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?

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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?

48 Replies to “Tagalog vs English? Take the 30-word challenge!”

  1. 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.

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

    1. hindi naman talaga wikang Ingles ang susi sa tagumpay ng isang tao. depende iyan sa kanyang galing, talino at kakayanan na hindi kayang gawin ng mga taong Ingles ang ang ikinabubuhay.

    2. I disagree tagalog is easier than English because of the following:
      1. you just have 5 vowel sounds.
      2. you pronounce as how you spell it.
      3. there is no gender based pronoun.
      4. only one linking verb in tagalog.
      5. rules on verb is simpler.
      6. do we even have preposition in tagalog?
      7. English words mostly rely on sight learning.. anyhow I could go on and on..

  3. 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.

    1. No, this is only about Tagalog. And I believe that there is no such thing as a Filipino language. This is because we have Cebuanos, Ilocanos, Kapampangans, Bisayas, and others, including Tagalog, who disagree on what the “Filipino” language should be. The effort to produce a homogenized “Filipino” language has failed.

      1. FISTBUMP! I’m Tagalog but I acknowledge the identity of my brethren. And I also admit that my language is not “intellectualized enough”. We just can’t study math or science in Tagalog. It has to be in English.

      2. “filipino language” would be the safest option as every native filipino, regardless of where he hails from, understands the predominantly tagalog shows on tv. the same logic as english being an international language, tagalog is our national one. all the rest, (cebuano, ilocano, bisaya, etc..) can be referred to as filipino dialects.

        1. There is an expansive yet forgotten inventory of scientific and mathematical terms in Visayan languages. For sure Tagalogs likewise have had that given their geographic and cultural proximity to their southern neighbors. I think our languages have a chance to compete academically; we just have to rediscover and institutionalize them if we wish to express ideas in our home’languages more effectively

      3. IIRC, Filipino is the language composed of the Tagalog dialect + common words found from the other dialects you mentioned. It’s simply that we hardly use traditional Filipino words, hence the seemingly decreasing “true Filipino” vocabulary. Just look at the word Soldier- which was originally sundalo. It is now, based on what I remember, acceptable to use “SOLJER” as its Filipino counterpart.

        1. Soljer? yuk! I’ll rather use sundalo.

          Filipino language ideally should be based on Tagalog plus words from other dialect in the Philippines.

          But I guess it didn’t came to fruition.

    2. ts- for the American language, u dont want to say American but English. Language is different from the people living in the place. So Tagalog is fitting than Filipino for it is a language and not the people living in the country.

  4. 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?

    1. And you’re an ignorant nekulturny swine. I cannot believe how unmindful you are of the mother languages of 70 million non-Tagalogs!

    2. True. But as far as I can tell Filipino is essentially just Tagalog with a smidgen of Spanish that was arbitrarily branded as the “National Language”.

      1. actually, Filipino uses Tagalog as the template upon which its grammar is based (which is intuitive, given that most Filipinos (even non-Tagalogs) easily understand it, but the lexicon liberally derives words from the other dialects (especially in the technical fields). Sadly, the media has not done its share to propagate this Filipino language. That’s why we’re stuck with this Babel.

        1. If you use Tagalog for its grammar, then its just the same language Tagalog. A sprinkling of words from other languages does not make Filipino distinctive enough from Tagalog.

  5. 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…

    1. Being Filipino is a mere legal “contract” . It’s an identity bound upon the National Constitution to encompass everyone with a citizenship under the Republic of the Philippines. It does not define genetics or language and it does not have a clear cultural mould. Identifying yourself based on ethnicity is a different matter such that claiming oneself as Tagalog as to speaking Tagalog.

    2. Yes you are right Hyden, we as internet bloggers express ourselves in the English language but that doesn’t mean that we are less Filipino. I presume we come from different provinces and it is safe to assume that we have different dialect proficiency by virtue of our birth origin or places we grew up with. I for one, I belong to the baby boomer generation and when I was in the elementary it was the transition stage where education was shifted from English to Filipino (which is actually Tagalog), so we became a generation of half-baked English speakers, as well as half-baked Tagalog writers. But I had the opportunity to study in one of the best State Universities so I was compelled to learn better English. Anyway, my English background had helped me paved the way to a better job despite the fact that I did not aspire for the position. Tagalog is the language of my heart and English is my business language. I also speak Visayan (my parents heritage) and a few Pampango (because of my hubby).
      It is also true that the Tagalog or Filipino language lacks technical terms and even written books. I don’t think it is totally bad to learn and use the English language because it is one of the major languages in the world, it is very efficient, let’s face. it. And learning or using it does not make us less of a Filipino.

  6. 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.

    1. That’s intriguing, what kind of industry is that? Sounds like a limited sphere to me. Why don’t you share the benefits of learning or using English, just for simple communication or understanding. Take note that all of our government documents are still in English, although there are translations in Tagalog. What if the applicant is not well-versed in Tagalog which makes the filling out of the form equally difficult (e.g. Business Permit – which requires to be renewed yearly). It pays to understand English, promise.

  7. 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 language. The structure of Tagalog and it’s fondness for repetitive syllables and tongue twisting words makes it a chore to read.

