Do People In The Philippines Speak Spanish? (Not Quite)

By Jasmine on February 9, 2024


Understanding the Lingual Heritage: Do People in the Philippines Still Speak Spanish?

The Philippines has a rich and diverse linguistic landscape, thanks to its myriad of cultural influences over centuries. One of the significant influences that have shaped the country’s linguistic profile is Spanish due to over 300 years of Spanish colonial rule. Today, one striking question that arises is whether Filipinos still speak the language of their erstwhile colonizers.

Contrary to popular belief, while Spanish is no longer widely spoken in everyday conversation among Filipinos, it has left an indelible imprint on their local languages. According to data from Ethnologue, there are about 2. 8 million speakers of Chavacano – a Spanish-based creole language in the Philippines. However, this figure represents only a small fraction (less than 3%) of the country’s population.

Most Filipinos today speak English and Filipino (or Tagalog), which are both official languages. Filipino is an Austronesian language with many words borrowed from Spanish. Meanwhile, English proficiency is widespread due to American colonial influence and its use as the medium of instruction in schools.

Nevertheless, even if most Filipinos don’t converse in fluent Spanish anymore, its echoes can still be heard in many aspects of Filipino culture and language:

  • Loanwords: There are thousands of Spanish loanwords in Filipino languages. These are words borrowed from another language due to their utility or prestige.
  • Proper nouns: Many surnames and place names in the Philippines are Spanish or have Hispanic origins.
  • Cuisine: Names for many traditional Filipino dishes such as adobo, leche flan and menudo are derived from Spanish.
  • Religious rituals: As predominantly Catholic nations, many religious ceremonies and festivals bear names with roots embedded in Spain’s linguistic heritage.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest towards learning Spanish among younger Filipinos. Various factors such as career opportunities, cultural exploration, and heritage appreciation have contributed to this trend. Some universities have reintroduced Spanish in their curriculum, and language learning apps have made it accessible for interested learners.

While Spanish may no longer be the lingua franca of the Philippines, its legacy continues to reverberate in the archipelago’s linguistic heritage. Understanding this influence not only provides a fascinating insight into the country’s historical past but also enriches our appreciation of its vibrant and diverse linguistic landscape. Deciphering Linguistic Origins: Can Filipinos Understand Spanish?

As a former Spanish colony, the Philippines has had a unique linguistic history with a range of languages co-existing and influencing each other. However, despite being under Spanish rule for over 300 years, the question arises – can Filipinos understand Spanish?

Spanish was an official language in the Philippines until the first half of the 20th century. However, it was not widely spoken across the archipelago due to various social, political, and geographical factors. Instead, it was primarily used as a lingua franca among the educated elite and within government circles. For this reason, widespread fluency in Spanish among Filipinos rapidly diminished following independence from Spain and subsequent American colonial rule.

In contemporary times, only around 0. 5% of Filipinos can speak fluent Spanish. However, this figure does not fully reflect the underlying comprehension of Spanish among Filipinos due to the significant influence it has had on Filipino languages such as Tagalog.

Significant Linguistic Influence

The enduring influence of Spanish on Filipino languages is evident when examining their respective lexicons. An estimated 20% to 30% of Tagalog words are of Spanish origin.

This extensive borrowing means that many Filipinos possess a passive understanding of Spanish vocabulary without necessarily being able to speak or understand complex sentences in the language.

Language Shifts and Education

In addition to lexical borrowing from Spanish into Filipino languages like Tagalog or Cebuano; English – another colonizing force – also plays a major role in shaping modern Filipino languages. Post-independence educational reforms led to English becoming the dominant language in schools, contributing to a further decline in the active use of Spanish.

However, there has been a recent resurgence in interest towards learning Spanish among Filipinos. This is due to several reasons including increased economic and cultural ties with Spanish-speaking countries, heritage preservation efforts, and personal interest.

The Chavacano Exception

While Spanish is not widely spoken by Filipinos at large, there is one exception – the Creole language known as Chavacano. Spoken by around 600,000 people mainly in the Zamboanga City region and other parts of Mindanao, it’s one of the few places where a form of Spanish has survived as a community language.

Table: Percentage of Tagalog words with Spanish origins





Days of the week




Common objects


In summary, while most Filipinos may not be able to understand or speak fluent Spanish, they can still recognize and understand many Spanish words due to their significant presence in Filipino languages such as Tagalog. This enduring lingual heritage underscores the complex linguistic history of the Philippines.

The intermingling of Spanish and Filipino cultures has left an indelible mark on the Philippine language landscape. This is particularly evident in the extensive use of Spanish words in Tagalog or Filipino, the national language of the Philippines. With about 500 years of Spanish influence, it’s no surprise that there is a considerable number of Spanish words embedded within the Filipino language.

A History Steeped in Influence

The Philippines was a colony of Spain for over 300 years, from the mid-16th century to the late 19th century. During this period, Spanish was widely used as a medium for education, administration, and religious propagation. Although it ceased to be an official language after 1987, traces of its influence remain vividly imprinted on Filipino vocabulary and grammar.

