Tagalog (Filipino)


About 87 native languages and dialects are spoken, all belonging to the Malay-Polynesian linguistic family. Of these, eight are the first languages of more than 85% of the population. The three principal indigenous languages are:

  • Cebuano, spoken in the Visayas.
  • Ilocano, spoken in Ilocos.
  • Tagalog, predominant in the area around Manila.

Since 1939, in an effort to develop national unity, the government has promoted the use of the national language, Pilipino, which is based on Tagalog. Pilipino is taught in all schools and is gaining acceptance, particularly as a second language. For a brief clarification of the differences between Tagalog and Pilipino (also known as Filipino), please see Differences

Many use English, the most important nonnative language, as a second language, including nearly all professionals, academics, and government workers. In January 2003, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered the Department of Education to restore English as the medium of instruction in all schools and universities.

Only a few Filipino families use Spanish as a first language.


Please see Ilocano (Philippines) for information about the Ilocano language and culture.


Tagalog is the Austronesian language of the Philippines, spoken as a first language by about 17 million people on the island of Luzon and by at least half a million immigrant Filipinos. As the language of Manila, the capital and chief city of the Philippines, Tagalog has long had an importance outside its own speech area.

The Tagalog Alphabet

Tagalog has 16 consonant sounds, 5 vowel sounds, and 5 diphthongs. Syllable stress is used to distinguish between words that are otherwise similar. With the exception of the glottal stop ( ' ), all of the sounds are represented by letters in writing. Tagalog is a highly phonetic language. Generally, words are spelled as they are pronounced.

For examples of linguistic differences between English and Tagalog, see the section below entitled “Important Considerations for Assessment and Treatment.”


The Tagalog consonants are b, d, k, g, h, l, m, n, ng, p, ( ' ), r, s, t, w, and y. Ng represents the velar nasal, and the apostrophe ( ' ) represents the glottal stop.

For more information please see:Tagalog consonants


The Tagalog vowels are i, e, a, o, and u. Generally, these sounds maintain their pronunciation (or phonetic properties) regardless of the sounds around them. Consecutive vowels are generally articulated with a glottal stop intervening between them.

For more information please see:Tagalog vowels


The Tagalog diphthongs are iw, ay, aw, oy, and uy. These are complex sounds which are combinations of simple vowels and semi-vowels.

For more information please see:Tagalog diphthongs


Please click on the folloiwng link Tagalog phonics to hear recorded samples of the sounds associated with the Tagalog letters.


Please click on the following link Tagalog grammar for a comprehensive overview of all aspects of Tagalog grammar.

Implications for the SLP

Linguistic Considerations


A 2004 study followed the development of English phonology in a child whose first language was Tagalog. The question posed by the study was whether a monolingual SLP can distinguish between a language difference and a disorder. Results found that the SLP was able to distinguish between difference and disorder; however, it was critical that the SLP examine the phonological system of the child’s first language to look for similarities and differences with the English phonological system. It was also found that the SLP should follow clients over time and document changes with therapy to help distinguish disorder from difference. An important caveat, however, was that if an SLP were able to evaluate the client in his or her first language, problems would be immediately apparent, and the process would be considerably accelerated.

Some practical implications identified by the author of this study that can be applied to assessment of young children whose first language is Tagalog (as well as other first languages) are as follows. First, SLPs should take notice of the production of sound types. Delayed or deviant development should raise suspicion (e.g., universal patterns of development). Second, substitutions can be analyzed to determine if the child is using typical vs. idiosyncratic substitutions. Third, SLPs can determine if phonological processes are age appropriate and if extinction of processes follow a typical pattern. Finally, monitoring phonological performance over time can determine if later developing and dissimilar sounds are acquired.1

Some phonological differences to keep in mind during assessment include the following:

  • Nine English consonants do not occur in Tagalog: /v/, /j/, /z/, voiced and voiceless th, sh, dz, ch, z.
  • English phonology includes several more vowels and diphthongs than Tagalog.
  • Differences in place of articulation exist even with similar phonemes.


  • Tagalog does not have an auxiliary or linking verb (such as to be in English). Difficulty with forms that include this auxiliary verb should be anticipated during assessment, and direct instruction may be appropriate during intervention if it is not picked up naturally. 
  • Pronouns in Tagalog do not indicate gender. A pronoun can refer to either “he” or “she.”
  • Tagalog does not have the subject or predicate of the type to which English speakers are accustomed. Instead, Tagalog has “focus.” The concept of focus can be summarized by the following: In a Tagalog sentence, a Tagalog speaker will pick out a word that he or she most wants to emphasize. This word could be the most important word in the sentence, or it could have some special sense of prominence. This chosen word of special emphasis is said to be the focus of the sentence. The word chosen as the focus is dependent on what the speaker wants to emphasize. If unsure which word is the focus, it is helpful to ask oneself “What is the point of this sentence?” In spoken English something similar to focus is indicated by emphasizing the word with the voice, using stress. But Tagalog indicates focus by placing a marker in front of the word that is the focus. This marker indicates that the word that follows is the focus of the sentence. The concept of focus is integral to Tagalog grammar.
  • A 2006 study that reviewed the English Language Narratives of Filipino children revealed, among other results, that the use of non-standard English forms does not necessarily indicate a language disorder. Rather, these are utterances that may have been influenced by the grammatical structure of the Tagalog language they hear at home. 

Original Contributor: Erik S. Nebel, Winter 2011

References and Resources