Tagalog vs English? Take the 30-word challenge!

I’ve always made the assertion that proficiency in the English language is the Filipino’s ticket to success. Being a good English speaker is the key to upward social mobility in Philippine society where a persistent and deeply-ingrained colonial-mentality continues to imprison the Filipino mind. More importantly, the vast majority of information and knowledge critical to competing in today’s world is documented in English. To limit one’s self to Tagalog or any local Philippine dialect severely limits one’s range of available knowledge to draw upon as there is very little Tagalog-articulated material out there (whether these be books, movies, or television progamming) that nourishes the brain.

What’s more, I believe, English is efficient. You can express a technical or scientific concept in English with half the words that you might require to express it in Tagalog. For that matter, consider the word “efficient” and wonder: Is there a Tagalog word for “efficient”, to begin with?

That Tagalog lacks a direct translation for the word “efficient” says a lot about the character of the people who speak the language. Perhaps efficiency is simply not a part of our “cultural DNA”. And this property is reflected in our language. Unfortunately for us, this could be one of the single biggest factors that is hobbling our efforts to compete globally. I wrote about this possibility extensively in my book

So while the masses are now able to understand Tagalog language news programs and political talk shows, they still struggle with business, science and technology material expressed in English. Tagalog is like a dog collar donned by Philippine society as a puppy. The puppy is now struggling to grow but the size of the collar remains the same. This puppy has only two choices — (a) remove the collar or (b) suck all its food through a straw. Both alternatives are equally difficult. I’ve never known of a dog that managed to remove its own collar without help. Similarly, I’ve never seen a dog pucker up its lips much less suck anything through a straw.

Yet, the question persists to this day. Should we undertake a massive effort to translate as much of the world’s knowledge as possible into Tagalog? Or should we start engineering massive change in the institutions of Education and Family to impart a culture of speaking English properly and intelligently. Speaking in English is certainly not about speaking it to look cool. Filipinos in the Philippines use English (even as they struggle with it) as an instrument to perpetuate social stratification — as a tool to delineate social class boundaries — the A-crowd with their country club “coño”-speak, the general private-schoolers with their collegiala or “Arrneo” accent, the “jologs” with their SMS-messaging-derived form of spoken and written pidgin English, and the English of movie stars portraying rich Filipinos.

I am conceding, however, that a past experience of mine had challenged the assertion that English is an “efficient” language.

I recall participating in one of those Tagalog-vs-English “debates” in the online message forum Peyups.com where I proposed a kind of a test on the efficiency by which Tagalog can articulate complex concepts by issuing a challenge to translate the following text into Tagalog:

Just because molecular irregularities cause a ballbearing’s radius to vary by nanometers along its surface does not stop us from attributing a spherical quality to it at a macro level.

The performance criteria is simple. Above is a concept articulated in one sentence using 30 words. The challenge is to match that economy of expression using Tagalog while maintaining the clarity, conciseness, and completness (the “three C’s”) of the original message.

One of the forum inhabitants who goes by the handle “bazookabubblegum” came up with a pretty close one:

Dahil ba ang di-pantay na pagkakamulatil na nagdudulot sa pagbabago ng sukat sa lihit ng bolitas sa nanometro ay di ibig sabihin walang kinalaman ito sa anyong pantimbulog sa pangkalahatang antas.

And introduced the following Tagalog words (though I’m not too sure if these are real or made up):

mulatil (mulaang butil) = molecule
lihit = radius
timbulog = sphere

And I thought: At 32 words (missing the mark by only two), Jeez, maybe I may in fact be wrong about Tagalog! So being the strapping sportsman that I am, I decided to take a stab as well. This is what I came up with:

Bagama’t ang pang-molekyular na irregularidad ay sanhi ng pagbabago ng reydyus ng bolbering sa sukat na nanometro ay di sapat na rason na di nating i-regard ang mala-bolang kwalidad nito sa makrong lebel.

My 35-word bid above assures Mr. bazookabubblegum’s record is safe for now. Unless of course some brave soul takes up the challenge to defend the dignity of our beloved Tagalog dialect by coming up with better translations.

Any takers?


