New Language Project: Tagalog!

Kumusta! Anong balita?

In my last post, I talked about how it’s going to take 15 weeks for the results of my German-to-English translation test to get back to me.

Well, I’m going to use this time wisely and try to cross off something on my language bucket list while I wait:

I’m going to learn Tagalog!

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know how important this is to me. I’m half-Filipino, half-American, and I’m very proud of both sides of my heritage. But since I speak English and a little bit of Spanish, I’ve got the American side covered. It’s time to reach out to my Pacific side. And after having seriously studied Arabic, Spanish, and German, I’m looking forward to learning my first Asian language.

The Gates of Intramuros, Manila By

The Gates of Intramuros, Manila
By Elmer B. Domingo [CC BY-SA 3.0], Image Source

Right now, I don’t speak a lick of Tagalog. Like all kids who have a parent who speaks another language, I know some important household terms and, of course, swear words. But other than that, nothing.

My specific goal is to reach an advanced beginner level, approximately A2 on the CEFR scale, by the end of 15 weeks. According to Wikipedia, this means I’ll be able to do stuff like the following:

<begin quoted text>

  • Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment).
  • Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters.
  • Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.

<end quoted text>

Don’t let the “beginner” label fool you. If you reach A2, you’re speaking a language. You’ll have some difficulty and will only be able to discuss or understand limited topics, but authentic communication is happening.

And reaching A2 still requires significant work. Radio station and language course publisher Deutsche Welle estimates it takes 75 hours of classroom instruction to reach A1 (in German). If you’re looking to get to A2, I think it would be reasonable to expect to have to put in something like 150 to 200 hours of effort. To reach my goal in 15 weeks, I need to put in at least 10 hours a week consistently.

This is going to be different from my German project in that my main goal is conversation, not translation. Also, there’s no test at the end. This is a very personal goal, so I’ll know if I reach it by less tangible factors.

I’m planning on doing some videos to document my progress and posting them on my way-too-ignored YouTube channel.

Okay…as a language blogger who tries to pay attention to what his readers need, I have to acknowledge that most of you are not learning Tagalog. And I get it. Most of you don’t have Filipino moms. (And if you do, you may already speak Tagalog.)

However, I do know that there are a lot of Filipino-Americans and Filipino-Canadians who are more or less like me, who want to get in touch with their roots. I want to show them it’s very possible to achieve this goal.

And there are people out there who are learning Tagalog who may not have discovered my blog yet. (If this is you, maligayang pagdating!)

And finally, for everyone else, I hope you can get more insight into the process of learning a language on your own. Within a week or so from today (June 17, 2015), I’m going to send out a newsletter article about how you can benefit from this project, even if you’re learning another language. So if you haven’t signed up for Language Surf Club, be sure to join to get in on that very soon.

I’ve got some materials ready to go and have already started learning some phrases. I’m amped up and ready to go.

Wish me luck!



  • Roman Shinkarenko

    David Pablo Flores in his guide to creating a language, speaks about how many Philippines languages have an unusual syntax system, so-called “trigger system”. That’s a new concept, I’m eagerly anticipating updates!

    • Ron G.

      Thanks, Roman! With just the little bit of Tagalog I’ve looked at so far, I’m already puzzled by a few of the grammatical features. Tuttle Publishing is hooking me up with a text book, so I’m looking forward to using that.

      • Roman Shinkarenko

        Does this book have good texts or dialogues? Because many TY and Colloquial books have vomit instead of dialogs.
        Maybe I’ll tongue-in-cheek write really interesting dialogs for Russian learners. You know, about our protagonist going to an arcade hall or writing some poetry. If you’re affirmative, I could write them this week.
        BTW, congratulations to you for following your bucket list.

        • Ron G.

          LOL…I really, really think you could make a whole course out of that. Call it “Fun Russian” or something. There are a lot of people interested in learning Russian, and anything fun like that would get people interested and sell.

          You could act out the dialogues yourself (maybe with someone else to read the other roles). Also, if you were targeting English speakers learning Russian, you could write the grammatical/linguistic explanations. The advantage you have over a lot of people is that your English writing is so strong. You can communicate across cultures.

          • Roman Shinkarenko

            So I’m planning to write a sample dialogue this week (21.06.2015).
            I’m always short on ideas. Thinking about what to write next always gives me metaphorical headaches. Don’t hesitate to use “What should we write about next” box.
            My unfavourite dialogue is where the person who just arrived in the country thinks about where to go and considers *only* theaters and museums. No nightclubs, parks or at least folk music concerts. Those textbooks grind into us the notion that language learning is not supposed to be fun.
            For cross-cultural differences check out a book by Lynn Visson, who knows how much us Russian speakers can be crazy.

        • Ron G.

          Oh, and to answer your question, I’m not sure yet. I hope so!

  • Lindsay Dow

    Good luck, Ron! Looking forward to seeing how things progress with your Tagalog! :)

    • Ron G.

      Thanks, Lindsay! I’m taking a page out of your book and getting myself speaking the language sooner than later. I loved your Japanese-language movie. I might not get that fancy, but I think it’s useful to see someone making their best effort from the beginning.

      • Lindsay Dow

        Cool! Thanks, Ron. Glad you liked the little movie! It’s also really fun/cringeworthy to look back on and see how much you’ve improved as things go on. :)

  • Red/

    “75 hours of classroom instruction to reach A1”.
    Are those hours only of classroom, right? Then, at the time required for explanations, has to be added also time to revise, to do some drills, to listen to language, write some short phrases. So, how many hours have to be added to the 75 hours of classroom?

    • Ron G.

      You know, I’m not sure. I assume they do factor in that you’ll do homework. But I wouldn’t think they would be able to *count* on people doing stuff outside of class either, especially if they’re dealing with adult learners.

      For my own goal setting, I use figures like that as a general guide–and reality check. I think the DW estimate figures after 3 hours of class a week for 25 weeks (or 6 hours of class for 12-13 weeks) you’ll be able to pass the A1 test. That’s probably right for most people.

      In this particular case, I asked myself, if I have 10 hours a week to devote to Tagalog, can I get fluent (B2-ish) in 15 weeks? Most likely not. So I set a more modest but still lofty goal.

  • Cat Ramos キャット ラモス

    Wow, good luck with Tagalog! I am a native speaker, just in case you need some help :) Paalam!

    • Ron G.

      Salamat, Cat! I’m going to need a lot of help. So far, some of the words and intonations are familiar, and I’m seeing the English and Spanish influence. But I’m also getting really confused with some of the language–the way I should be at this point. :) Thank you for your offer to help! I might take you up on that. Sa uulitin!

      • Hitrizie

        Hi Ron, what is the meaning of salamat here? I guess , salamat means hello? is that true? coz you said it to Cat at the beginning of the sentence:-) I am just asking, because it sounds similar to Indonesian/ Malay, we have word of selamat, means congratulations 😀

        • Ron G.

          Hi Hitri! It means “Thank you.” I’m sure it comes from the same origin though. :)

          • Hitrizie

            Ach so , salamat Ron :-)

  • geostat12

    Kaya mo yan! :)) Good luck! :)

    • Ron G.

      Salamat! It’s past 15 weeks and I didn’t meet my goal, but I’ve been making steady, slow progress and am still going.

  • hubert cardenas

    hello, im a filipino here in the philippines and im thankful for your blog ^_^…
    i see that you are learning diff . languages. Can i know how much are foreign language classes, in your most recent experience?