So You REALLY Want to Learn Tagalog?

This post is for anyone who wants to learn a foreign language but cannot find a class or travel. It will be most helpful to those who want to learn Tagalog — but the general ideas apply to any foreign language. The first time I shared these tips, I was talking about learning German!

Whatever language you choose, you will need three things:

  • a good dictionary
  • a good grammar book
  • “real” media for native speakers

This is true even if you take a class. The textbook and the teacher are never enough. You’ll need to hear and to read as much of your new language outside class as you can. And it should be “real” media, not just media for learners. In my first “So You Want to Learn Tagalog?” post, I recommended some TV series that you can watch for free online. In future posts, I will share other kinds of “real” media. But in this post, I want to focus on the first two things on my list: the dictionary and the grammar book.

Dictionary Recommendations

My favorite online Tagalog-English dictionary is (The name might be a pun: “Tagalong lang” means “just Tagalog” — but it could also be short for “Tagalog language”!) What I like best is that the page for each Tagalog word includes sample phrases.

For example, the page for the root word “aral” has this list:

lesson, learning

Gusto kong mag-aral.
I want to study.

walang pinag-aralan
“without education” = uncouth

Parang wala kang pinag-aralan.
It’s like you’ve never been educated.
= You’re behaving like an uncivilized brute.

“bird study”

“fish study”


Mahirap pag-aralan ang wikang Tagalog.
Studying the Tagalog language is difficult.

Are you wondering about the differences between “mag-aral” and “pinag-aralan”? If you’re guessing that one is a verb and the other is a participle, you’re half-right and wholly European! A good grammar resource will tell you that both are verbs. It is their focus that is different.

Grammar “Book” Recommendations

To learn Tagalog grammar, the friendliest online resource is (As far as I can tell, it’s the only online resource.) The site also offers an online course and a book (either paper or PDF). I haven’t tried these, but if they are as good as the main site, they’ll be worth a try!

The site explains that adding the affix “mag-“ to a word can turn it into an infinitive that emphasizes the doer (Link). If Tagalog were a Western languages, this would be your basic infinitive. “Mag-aral” means to study — “Nag-aaral ako ng Tagalog” is “I am studying Tagalog.” On the other hand, the affixes “pag-“ (at the beginning) and “-an” (at the end, create an infitive that emphasizes the object. (Link) “Pinag-aralan” means to study something — “Pinapag-aralan ko ang Tagalog” is “I am studying Tagalog.”

If I were translating a Tagalog novel into English, I would translate “Nag-aaral ako ng Tagalog” simply to “I am studying Tagalog.” But I would translate “Pinapag-aralan ko ang Tagalog” to “I am learning all the ins and outs of Tagalog” — or something else that lets Tagalog (the object) be the star of the sentence.

I also really like the explanations in the textbook Tagalog Reference Grammar, which is on GoogleBooks. (Link)

Can you think of a third basic resource that every language learner should have?

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