Culture

Is It Easier for Filipinos To Learn Spanish?

Spanish is the second-most studied language in the Philippines in 2020, according to Duolingo. Though “Korean wave” currently dominates the country, Filipinos still recognized the relevance of Spanish in some aspects of their lives. With the prevalence of loan words in many Philippine regional languages, is it easier for Filipinos to learn Spanish? I asked five Filipinos from the community to see if that statement bears truth. Though they don’t represent the entire country and are not enough to form an acceptable consensus, it’s still important to recognize the pattern in their responses.

So is it easier for Filipinos of all stripes to learn Spanish?

“Yes, definitely. I’ve tried learning other Latin-based languages (Italian, Portuguese and French) alongside Spanish, but the latter is the easiest for me so far,” said Marielle Tayona, who is studying Spanish on her own using the language learning platform Duolingo.

Tayona shared that one of the reasons she found learning Spanish easier than other languages is because Spanish words have been absorbed into the Filipino/Tagalog vocabulary. “Its sentence structure is also easy for me as it’s similar to English. The pronunciation isn’t too much of a stretch as well, since the vowel sounds are similar to Filipino,” she added.

This has also been echoed by Melody Escaño, who also tried studying Spanish on Duolingo. “Apart from the [similarity] of many Spanish words … to Filipino … the Duolingo app I used … the Spanish songs I listened to and the Spanish people I talked to, I’m just basically interested in learning Spanish … that’s what makes it easier,” she shared.

For Ynnah Retoma, who took two Spanish electives in her school and is now studying Spanish on her own, such is also the case. “As a Filipino, whose country has been colonized by the Spanish people for more than 300 years, it is relatively easy for me to learn Spanish. This is because the Spanish culture and language is already ingrained in our culture. There are a lot of Filipino words that we use now that of Spanish origin, and relating them together as I study the language helped me familiarize with it more,” she said.

Retoma also shared that it was really easy to familiarize herself with most of the words; she found it easy to learn counting and identifying days of the week and months because “we already use them in some of our communications.”

The interviewees’ responses above are not surprising. According to Roger M. Thompson in his book “Filipino English and Taglish: Language Switching from Multiple Perspectives,” 33% of word roots in Tagalog are of Spanish origin, citing Llamzon and Thorpe (1972) in their review of a Filipino-English dictionary.

Yet, for Josquine Diaz, who studied Spanish on his own several years ago, it’s a slightly different story. Though it’s also easy for him to learn Spanish as a Filipino, there were some stumbling blocks — especially with grammar.

“At first, it was easy! The fact that we have tons of Spanish loan words in our language — which we’re not even aware of are derived from Spanish. The pronunciation was also easy, since the vowel and consonant sounds are already in use in Filipino.

“But when I encountered the tenses of verbs in Spanish, I almost gave up! Imagine, [there are] six different conjugations for each pronoun just for the present tense alone! And [the] Spanish past tense, urgh, you have imperfect and preterite … and the list continues. Grammatically [speaking], Spanish can cause you migraine at first, considering Filipino [language] only has one conjugation per tense that works for all pronouns.”

The same is the case with Robert Butantan, who first studied Spanish by himself then eventually enrolled at the Instituto Cervantes de Manila, as he emphasized that the more advanced you get, the harder it gets. “Being a Filipino does help me in learning Spanish compared to my Lebanese and Ukrainian classmates. Filipino and Spanish have a lot of loanwords; from simple things such as our dates and numbers up to a short introductory phrase like ‘Kumusta?’ (‘¿Cómo está?’). The similarities are fascinating.

“But, usually, the advantages disappear the more advanced you get. With the complicated grammar rules and the differences between Castilian Spanish and Latino Spanish, you might find yourself intimidated; the feeling of triumph when you breezed through the earlier levels long gone.”

Still, the two found ways to make Spanish work for them. For Diaz, loan words were an enormous help for him. He likened it to skipping a lesson on days of the week, months, numbers and telling time. “I believe [that] the wider your vocabulary is, the more able you become in constructing your own sentences and expressing yourself in Spanish,” he said.

Butantan shared a helpful piece of advice for those who want to study Spanish: “It’s important to feel motivated … integrate Spanish (or any other languages you might be learning) into as many aspects of your life as possible … nothing feels better than talking to a native speaker online and realizing you can talk to them with little to no help.”


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Arvyn Cerézo
Arvyn Cerézo is the editor of La Jornada Filipina, an English- and Spanish-language news magazine in the Philippines. His work has appeared in South China Morning Post, Publishers Weekly, AudioFile Magazine, PhilSTAR Life and Book Riot. You can find him on arvyncerezo.com.

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