A Profound Linguistic Impact

The impact of Spanish on Tagalog/Filipino is profound. Studies suggest that anywhere from 20% to 33% of Tagalog words are derived from Spanish. These include everyday words like “mesa” (table), “silya” (chair), “relo” (watch or clock), and “kutsara” (spoon), among countless others.

Moreover, aside from common nouns, many other categories also bear witness to this influence:

  • Days of the week: From Lunes (Monday) to Domingo (Sunday), every day is named in Spanish.
  • Months of the year: Enero (January) to Diciembre (December), all twelve months bear their corresponding Spanish names.
  • Numbers: From uno (one) to diez (ten) – Filipinos often use these when counting money or expressing date and time.

Morphological Adaptations

It’s intriguing how these loanwords have been morphologically adapted into Filipino phonological system. Spanish words undergo several changes to fit into the phonetic rules of Tagalog. For example, the introduction of the letter ‘h’ in words like “kwarto” (cuarto) and “kuwadra” (cuadra), or changing ‘j’ to ‘h’ as in “hermano” (hermano) and “trahaho” (trabajo).

Semantic Changes

Besides morphological adaptations, many Spanish words have also undergone semantic changes. The borrowed word might deviate from its original meaning in Spanish when used by Filipinos. For example, “de lata” in Filipino refers to canned goods, while in Spanish it merely describes something made of tin or metal.

Final Words

The presence of Spanish words in Tagalog/Filipino is a testament to the rich and colorful history of the Philippines. Despite their geographical distance, these two cultures are intimately intertwined through their shared linguistic heritage. This connection empowers Filipinos with a unique cultural identity that straddles both east and west – a reflection of their historical experiences and influences.

Languages, like cultures, do not exist in isolation. They tend to share, exchange and borrow elements from each other as a result of historical, political, economic or societal interactions. This is particularly evident when we examine the Filipino language or ‘Tagalog’. A significant portion of the Tagalog lexicon derives its roots from the Spanish language, reflecting the influence Spain exerted on the Philippines during its colonial rule that lasted over three centuries (1521-1898).

A Brief History of Spanish Influence on Tagalog

Through the course of Spain’s reign over the Philippines, Spanish was imposed as the official state language. This imposition led to a gradual integration process where Filipino languages like Tagalog absorbed copious amounts of Spanish vocabulary. It’s estimated that around 20% of Tagalog words are loanwords from Spanish.

Evidence of Spanish Influence in Everyday Tagalog

The presence of Spanish words in Tagalog is not confined to arcane or esoteric terms but rather prominently visible in everyday language use by Filipinos.


A wealth of common nouns in Filipino are borrowed from the Spanish language.

  • Mesa (Table)
  • Baso (Glass)
  • Silya (Chair)
  • Relo (Watch)


The enumeration system in Tagalog has a noticeable resemblance to its counterpart in Spanish.

  • Isang libo (Mil, meaning ‘one thousand’)
  • Dalawang daan (Doscientos, meaning ‘two hundred’)

Days and Months

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The names for days and months employed by Filipinos are virtually identical to those used by native speakers of Spanish.

For instance:



Lunes (Monday)

Enero (January)

Martes (Tuesday)

Febrero (February)

The Diminishing Influence of Spanish on Modern Tagalog

Notwithstanding the strong Spanish influence on Tagalog, the use of Spanish terms in everyday language has been declining. This can be attributed to several factors including the introduction of English as a mandatory subject in schools, the influence of American popular culture, and globalization.

However, it’s important to note that despite these ongoing changes, the linguistic heritage and historical ties between Spanish and Tagalog are deeply ingrained and continue to have a profound impact on Filipino culture and identity. It’s an irrefutable testament to the fact that languages are not static entities but dynamic systems that evolve over time based on various socio-cultural and political influences.

An interesting facet of language evolution is the shared lexical items across languages. In particular, we can observe a substantial number of shared words between Spanish and Filipino languages, evidence of the significant Spanish influence on the Philippines over approximately 333 years of colonization from 1521 to 1898.

A Brief History

During Spain’s rule over the Philippines, Spanish was enforced as the official language. Many Filipinos learned Spanish, and inevitably, numerous Spanish words were incorporated into the native languages. With time, these words have been nativized, adapting to the phonological system of Philippine languages.

Shared Vocabulary

Let’s delve into some common lexical grounds between these two languages:

  • Days of The Week For example, Monday translates as “Lunes” in both languages; Tuesday is “Martes,” Wednesday is “Miercoles,” and so forth.
  • Common Household Items: Many household item names in Filipino derive from Spanish terms. For instance, ‘table’ in Filipino is ‘mesa,’ adapted from its Spanish counterpart ‘mesa’. Similarly, ‘chair’ is ‘silya’ in Filipino which comes from ‘silla’ in Spanish.
  • Numbers: Many numbers are almost identical in both languages. The numbers one through ten in Filipino are: uno (1), dos (2), tres (3), kwatro (4), singko (5), sais (6), siyete (7), otso (8), nuebe (9), dyis(10) – clearly mirroring their Spanish equivalents.

