Spanish & Tagalog: Languages I Should Know But Don’t

I am Filipina and Puerto Rican. When I tell that to people, they ALWAYS ask if I can speak Tagalog and Spanish. The truth is I can’t speak or understand either language. My mom came to America from the Philippines when she was really young and had to speak English in school. Now she only understands and says a few words in Ilocano (my grandparents’ dialect) here and there. My dad is a Nuyorican who was born in the Bronx and grew up in Puerto Rico. He speaks Spanish fluently. Although I can’t understand either language, I think I know enough of both to know when I’m being talked about.

Ilocano was never directly spoken to my brother, my cousins, or me. My grandparents only spoke it to my mom, her siblings, older family members, and each other. The only time they spoke to us kids in Ilocano was when they would threaten to spank us when we were causing a ruckus. The only phrases I understand are “awan ti rice” (“no more rice”) and “diak ammo” (“I don’t know”). And then there are the bad words like “ukininam” or “ukinam” that everyone just seems to already know. I honestly don’t even know how to count from 1 to 10 in Ilocano, and that pretty much sums up my knowledge of the dialect.

When I started high school, I decided to take a Tagalog class. Since I never heard the language at home, the class was really hard for me. I didn’t even know what “kain na” meant until my teacher taught it. I felt like a complete oddball because I was the only one that didn’t know a single word. I used to be so embarrassed about not being able to understand Tagalog, especially because older Filipina women would come up to me and start speaking in Tagalog. When they realized I didn’t understand them, they always gave me the DIRTIEST looks!

I’ve always understood bits and pieces of Spanish because my dad sang and talked to me in Spanish when I was a baby. So when it comes to speaking Spanish, I’ve got the basics down. I can say “water,” “goodbye,” “good morning,” and other easy phrases; but when it comes to a full-on conversation, I get lost. For the past year or so, I’ve been trying to teach myself Spanish using Duolingo. Although the website does help, I still have trouble understanding and writing sentences. And just like the older Filipina women, Hispanic women often come up to me speaking Spanish, and I always have to reply, “Sorry, pero no hablo español.”

During the past few years, I’ve gotten back in contact with my family members in the Philippines and Puerto Rico. Although both sides can speak English, it is sometimes hard for them to freely express themselves outside of their native tongues. Many times we use Google for quick translations, but let’s be real, Google isn’t always correct. Being born and raised in America has its perks, but sometimes I wish I grew up being able to speak and understand my family’s languages. Speaking English is cool, but imagine the possibilities of being fluent in 3 different languages!

In the meantime, I’ll continue to learn Spanish and hopefully gain enough courage to actually speak it. As for Tagalog and Ilocano, those will take some more time. If you know of any good books I can use to teach myself, let me know! I would love to be able to at least understand Tagalog and Ilocano!

Thanks for reading!

Webster’s Spanish-English Dictionary for Students, Second Edition (English and Spanish Edition)

Tagalog-English/English-Tagalog Standard Dictionary (Hippocrene Standard Dictionaries)


16 thoughts on “Spanish & Tagalog: Languages I Should Know But Don’t

  1. charles6c says:

    Hola Alexis! Estoy aprendiendo espanol tambien! You can watch shows/cartoons in Spanish on Netflix. This is very helpful for my learning and I still use it 🙂 Hopefully this helps!


  2. Elina McGill says:

    La lucha es real!
    The struggle is real!

    Though I’m not Haitian, many people from Haiti have walked up to me and tried to speak with me in Creole. I can only imagine the feeling of actually being a part of a culture/people and not understanding the language.

    I have a passion for language learning and am attempting to learn a handful and I’m tracking my journey on my blog, Polyglot Path. I would say that I have an intermediate understanding of Spanish (non-native) and feel confident that I can reach a near-native proficiency.

    Here are some resources other than Duolingo that I have used that might help you:

    This website helps you remember vocabulary effortlessly. It even has beginner, intermediate, and advanced courses. The website’s key is that it helps you associate images and stories with the words you learn so you remember easier. The free version is enough for most, but there is a paid option.

    Mango Languages
    Most language learners don’t know about Mango Languages, but it’s great. The courses take you all the way from the basics to knowledge you can use in a conversation with a real person. It gives you cultural notes as well as helps you learn the finer points of grammar in a painless way. This is free for most college students. Check your campus’s online databases and library technician. It’s also free for most people with a public library card. That’s how I use it. Bless them libraries.

    This one also has a free option and a paid option. There are thousands of audios and transcripts in levels for beginners, intermediates, and advanced learners. For me, this allows me to hear the audio and see the words. I can listen over and over as much as I like to. For the paid option, it allows you to save the words you don’t know and will quiz you on them. I suggest you check this one out. It’s a good all-around tool.

    I have tons of other resources. If you would like more tips and tricks to learning languages, reach out!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. alexisicasillas says:

      I really want to learn! I keep contact with my cousins there but sometimes it’s hard to understand them. I need a good teacher! or a good book to learn! haha. I would LOVE to be able to speak Tagalog!


  3. Edmark M. Law says:

    I’m a Filipino-Chinese (my mom is a Filipina) and I learned Tagalog during my childhood (my first language is Cantonese). As for Spanish, I learned it during the time when I was learning some European languages like French and Italian. Actually, I only learned Spanish (and those other European languages) to enable me to read Spanish (and other European) literature since English translations generally are not good enpugh, with a few exceptions. So, I’m not that fluent.

    I think that it’s easier to learn Tagalog first since it’s not as grammatically complex as Spanish. And the great thing about this is there are several Tagalog words borrowed from Spanish. Thus, you’re also learning some Spanish in a way when learning Tagalog.

    My grandmother (my mother’s side) is Ilocana so I’m also interested in learning Ilocano. However, I don’t have the time for it now… perhaps someday…

    Liked by 2 people

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