How Many Languages are Spoken in the Philippines

October 16, 2023

The Philippines is a vibrant archipelago located in Southeast Asia, known for its beautiful landscapes, hospitable people, and rapidly growing economy. A fundamental understanding of the local languages is essential for foreigners looking to start a business in this dynamic nation. This article delves into the primary languages spoken in the Philippines, focusing on Tagalog and English as official languages, and offers insights into regional languages used in key business hubs such as Cebu City, Baguio City, and Davao City.

Official Languages

  1. Tagalog: The National Language
    1. Tagalog, along with Filipino, is the national language of the Philippines. It is the most widely spoken language in the country, especially in the capital city, Manila. When establishing a business in the Philippines, a working knowledge of Tagalog is invaluable, as it is a common language for communication across various regions.
  2. English: The Second Official Language
    1. English holds a unique position in the Philippines as the second official language. It is widely spoken and understood, particularly in urban areas and within the business community. Filipinos are known for their English proficiency, making it easier for foreigners to conduct business transactions and negotiations.

English Proficiency in the Philippines

One key advantage for foreigners doing business in the Philippines is the high level of English proficiency among the local workforce. English education is highly emphasized in Filipino schools, and many Filipinos learn English early. This proficiency in English provides them with a competitive edge, making them ideal candidates for jobs in various industries such as customer service, information technology, and business process outsourcing (BPO).

Languages in Key Business Hubs

Now, let’s look at languages used in four major business hubs in the Philippines: Manila, Cebu City, Baguio City, and Davao City.

  1. Cebu City: The Queen City of the South
    1. Cebuano, or Bisaya, is the most widely spoken language in Cebu City. While Cebuano is the primary vernacular, English is also commonly used for business purposes, making it relatively easy for foreigners to conduct business in this thriving metropolis. Cebu City is a hub for the BPO industry, and English proficiency is a critical factor in the success of this sector.
  2. Baguio City: The Summer Capital of the Philippines
    1. Ilocano is widely spoken in the northern regions of the Philippines, and it is the dominant language in Baguio City. Understanding Ilocano can facilitate communication with the local community. However, English is also widely used, especially in the tourism and hospitality. Many businesses cater to tourists, and English proficiency is a valuable asset when dealing with international visitors.
  3. Davao City: The Gateway to Mindanao
    1. In Davao City, a mixture of languages can be heard due to its diverse population. While Cebuano and Tagalog are commonly spoken, English remains the lingua franca for business and government transactions. Davao City is an economic powerhouse in Mindanao, and English is essential for navigating the business landscape effectively.
  4. Languages in Manila
    1. Tagalog and English are the predominant languages in Manila, but a blend of languages and dialects is also present due to its cosmopolitan nature, including:
      1. Spanish:
        1. While not as widely spoken as it once was during the colonial era, Spanish remains influential, particularly in the city’s history, culture, and religion.
      2. Chinese:
        1. Manila hosts a thriving Chinese community, and Mandarin is commonly spoken among the Chinese-Filipino population. This can be valuable for entrepreneurs engaging in trade or partnerships with the local Chinese community.

The Role of Regional Languages

Apart from the major languages, the Philippines boasts over 170 distinct regional languages and dialects. These languages reflect the country’s rich cultural diversity. However, proficiency in Tagalog and English is often sufficient for business purposes, especially for foreigners. In many cases, locals in different regions are accustomed to using these two languages for trade and commerce.

Business Opportunities: Why English Matters

For foreign entrepreneurs and investors, the popularity of English among Filipinos presents a compelling advantage. Here are a few key reasons why English proficiency is essential when considering business opportunities in the Philippines:

  1. Global Communication: English is the global language of business. Proficiency in English ensures that you can effectively communicate with international partners, customers, and suppliers, facilitating trade and collaboration.
  2. Access to a Skilled Workforce: Many Filipinos are well-versed in English, making recruiting talent for various roles in your business easier. This language advantage extends to various industries, from BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) to technology and finance.
  3. Cultural Understanding: Understanding the nuances of the Filipino culture is pivotal in building successful business relationships. A grasp of English lets you connect more deeply with your Filipino colleagues and clients.
  4. Navigating Legal and Bureaucratic Processes: Many legal documents and governmental processes in the Philippines are conducted in English. Understanding these processes is crucial for regulatory compliance and business registration.

English Education in the Philippines

The Philippines’ education system emphasizes English from an early age, with subjects like Science and Mathematics often taught in English. This rigorous English-language education has led to a high level of proficiency among Filipinos. English is also widely used in higher education institutions, ensuring that graduates are well-prepared for careers in various industries, including business, finance, and technology.

Moreover, the Philippines’ Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry is a significant employer, offering competitive salaries to English-speaking professionals. This sector has boomed in recent years, attracting talent nationwide. Fluency in English is a distinct advantage for individuals seeking employment in BPO companies, highlighting the language’s significance in business.


The Philippines offers a wealth of opportunities for foreign entrepreneurs and business owners. While the country is rich in linguistic diversity, Tagalog and English are the primary languages for business transactions. English proficiency is a significant advantage for Filipinos seeking higher-paying jobs. Understanding the importance of these languages in different business hubs, such as Manila, Cebu City, Baguio City, and Davao City, is crucial for success in this vibrant and rapidly growing economy. By equipping yourself with the language skills and cultural awareness necessary for business in the Philippines, you can unlock the full potential of this dynamic marketplace.

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