How Long Does It Take to Learn Tagalog?

You’ve started studying Tagalog (or Filipino, which is basically the same thing) – good for you, it’s an extremely rewarding language to learn, but now you’re wondering how long you need to keep at it in order to reach some tangible results.

This obviously depends on a ton of different things, and nobody will be able to tell you exactly how long you’ll need to spend to become fluent in the Filipino language.

Why?

Well, first of all, fluency doesn’t really have a clear definition. Secondly, you, your background, your experience, motivation, and the time you put in all play a role. As does your method for learning Tagalog. Asking how long it takes to learn Tagalog is a bit like asking “what is the length of a piece of string”.

It depends.

Nobody is satisfied with that answer, however, which is why I’ve tried coming up with something better. I’ve made my own “language learning calculator” which takes most of the above-mentioned factors into account and gives you a ball-park figure of how long it takes to learn any language, Tagalog included.

An average English speaker with no prior experience with language learning, who’s decently motivated and who puts in an hour a day, every day could probably learn Tagalog to the upper intermediate level in 3-4 years. Many factors could make the time go up or down, though.

But let’s try digging a little deeper and see what kind of things you need to consider when asking how long it takes to learn Tagalog:

Is Tagalog A Hard Language?

Tagalog isn’t a difficult language. The pronunciation is fairly straight-forward, the language is written with the same alphabet as English, and the grammar isn’t too bad.

But it’s very different. If you were to learn French, Dutch, German, or another one of those big “Western” languages, you’d notice that a lot of things in those languages are very familiar.

Those languages are not only from the same language family as English, they also share the English language’s European history. You could say that they’ve evolved in parallel.

Tagalog isn’t any more complicated than German or Spanish. It’s just very different. When learning it, you’ll need to get used to something that sounds a lot more foreign than those languages. Word morphology and vocabulary (with the exception of many of Tagalog’s English and Spanish loan-words) just seem so exotic for the average American or European.

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) actually classes Tagalog as a category 3 language alongside Russian, Thai, and Hungarian. I’d argue that Tagalog is easier to learn for an English speaker than those languages, but it’s certainly no walk in the park.

The FSI estimates that category 3 languages take 1100 classroom-hours for their average student to learn. That’s about 3 years of studying an hour a day, every day. But that doesn’t apply to everyone.

An FSI course is meant to get their student to a C1 level, or a “lower advanced” level. It’s for talented, highly motivated individuals who all have prior experience with languages and who study full time. This doesn’t apply to most language learners!

So how do you convert those 1100 hours of intensive, classroom-learning to something that fits the average Joe? (or Jane).

Let’s look at some of the other factors you need to consider.

What Level of Tagalog Are You Aiming For?

Learning a language is not like flipping an on-off switch. You could get by in the Philippines perfectly fine with a lower-intermediate level, but to take a university course in Tagalog, you probably need to shoot for the advanced level.

So which one are you actually aiming for? Complete, native-like fluency could take a long time, and you’ll probably speak Tagalog with an accent for life, so I’d argue that having this for a goal is unreasonable and unproductive.

The beginner’s stages won’t get you far, though, and speaking the language at a very low level will probably have most people switch to English when you try talking with them.

I usually say that the intermediate level is a good goal to have in mind when first starting out learning a language. It’ll allow you to be functional in a language and it’ll be a way to communicate with people with whom you don’t share any other language, and there’ll be space for improvement.

And reaching the B1 level in Tagalog might take you less than half as long as reaching the upper advanced level.

Your Experience With Languages And Studying In General Plays A Role

The more experience you have, the faster you can learn Tagalog.

If you know another Austronesian language, like Malay, Mauri, or Hawai’ian it’ll be a great advantage, because they’re related to Tagalog.

Experience with other languages could also put things into another gear, even though they aren’t related to Tagalog, because you’d already have experienced making a break-through with a foreign language, and your brain would sort of know to accept other ways of expressing oneself than English. Even a little foreign language experience will be helpful, really.

