The Philippines is a country of many languages. In each region they speak a different language, or at least a somewhat different language! It is said that there are more than 80 languages of the Philippines.
The Philippines has two “National Languages,” which are Filipino (which is largely based on Tagalog) and English. In truth, the two most widely spoken languages in the Philippines are Tagalog and Cebuano (also known as Bisaya).
For the most part, Tagalog is spoken in the northern part of the country, on the island of Luzon (although other languages are spoken on the island of Luzon as well). In most of the Visaya region of the Philippines, Cebuano is spoken, or a variety of the Bisayan language. In the southern region of the Philippines, Mindanao, Cebuano is the most widely spoken language as well. About 25 Million speak Tagalog as their main language. Those who speak Cebuano also number around 25 Million.
Now, it should be understood that almost everybody here can speak Tagalog, as it is taught in school. However, most people don’t speak Tagalog as their first language, it is a second language for most people. By this I mean that if people are sitting around the house talking with friends or family, they mostly are not speaking Tagalog. In some parts of the country they do, but the majority of the country does not use Tagalog as their language of choice.
So, Which Language to Learn?
As I said, Tagalog is one of the National Languages of the Philippines. So, I should learn Tagalog, right? Wait! Not so fast! In the region where I lived when I first decided to learn the language, most people did not use Tagalog. Oh, they can speak Tagalog, they learned it in school, but the language of choice was Cebuano (Bisaya). So, learning Tagalog would leave me in the same position as if I only knew how to speak English – I would not understand most of the conversation going on around me. I would be frustrated with that. So, I decided to learn Cebuano.
The thing you need to do is decide what language most of your Filipino friends and family (if applicable) speak. Not what language they know, but what they actually speak, because you can bet the almost all Filipinos speak multiple languages. When they are sitting around with family and friends, which language do they use? Once you know that, you really should learn that language! What language do they speak in the region where you will live, or where you will visit? This is very important to consider in choosing the language to learn. If you live in Cebu, where Cebuano is king… it would really be a waste of your time to learn Tagalog, because it is not widely used in Cebu. Likewise, if you are living Metro Manila, without a doubt, Tagalog is the language for you.