Post Author: benign0

benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.

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47 Comments on "Tagalog vs English? Take the 30-word challenge!"

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Ang di-pantay na pagkakamulatil na nagdudulot ng ga-nanometrong pag-iiba sa lihit ng isang bolitas ay hindi hadlang sa pag-uuri nito bilang timbulog sa isang macrong antas.

P.S. mulatil, lihit, and timbulog can be found in old Tagalog and Filipino dictionaries.

Joshua T.

I speak the language with a lesser degree of reluctance, but to be fair, Tagalog-Filipino is more difficult to learn than English IMO.

Joe America

It appears that Tagalog can be efficient. The question is, how many Europeans, Koreans, Japanese, Australians, Americans, and Chinese speak it.

The “World Language” is English, the world is getting smaller, and quaint dialects can be relegated to dead but revered status, like Latin. The questions is, does the Philippines wish to compete on the global stage of commerce and technology, or sit back and admire its wonderfully poignant historically fractionalized self? Rather like my two year-old adores his poops.


Isn’t “Filipino” more fitting for the title rather than “Tagalog”?


Filipino can be efficient, if only people took the effort to ACTUALLY learn the language. If Bahasa Indonesia can coexist with Javanese, Acehnese, Sundanese, Minangkabau, Madurese, and the 11 other Indonesian languages with at least a million speakers, why can’t Filipino can coexist with our other dialects?


“Filipino vs English” would be a better title because Tagalog is also a dialect. =)

Hyden Toro

Speaking and writing in English; does not make you less of a Filipino…speaking and writing in Tagalog; does not make you more of a Filipino…
Noynoy Aquino is trying to speak in Tagalog…yet, look at what he is doing to the country…
Internet Bloggers are blogging in English…look at how they are informing their fellow Filipinos…
It is your motivation to help the Filipinos that matters…not the outward display of false nationalism…to divert people, what your true motives are…to delude people…


If by upward social mobility you mean gaining wealth and influence, I recently encountered an industry where the opposite is true. Speaking english is in fact discriminated against, people who speak english are seen as conyo and are made fun of. It became necessary to adopt the tagalog slang prevalent in the industry in order to get ahead and not be backstabbed.

This is interesting. On the flip side of things, one of the most technologically and mathematically advanced societies in the world speak, read and write in one of the most “inefficient” (but very intelligent) language I know of- Japanese. Perfect example would be that scene in Lost in Translation where Bill Murray is doing his brandy commercial. I do think that the Japanese language and its tendency to be as detailed as possible when written or spoken is very good for instructional and scientific work. TBH, I don’t really care for language… I still think English is the more efficient… Read more »
Filipinos also don’t seem to have a word for “logic” either. I’m the only one in the Philippines that uses it. I also use the word “illogical”. I grew up on Star Trek so I use that word a lot. But it dumbfounds Filipinos. When Filipinos call me cheap cause I don’t let them scam me or make me overpay, or I complain about being ripped off, I reply, “I am not cheap. I am efficient. ‘Efficient’ is a more accurate word for my philosophy and spending habits. ‘Cheap’ is a bad word used to insult people and is used… Read more »
it's the entire fault of Imperial Manila and K.W.F.!
it's the entire fault of Imperial Manila and K.W.F.!

One of the factors that helped the U.S.A. government win World War 2 is that it invested in their own country’s indigenous peoples’ languages as Code Talkers.

Here in the Philippines, the Tagalists, K.W.F., and Imperial Manila are pushing the endangerment and dying of several Philippine indigenous minority languages, and the slow but certain displacement of other Philippine regional languages. All because of Tagalog language-centrism, and Imperial Manila! So, K.W.F. what are you doing about this?

The impression that just because most filipinos watch tagalog shows on tv and the movies does not mean that they can speak and articulate themselves well in tagalog. I have been all over visayas and mindanao and most locals lacks the fluency or don’t speak tagalog at all. The only place where you can hear most people speak tagalog is perhaps davao city and cotabato city but if you listen closely it is full of visayan words and the tagalog words are corrupted with cebuano prefix and suffixes eg; nagkain, gisabi, hindi gud, and short sentences like “hindi ko gyud… Read more »

It works both ways. That is, there are words in Tagalog that are difficult to translate in English. Also, various languages also borrow from English.

