What Language Do They Speak In The Philippines?

by William Reid

It is safe to say that the Philippines are one of the most linguistically diverse people on the face of the earth. Experts put the total number of languages spoken in the Philippines between 120 and 187. How you classify the languages is what determines the exact number of languages. While there are other minor languages spoken within this region, the official languages of the Philippines are English and the Filipino.

From the many search results online, it is obvious that there is quite a bit of confusion over what language is spoken in the Philippines. As such, this article will do its best to break down the language formation in this region by explaining everything you need to know.

Languages of the Philippines

What you need to know

The Philippines were first colonized by Spain. As a result, Spanish was deemed as the official language, as it became the nation’s lingua franca between the 19th century and 20th century. However, the use of the Spanish language suffered a huge decline as the Americans occupied the country post-1940s. That’s because the occupiers ensured that English was taught at schools. In 1935, English was included as one of the official languages in a new constitution, with Spanish being the first. Part of the requirements of that constitution was the establishment of a common language that can be spoken by all Filipinos irrespective of where they come from.

Official language

As established earlier, there are two official languages used in the Philippines – Filipino and English. According to the nation’s Constitution of 1987, Filipino was considered as the lingua franca that should be used by all Filipinos regardless of their ethnic backgrounds.

Before then, the Tagalog was used to communicate between people from different tribes. The Tagalog was the national language as of then. Nevertheless, in 1987, the country saw the need to have a standard version of the Tagalog language, giving rise to Filipino. And in 2018, the President also signed the Filipino Sign Language (FSL) into law, making it the official sign language of the country. Since then, whenever the government wants to communicate with people who can’t hear, they use the FSL.


There is this argument about which of the official languages is used the most in formal settings. To answer that question, it may be a little difficult to state which of them is used more than the other. However, what is obvious is that both languages are used in education, government, broadcast media, print, and business. Along side these two major languages, a third local language is often used within such spaces as well.

Filipino is a remarkable language, as it has borrowed elements from other languages, such as English, Spanish, Arabic, Malay, Chinese, Sanskrit, Persian, Nahuatl, and Japanese. It is also important to state that even though Filipino is considered an official language, it does not seem to have as much importance as English language in some quarters. That said, Filipino remains the commonest form of communication for people in the Philippines, and Filipinos who live abroad.

In line with most observations, most Filipinos appear to be more fluent speaking Filipino, but write and speak better in English. Many language experts have attributed this to the fact that they communicate locally more with Filipino, but do their reading and writing more in English. Does that mean that people in the Philippines cannot write and read in Tagalog? Absolutely not! As a matter of fact, if you go through online forums where Filipinos go to, you would discover that they write more in Filipino than they do in English. It’s just that in terms of quality, they seem to have an upper hand in expressing themselves in English.

After Filipino, Cebuano is the second most spoken language in the Philippines. This language is spoken around Luzon’s south, in the Mindanao and Visayas. Cebuano has regional differences depending on the region where it is spoken, but the core elements remain the same. Meanwhile, the Cebuano speakers also study Tagalog and English in public schools. Most of the younger generation of Cebuano speakers are tri-lingual. Therefore, while it can be assumed that people in the Mindanao and Visayas speak English and Filipino, their Tagalog is weak because they do most of their communication in Cebuano. There are other minor, indigenous languages that cannot be captured in this post for obvious reasons.


In a nut shell, the most spoken languages in the Philippines are English, Filipino, and Cebuano. The majority of Filipinos speak Filipino and English, and Cebuano (for those who live around Luzon’s south).

Do you need an expert language translation or localisation service?

Get a Quote