The Linguistic Shift

While there are many similar words between Filipino and Spanish, it’s crucial to note that they may not carry identical meanings or connotations due to shifts in usage over time or contextual reasons. A notable example is the Spanish word ’embarazada,’ meaning ‘pregnant’ in English. The Filipinos adopted this word as ’embarasada’ but with a completely different meaning of ’embarrassed. ‘ Such shifts are not uncommon in language evolution and demonstrate the dynamic nature of language contact and borrowing.

Final Considerations

The shared lexical grounds between Spanish and Filipino help us appreciate the deep historical, cultural, and linguistic ties between Spain and the Philippines. It’s a testament to how languages can blend, adapt, and evolve over time under external influences. Even though Spanish is not widely spoken in the Philippines today, its echoes can be heard in many aspects of Filipino languages – serving as a tangible reminder of their intertwined histories.

The cultural and linguistic heritage of the Philippines is a fascinating amalgamation of influences, with significant imprints of Malay, Chinese, American, and Spanish cultures. A consequence of this rich historical background is that the Filipino language has absorbed words from multiple languages. Among these influences, Spanish has left an enduring mark on the Filipino linguistic landscape.

A Brief History of Spanish Influence in the Philippines

The Spanish ruled the Philippines for over 300 years (1565-1898), which lead to a profound impact on the local culture and languages. The national language itself, Filipino, is based mostly on Tagalog but includes a substantial number of Spanish loanwords.

Shared Lexicon: A Glimpse into Filipino and Spanish Vocabulary

One can find everyday use of Spanish vocabulary in the Filipino language.

  • trabaho (work) from trabajo
  • kutsara (spoon) from cuchara
  • mesa (table)
  • kuwento (story) from cuento
  • silya (chair) from silla

These shared words have slightly adapted to fit within the phonetics and spelling rules of Tagalog/Filipino but their roots remain firmly traceable to Spanish.

Cognates: Shared Grammar Rules

Beyond vocabulary, there are also shared grammatical features between the two languages due to this historical contact. This is evident in certain suffixes used for word formation.

  • The suffix -ado/-ada, similar to -ed in English or -té/-tain French, is commonly used in both languages to form adjectives or past participles.
    • For instance: cansado/cansada (tired), llegado/llegada (arrived).

Borrowings: Shared Cultural References

Several shared words between the two languages reveal common cultural references, particularly in agriculture, food, religion, and household items. This is reflective of the Spanish colonial period’s lifestyle.

  • Agriculture related words: mais (corn) from maízsibuyas (onion) from cebolla
  • Food-related words: lechon (roast pig) from lechónpanaderia (bakery) from panadería
  • Religious terms: ‘santo’ (holy), ‘iglesia’ (church)
  • Household terms: ‘plato’(plate), ‘ventana’(window)


The shared lexical grounds between the Spanish and Filipino languages are a testament to the enduring influence of Spanish colonization. Despite having evolved separately for over a century now, these shared words continue to exist as linguistic bridges between the two cultures. While this linguistic overlap may not make Filipinos fluent in Spanish or vice versa, it does provide a familiar ground and can potentially facilitate language learning for those who choose to explore it further.

Despite the Philippines being a country with a diverse linguistic landscape, the influence of Spanish language and culture remains evident in many aspects. One such area is the naming convention for the months of the year, which is deeply rooted in Spanish. The introduction of Gregorian calendar by Spain to Philippines during their Eastern conquests created a significant impact that exists till today.

The Gregorian Calendar in the Philippines

Introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, the Gregorian calendar was aggressively promoted by Spain, replacing the previously used Julian calendar in its territories, including the Philippines. Because of this transition, most Filipinos gradually adopted Spanish month names.

Here’s a comparison chart showing Filipino and Spanish month names:

Month (English)

Month (Filipino)

Month (Spanish)





































From this table, you can see that Filipino month names are almost identical to their Spanish counterparts with minor changes considering local pronunciation patterns.

Legacy of Spanish Rule

The Spanish rule in the Philippines lasted for approximately 300 years (1565-1898), and during this period, they implemented profound socio-cultural reforms, including a language shift towards Spanish.

Although the Spanish language isn’t broadly spoken in the Philippines today, its impact resonates through Filipino (Tagalog) vocabulary and phraseology. While local dialects have certainly added their unique flavors to Tagalog over time, many words and expressions are still Spanish or have a Spanish origin.

Current Status of Spanish Influence

While the English language has largely replaced Spanish as a lingua franca in the Philippines due to American influence in the 20th century, traces of Spanish remain embedded in many aspects of Filipino culture. The Filipino calendar system is one such example.

The Gregorian calendar with its associated month names continues to be used across the country. It’s not just limited to urban areas but extends to rural regions as well, highlighting how deeply embedded this aspect of Spanish culture has become over centuries.

In summary, while there’s been a significant shift from Spanish to English in several areas of Filipino life post-independence, certain aspects like calendar terms continue to exhibit a strong Spanish influence. This provides an intriguing glimpse into how historical events can leave lasting impacts on language and culture.

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