English itself is a tongue of the colonized. It was essentially Saxon and then mixed with Norman later.

Finally, various countries, especially several in Asia, did not have to focus on English to advance economically. Rather, English became a second language, and only later.

Tagalog is a language because it is distinct from Cebuano, Waray, Hiligaynon, Ilocano, Kapampangan, and others. Making Filipino the national language has not been much of a success because you are trying to fuse together languages and not dialects. A Tagalog will not understand Cebuano the first time s/he encounters it. A dialect is a subgroup of a particular language. Two dialects of one language have a common starting point to facilitate standardization. English is a language but has different dialects across the world. Australians, Scots, Irish, and Americans all speak English but there are some nuances that differentiate one… Read more »
imelda bunan

Para sa akin hindi epektibo ang pag alis ng Filipino subjects s kolehiyo dhl mhrap ipaliwanag ang isang bagay sa salitang hindi nakasanayan. Yun ang problema s atin dahil tayo mismo ang gumagawa ng hakbang n ang pangsariling atin ay ibagsak. Mayaman ang Pilipinas sa likas na yaman, kultura at kasaysayan. kung ang batas at lahat ng instruksyon ay salin s sariling lingwahe palagay ko walang maiiwan o makukulelat. Mahirap s atin ang daming ipokrito, daming nagmamagaling pero ang totoo hindi nman ramdam ang hirap ng mga maliliit na tao

We’re stuck in a time-warp. I’m sure everyone will agree that, as any society evolves, languages and dialects go hand-in-hand. If language and dialects don’t evolve, they go the natural way…they die. The vernacular dies if it can’t keep up. The 30-word challenge is misleading in the sense that Tagalog and the rest of the languages and dialects have not kept toe-to-toe with the rest of the world. From thereon, you can simply show the preeminence of one language (and dialect) over the other (English, in this case). Filipino and the languages and dialects all suffer from this maladaptation. But,… Read more »
I envy those that speaks their native language fluently. laws are written with it. Koreans, Japanese, etc. They do speak English and stays on top of the game with the economy battle, but, stays true to themselves. Yes, it is nice to know that wherever you see a Filipino in the world we are being praise for having to communicate to anyone because of our knowledge of the “English” language. but it really saddens me that many of us much rather use English in our own country that Tagalog. Our laws are shamelessly written in English. When i asked a… Read more »
This is nonsense! So you’re definition of efficiency is being able to express an idea by as few words as possible, and only with respect to scientific and technical concepts? What a load of rubbish! This is called “a priori fallacy”, meaning “when someone decides ahead of time what the conclusion to an argument is, then only considers evidence that supports that conclusion, or twists what evidence there is to support the predetermined conclusion.”. Ok, so tell me if English is really that efficient, give me the English translation of these words that should be shorter than Tagalog: (1) pasma,(2)… Read more »
Marvin Kaiser
Dear blogger, here is my translation based on the 32-word translation. 🙂 I collapsed it into 25 words by using the “karaniwang ayos ng Tagalog”, because all of you guys used the “di-karaniwang ayos” which would obviously yield a higher word count. And I changed some words too. Here are my translations of 25, 23, and 22 words each. Just see the differences. Hindi nangunguhulugang walang kinalaman ang lihit ng bolitas sa anyong pantimbulog sa pangkalahatang antas dahil lang nagdudulot ang tiwaling pagkakamulatil sa pagbabago nito sa nanometro. 25 Hindi nangunguhulugang walang anyong patimbulog ang lihit ng bolitas sa pangkalahatang… Read more »
Mark Dungo

In order to have an efficient translation of the sentence, one must possess a broad knowledge of the topic to be translated. Presumably, we must also have an adequate vocabulary of the source language (English) and the target language (Filipino/Tagalog) to preserve the meaning of the text. Moreover, we also need to took in the issue that the Filipino Language lacks English translation because of the cultural differences that we have, which is why it’s hard to translate a technical or scientific English text to Filipino.