Communication Breakdown{12}


It’s been about 8 years since my initial visit to the Philippines, and therefor my introduction to the people here. It didn’t take very long for me to conclude that even though English is taught in schools, it was often quite difficult to communicate with others using it here.

I’ve since come to the realization that what I had thought was a foreigner to Pilipino issue is much more complex than that. It has become apparent to me that Pilipinos often have great difficulty communicating with each other as well. As I see it, the problem is twofold.

To start with there are more languages in the Philippines than one could reasonably expect in a country this size. I’m not that traveled world-wide, but my guess is most countries have one main, common language, though some may have a few more. There are somewhere between 125 and 185 individual languages here. While that may not cause a big problem for those living in a province that generally speaks only one, it can cause havoc if you go to a city of any size. Someone, somewhere along the line realized this, and it was put into law to have a national language, Filipino, based off one of the more common languages, Tagalog. Unfortunately that hasn’t worked out so well, at least from my perspective.

Though Tagalog is taught in school, it often is not the first language spoken in many cities, outside of Manila, it’s suburbs and other northern locations. The acceptance of Filipino has been inconsistent, at best. For example, I was required to go to a seminar at the BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue), for a matter that I don’t care to get into at this time. The presentation was given in Bisaya. When I questioned whether they could speak English, the presenter asked the attendees how many would understand and only about 5, out of maybe 50 or so, raised their hands. That didn’t particularly surprise me, but what did was the fact that Filipino was not being spoken. Of course I would not have understood any of the Filipino either, but this is a national government agency, if you aren’t going to follow the national language there, where will you?

Here in Davao, when out and about, you will hear a healthy mix of Tagalog, Bisaya, English, text speak, and who knows what else, thrown into every conversation. Though Bisaya is usually the preferred language in Davao, they do not speak it as pure Cebuano, such as in Cebu. It is different, and each individual has their own ideas about it.

This mixture of languages, sometimes referred to as halo-halo in jest, is a major component to the confusion that is rampant here. I’ve come to notice that most conversations are not fully understood. In fact, based off the results I’ve seen, it would appear about half of what is being said is completely lost on the ones listening. That’s just a guess, and depends upon the circumstances, but it is really evident that much is not digested. Just listen to how often things are repeated. Over and over.

Anki Bisaya Phrasebook Flashcards

That brings me to the second aspect of the lack of communication. Most Pilipinos will not admit to the fact that they did not understand what is being said. No effort is made to get clarification. In fact, quite the opposite. In order to not cause shame, either to themselves or the person they are conversing with, they will pretend to understand. They will say sige a few hundred times and hope to move on to something else more basic.

Then of course this conversation gets passed on, with no better than half of the information, half of which is incorrect and the cycle starts again.

Coming to this insight has helped me understand why every function I’ve ever been informed about happened at a different time, place and in a different way then I had been told. I now see it’s not an intended plot, just a complete lack of understanding by all involved. My latest game plan to handle such situations is to make note that there is an event/function possibly coming up and just ignore when, where and with whom, until such time that we are on our way or actually at the event/function. Doing otherwise causes undo stress and complications.

The main problem I see with all this, other than complete miscommunication, is that know one cares, at all, that conversations are generally misunderstood. It’s the way it is, they way it’s always been, and there is no perceived need to change it. Right or wrong, that’s true about so much here.

Though it may not appear that I’m too pleased to come to this realization, I actually am. I believe it will help me a great deal with understanding why things happen the way they do and people the things they do.