The way you’ve learned those languages also plays a role. If you picked them up through conversation and travel, you’d probably have an edge on learning Tagalog through that same method, whereas a university course that looks at the language from a more academic perspective might be less helpful.

And if you haven’t ever studied a foreign language before, being used to studying, taking notes, understanding new ideas, and being disciplined about your work will make learning Tagalog faster.

In other words: The more experience you have with studying, the better. And the more languages you know, and the more closely related to Tagalog, the bigger the advantage will be.

And if you’ve neither had exposure to any foreign language nor done exceptionally well academically? Don’t worry, you’ll still learn Tagalog if only you’re motivated enough, it’ll just take a little longer.

How Motivated Are You To Learn Tagalog?

The more motivated you are, the faster you’ll learn.

You’ll assume that this comes down to motivated people spending all the energy they have on archiving their goals, not giving up, and so on.

And that’s part of it.

But if you’re completely in love with a language, fascinated by how it sounds and taken by its mysteries, learning it also becomes easier. If you’re highly motivated about learning Tagalog, words will become easier to remember, sounds will be easier to pronounce and you’ll understand grammar without as much effort.

I think that this is due to some kind of mechanism in our brains that blocks out all kinds of information deemed “not essential”.

Imagine reading a newspaper – you scan through all the pages and eventually finish the thing, put it down, and go on to do other things. The next day, if you were to summarize what you read in the paper the day before, you’d remember only some of the topics covered. The ones that caught your eye, or in other words: The things your brain thought that it was worth remembering!

If you want to learn Tagalog fast, you need to be interested and motivated enough for the language to be “worth remembering” for your brain!

The more motivated you are, the easier it’ll be, and the faster you’ll learn.

How Consistently Do You Study Tagalog And How Much Time Do You Put In?

The time you put into your studies is obviously a key factor for figuring out how long it’ll take to reach your goal. But it’s not directly proportional, so to speak.

While you’ll learn Tagalog very quickly if you consistently study for 8 hours a day, those 8 hours would be less “efficient” than if you were to spread the time over a longer duration and only do 1 hour per day. Studying for long stretches of time simply makes you lose focus, you get tired and the time you spend will be less beneficial as a whole.

On the other hand, studying too little won’t get you anywhere, because 15 minutes a day just won’t be enough to really get into the language, review yesterday’s lesson, cover new material and so on.

I suggest that you study something like 45 minutes to 1½ hours per day consistently.

And that consistency is one of the keys to succeeding in learning Tagalog. Studying every day for an hour is much better than studying once a week for 7 hours in one go.

This is about keeping the material fresh in your mind, reviewing before you forget important information, and to get the most out of your time.

What’s even better than studying every day is to study several times a day.

If you were to put in 60 minutes per day, try dividing your time into smaller study sessions, so you do 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there, and so on.

This is not only a great way to make use of dead time, like riding the bus, drinking your morning coffee, doing the dishes, and so on, it’s also a superior way to study, because it keeps your brain tuned into Tagalog throughout the day.

The Tagalog language will simply stay activated constantly this way, and it’ll become a part of your routine, and part of your daily life.

Conclusion: How Long Does It Take To Learn Tagalog

It’s really impossible to say exactly how long you’ll need to spend to learn Tagalog because it depends on so many things. I’ve covered some of them in this article, but even if we were somehow able to correctly measure variables such as motivation and experience and figure out how much they impact the total time needed (which we aren’t) hundreds of other factors would come into play.

In reality, learning Tagalog could take you months, years, or decades. Some people might even study a lifetime without reaching fluency if their methods are off, or if they’re inconsistent or put in too little effort.

As mentioned in the beginning, however, I think that most people would be able to reach a good, conversational level of Tagalog within a 3-4 year window with about 60 minutes of daily study.

This might seem a lot to you, but I actually think that people underestimate how much work goes into learning a language. If you’re highly motivated, consistent, and study multiple times daily for, perhaps 1½ hours per day, and if you’re a little more experienced with languages, you could probably get there in under two years.

If you’re interested in reading my suggested strategy for learning Tagalog, go read my article “How To Learn Tagalog By Yourself“.

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