    1. Actually my assertion was incomplete. It should be more around how English and any language spoken by societies with strong track records of scientific and technological achievement opens doors. The Japanese, for example, despite having an “inefficient” language have a culture that has a strong tradition of industry and discipline and, as such, are for the most part self-sufficient as far as knowledge required to prosper. Filipinos, being dependent on foreign knowledge, cannot rely on Tagalog as a medium for exchanging such ideas and know-how and need English (or, as earlier clarified, any language spoken by societies with strong traditions of achievement) to gain access to that essential knowledgebase of useful ideas.

      1. True we cannot rely on Tagalog as a medium for exchanging ideas since it lacked several technical terms because it did not grow as much as we wanted to. Although it is not dead but generally limited. The English phrase that was translated into Tagalog had made it even more difficult to understand, because those are very unfamiliar terms (e.g. mulatil, lihit, and timbulog).
        The innate ability of Filipinos of being adaptable to change had caused the disappearance of our own way of writing, called “baybayin”. According to Spanish scribes, early Filipinos could read and write in “baybayin” and there was a high percentage of literacy; and when they introduced their language, they were quick to learn it and easily became proficient with it. Then slowly but surely, our own calligraphy somehow got lost. Then when the Americans came, they introduced mass education and shared their language to our grandparents and parents and now we are the fruits of it. Filipino adaptability is a BLESSING, at the same time, it is also our CURSE because somehow it has taken away our identity.

  8. 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 improperly on me in this case.”

    That gets them everytime. They have no comeback to that. I totally decimate people in logical debates here.

  9. 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?

  10. 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 baya alam yan oy”. Tagalog is hardly ever spoken in big cities like Cebu, Bacolod, Cagayan de Oro and Iloilo. To be able to be understood and solicit favorable responses, you have to speak the two major dialects, Hilonggo and Cebuano.

  11. 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.

  12. 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 from the other. Standard French has differences with the French in Canada, Switzerland, Belgium, and former French colonies in Africa.

  13. 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

  14. 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, truly, how much of the English language is truly English? Just (is this English?) because (?) molecular (?) irregularities (?) cause a ballbearing’s (I concede, but breaking this compound tells me something else) radius (?) to vary (?) by nanometers (? – break it up and these aren’t English) along its surface (?) does not stop us from attributing (?) a spherical (?) quality (?) to it at a macro (?) level (?).

    There is also the burden of purists (much like the French) who insist on literal translations when idiomatics, for example, can very well convey the same idea (and probably, just probably (I don’t have the numbers), more efficiently).

    In non-English speaking countries, there is a core group that will convert new terms into the vernacular; this core group will make it a point that this conversion follows the rules that they have established; and that this core group will ensure that this conversion is thoroughly conveyed to the populace with its use explained within context.

    But then again, maybe this isn’t a time-warp; more likely, it’s a time-freeze. You get the drift?

  15. 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 friend who happened to be a lawyer why we can’t have a Tagalog written laws, he said to me, “It’ll be difficult to translate the law into Tagalog language. It will be complicated and difficult to understand”. Then i said, “If the laws are made for the people living in a particular country, then why would you literally translate the law from a Language that is different from our in the first place? The laws are made for the people in the said country, so instead of translating it why can’t you just revise it? If laws are not meant to be understood by the people it protects, then why have a government if it won’t be able to make people understand their rights?”. He stared at me and smiled. What he told me was {for me} an utter none sense. Because he cannot explain to me fully why we cannot do something almost everybody else in the world does.
    I hope there are more people like you who would take the risk and time to talk about this kind of things. Because from what I am seeing, country’s who are rich and powerful not only has money and brains. But they stay true to their country by first embracing what they are made of. Language is one of the main characteristics a country is known. And this they all use and proudly speak of wherever they go especially in their own country.

  16. 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) pambahay, (3) sayang, (4) daw, (5) pang-ilan, (6) kuwan, (7) balisawsaw, (8) ngalay, (9) naman and (10) alimpungatan?

    Even your example for English fails. Efficient is an old French word borrowed by English (check here: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=efficient&allowed_in_frame=0) So the question is, is there a native English word for it? Oh yes, they lack a word for it that’s why they need to borrow it, maybe that says a great deal about their cultural DNA.

  17. 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 antas
    dahil lang nagdudulot ang tiwaling pagkakamulatil sa pagbabago nito sa nanometro. 23

    Hindi nangunguhulugang hindi patimbulog ang lihit ng bolitas sa pangkalahatang antas
    dahil lang nagdudulot ang tiwaling pagkakamulatil sa pagbabago nito sa nanometro. 22

  18. 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.

    1. Tell that to the non-Tagalog speaking Filipinos like Bisayas who can only speak their own native dialect imperial manileno! And no, Wikipedia articles is not always 100% accurate.

  19. How is this for the 30-word translation?

    Bagaman magaspang sa nanometro dahil sa di-pagkakapantay-pantay ng sukat na molecular sa ibabaw ng bolbering, hindi ito rason para ituring siyang hindi bilog.

    Try translating this to English:

    Kung gusto may paraan, kung ayaw may dahilan. You’ll have to admit that “where there’s a will there’s a way” just does not cut it. Also try to make it rhyme as the Tagalog.

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