na!” (I’m so hungry already!) and “Uy, Ang ganda ng sunset today!” (Hey, the sunset is so pretty today!), using Taglish is very common in Manila.)

3. Cebuano, The Second Largest Filipino Language.

Maayong buntag! (Good morning!)

Next to Tagalog, Cebuano is one of the Filipino languages most commonly spoken in Manila. It shares many features with other Austronesian languages such as Tagalog and Ilokano.

The name "Cebuano" comes from its place of origin, The island of Cebu, which is also known as “The queen city of the south”. It was first documented by Italian explorer, Antonio Pigafetta who was part of Ferdinand Magellan’s 1521 expedition. The language is now being used in its neighboring provinces, and the capital city as well.

With over 21 million Filipinos using the language, it’s not uncommon to find someone in Manila who’s fluent in Cebuano! 

(Fun fact: Cebuano is also colloquially called Bisaya or Binisaya by its speakers!)

While the languages mentioned before are the most commonly used in Manila, you can also find locals who use and converse in other foreign languages such as the following: 

4. Spanish: The First Official Language

¡Hola, amigo! (Hello, friend!)

During the Spanish rule in the Philippines in the late 16th century, the Spanish language was the official language of the country, before becoming co-official alongside English which it stayed until 1987.

Some natives still speak the language fluently, while others may be conversational. The Spanish influence on the Tagalog language is still evident as most Tagalog words that are used on a daily basis are derived, if not heavily influenced by Spanish, like “kamusta” (greetings) coming from “Como estas?”, “lamesa” from “La Mesa” (table), “bintana” from “Vintana” (window) and a lot more! 

(Fun fact: There’s a language in the Philippines called Chavacano, which is a Spanish-based creole language mainly spoken in the southern parts of the country!)

Check out an example of Chavacano below:

5. Hokkien: The Language Of Business

Ho Seh Bo? (How are you?)

Dating back to the early 17th century, the Spanish missionaries in the Philippines produced materials that documented the use and the varieties of Hokkien spoken by the Chinese trading community which had settled there in the late 16th century.

Hokkien is a Southern-Min language spoken in ethnic Chinese communities in the Philippines. Often used in trading and business, the language is still used in places in Manila, especially the country’s Chinatown, Binondo. Not only is it commonly used in commerce in the Chinese-Filipino community in Manila, the language is being taught in schools and universities all over the Philippines too!

(Fun fact: Binondo is actually the world’s oldest Chinatown! Established in 1594 by the Spaniards as a settlement for the catholic Chinese, it has since then been a Chinese commerce hub and to this day, It’s still home to thriving Chinese-Filipino run businesses!)

Manila’s streets harbor more than just the wonderful languages and cultures mentioned- this is just a taste of just how beautifully diverse and interesting Manila is.

If you're planning on going to Manila, you'll be able to get by with English - but if you want a challenge, why not try and learn some Tagalog?