From Great Britain to the Philippines (Part II) – Adapting to a new language

English as we know it has evolved by borrowing words from an estimated 350 languages, and today there are 375 million people who speak English as a first language, another 375 million people who speak English as a second language, and an impressive 750 million people who have learned to speak English outside of their native tongue.

As a “foreigner” in the Philippines, you will soon start to understand the concept of “Taglish” – a mix of Tagalog and English – which is essentially a colloquial fusion of both languages spoken concurrently. Think of it in terms of someone speaking Tagalog peppered with the occasional English word or phrase, or vice versa, and you’ll soon recognise Taglish a mile away, whether you overhear it in the office or when someone speaks to you as they would someone who has grown up here and has been immersed in the local language to an advanced degree.

This may seem complicated – and perhaps even confusing – however, what might be even more perplexing is the borrowing of certain English phrases or terms… the meanings of which are then changed to mean something different to what you might expect. The adaptations are generally quite similar, yet the literal meanings are not, which can take some time to grasp completely. One of the first such phrases that I encountered was during lunch with my new local colleagues: we were all sitting down having enjoyed a fantastic meal and bonding session at the end of a long week before we got to go home to our families for the weekend, when the company accountant stated “I’ll go ahead”. The literal English definition of this is that she is leaving first to wherever the group will eventually meet later, yet all that it means in Taglish is “I’m going” – quite similar, but definitely a different meaning. (Exactly where this confusion started remains unclear to me, but this phrase and many others will soon become commonplace once you have lived in the Philippines for any extended period of time.)

Another phrase that you will hear when speaking to a group of Filipinos is “nose bleed”, which certainly means something different to what you might expect; when a Filipino is becoming confused by their perceived lack of English, they will often exclaim “Nosebleed!” as a means of saying that their “brain has become overloaded with a lack of understanding” of what’s being said (as it was explained to me), thus causing their noses to figuratively bleed. Quite a strange phrase, undoubtedly, but you can see how it would have come about over the last century or so, and it also provides an insight into the unique Filipino sense of humour.

Also checkout From Great Britain to the Philippines (Part I) – Adapting to your New Home

About the author

David Bell