So You Want to Learn Tagalog?

August is National Language Month (Buwan ng Wika) in the Philippines. To commemorate it, I thought I’d write a short series of posts on Tagalog — the regional language that became the backbone of the national language. My ideal reader is someone who wants to learn Tagalog, but can’t really come to the Philippines yet.

The idea actually came to me two years ago, when I first took control of my German learning. Instead of waiting for my teachers to present things to me, I started looking for German resources on my own. I was looking both for things I might like and for things that all Germans would know. The first group, only I could determine. The second group, only a real German — or a lot of luck and persistence — could help me with. But what I thought was a simple question for Germans was actually quite challenging for them.

So I asked myself how I would answer a similar question. If someone wanted to learn Tagalog with media that “all Filipinos would know,” what would I recommend? This post is the first part of my answer.

Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho

Jessica Soho is one of the Philippines’ most popular journalists. She has her own highly-rated news and lifestyle TV show. I don’t watch it regularly, but whenever I do, I almost always enjoy it and learn something new. My favorite segments are those that show us interesting historical and cultural spots around the country. Here is one good example:

If you are learning Tagalog, you may be interested to know that “kapuso” from the title is a made-up word. It uses the prefix “ka” (which implies a connection) with the noun “puso” (heart). A “kapuso” is someone whose heart is connected to someone else’s. “Kapuso mo” means someone whose heart is connected to yours.

Even if you’re not learning, I encourage you to give the video a try. There are many Spanish words in it — because there are many Spanish words in Tagalog. And there are also a few English words — because the world’s lingua franca often creeps into the national language. If you watch it, you might be surprised at how much you understand!

Maalaala Mo Kaya

Another long-running show that all Filipinos know about is the drama anthology Maalaala Mo Kaya (my translation: Would You Even Remember). Instead of a regular cast and continuous storyline, it has different actors and a new story each time. (It’s safe to say that every Filipino actor of the last twenty-five years has been on the show at least once.) All the stories are taken from real life — mostly from letters that people have written to the network. And the show has become such a part of pop culture that if someone has a really dramatic life story, friends will joke that he should write to Maalaala Mo Kaya about it.

It definitely uses harder Tagalog than the Kapuso Mo videos. There is also much less Spanish and English. Perhaps the biggest drawback is emotional: most of the stories are very sad. (It’s Aristotle’s fear and pity — Filipino style!) But if you’re learning, it’s really one of the best “real Tagalog” resources you will ever find.

Pangako Sa’Yo

If you really do want to learn Tagalog, it is probably because of the telenovela Pangako Sa’Yo (international title: The Promise). A story of love and revenge across generations, it was a huge success all over Asia and Africa. Fifteen years later, the network rebooted it with new actors. The original is what I really want to recommend, but it will be easier for you to find episodes from the reboot. Check out the first episode and see if you like it:

You can also watch it dubbed in (Philippine) English (Link).

I realize that telenovelas are not everyone’s cup of tea. They aren’t a good general recommendation like Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho and Maalaala Mo Kaya are. But Pangako Sa’Yo has thousands of passionate fans, from over twenty countries — so it must have done something right. It also reminds me of a point I want to make about “real language” resources.

For my own German learning, I wanted a good balance between what I might like and what all Germans would know. That is, resources that fit my personality and resources that would help my personality become more German. If you’re a Tagalog learner who loves romance and drama, the national hit Pangako Sa’Yo is perfect for you.

And if you prefer another kind of entertainment, perhaps one of my follow-up posts will have something for you!

So do you want to learn Tagalog?

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