Sometimes what you hear… is not what is being said…



I have lived here for 3 years now, and have picked up very little of the language.  One of the ‘pros’ on my pro & con list before choosing the Philippines was the prevalence of English. It is one of their national languages, and is taught in school – but outside the cities it is not as common as I was lead to believe.  Kind of like the Spanish & French many of us Americans learn in school.  If you do not use it, how much will you remember?  Out in the province English is definitely hit or miss.  The old people still know English from back in the US Navy & Air Force days here.  Many of the younger kids are learning it in school. The in between ages, like 20-50 just did not really learn it. 


Here in Iloilo I do ok, for the most part.  Even my wife will cry ‘nosebleed’ sometimes though, ha ha (nosebleed is when one gets majorly confused, or shocked – watch anime and you will see).  I do know enough to call the language Ilonggo. The textbooks may call it Hiligaynon… but no one calls it that in real life. It is Ilonggo, and they will let you know it!  Most of the Ilonggo I have picked up is just enough to ride a jeepney, or shop at the local sari-sari store (the small convenience stores people have at their houses).


For example, when you walk up to a sari-sari and no one is inside, you politely yell “bakal”. (‘bu’ as in bucket, and ‘call’) The direct translation is “iron”, but can also mean ‘bar’, as in a place to drink? It seems to just kind of means ‘hey, I want to buy something’.  It is a polite way of calling the clerk.  When I ask for definitions from anyone here, I just get blank stares, so I gave up. I try to look online for definitions, but mostly I just use the word the same way they use it.  Also, most of what I hear, I cannot spell, so Google Translate is not of much help.


Riding the jeepney is a fun place to learn. To pay for your fare you just hand the money up to the driver (or out back to the conductor), and say “bayad polihog”.  (pronounced ‘buy-add’ ‘polly-ho’ – ho as in she is a ho).   When passing someone else’s money up you say ‘bayad daw’ (dao as in Tao). Basically it means ‘I am paying… but it is not my money’. So you are just handing up someone else’s money (Daw means ‘it is said’. I have pretty much given up on dictionary translations). 


To stop the jeepney you say “salugar”.  Which translates into “in this place’.  So you are saying ‘stop here’.   If it is a crowded area, or a limited stop section of the city, they may not be able to stop immediately. So the driver will say something that sounds like ba bow, meaning ‘up here in a  bit’.  If I am in an area I know they cannot stop but want to stop at the next available place I say “sa lugar sa ba bow”. Meaning ‘stop, where you can’, basically.  My wife said that is how you spell ba bow, but I can find nothing online. So as long as I pronounce it right… that is all I can do.


Numbers will also be needed when paying for multiple people.  Generally I am paying for two (duwa) or three (tatlo). I do know four (apat), and five (lima).   This brings us to the whole point of this pointless post… the number one.  I listen… I hear what they say… it cannot be right.  When a person is saying ‘one’ I hear ‘sala’.  I know sala is not ‘one’.  A sala is a front porch, or living room. Like the lanai in Hawaii.  I know they are not saying sala – but I hear them saying sala.  I ask my wife what is ‘one’. She say “isa” (which is correct).  We went round and round for months on this.  What are they saying? Isa. No, I hear an “L”. They are saying sala. No, they are saying isa… and this went on and on ha ha.  


It took months but I finally figured it out. It goes back to the basics of learning another language – you are going to sound like an imbecile.  You. speak. slowly. and. enunciate. each. word.  But a native English speaker isgoingtoslurallthewordstogether so fast you won’t understand at all. We all do it. We speak fast and sloppy.  We also don’t always say entire words.  Not really slang – just sloppy.  Well, they do the same thing here. No surprise, really.  What they are saying to pay for one person is “isa lang”.  Meaning ‘one only’. “Lang” is used in so many ads, in kind of confusing ways. It took me a while to pin down what they mean (Goolge says it means “only”, and it kind of does).  When they speak quickly the “i” in isa is barely said, and the “ng” in lang is half swallowed.  So ‘isa lang’ sort of comes out ‘sa la…’  So, yeah, they kind of say sala, but are really saying isa lang.  Sort of.


The fact that it took me months to catch this, and that my wife could not help, is a sure sign that I will not be learning much of the language. And she will not be of any help ha ha.  I may be slow – but I am getting there.  And the beach is right up the road so all is good. 

So anyway… here is a quick shot of the jeepney this afternoon, with an old joke.

Q- How many people fit in a jeepney?

A – There is always room for one more!

4 thoughts on “Sometimes what you hear… is not what is being said…

  1. Its the same here in Cebu City.You just shrug the shoulders and smile and say umbot lang

  2. Tim, sala is a short cut for “isa lang”. So when you pay for yourself in a jeepney usually in a large bill, the driver will asked you “pila ini(how many)?” ….again it is a short cut for how many passengers for the large bill?…. your response then for one person is “isa lang (only one)” or sala for short… so that he can give back the exact change to you.

  3. So true, Pinoys have spoken
    & unspoken language!
    Lots of body language!
    Takes a while for Foreigners
    To pick up!

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