For most of those moving to the Philippines and desiring to learn a new language, the choice is fairly clear. Depending upon where you will live, either Cebuano or Filipino (Tagalog for the purposes of this article) is more prevalent. This is especially true in the larger cities. If you wish to live in a remote province, then you very possibly have other choices. I wish you luck with that. Unless you are one of those talented people that picks up languages without trying, you aren’t likely to get much in the way of reference material with anything but Filipino or Cebuano.

If Davao is your intended destination, then the the river gets a little muddy.

Bisaya, or the local version of Cebuano, is the most common native language for Davao but that doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s more complicated than that.

To start with the Cebuano spoken here is a mix. It’s not pure. That in itself is not a big issue, but there is no one set way they speak it here. Different people speak it differently. They mix in Tagalog, English, Bisaya, and text speak. It depends on the group you are with, of course. The older people tend to understand Bisaya pretty universally if they are from around here.

I’ve found that though I’m learning Cebuano, and if I can ever get fluent, I’ll need to spend some time (re)learning to speak with some of the residents here. Some have suggested that I not learn formally, as what I am learning is not always correct for the local communication, but I know that I could never learn to speak Bisaya if I were to just to pick it up informally. There is not enough consistency in they way they speak it here for me to be able to do that. I’m struggling as it is. Not that it’s such a hard language to learn. I don’t think it is. I’m just not retaining information very well.

Another issue, at least for some, is that almost all the news and television shows are in Filipino. There is a local newscast in Cebuano, just before the national news, but all else is in Filipino. For many that doesn’t matter, for others it might. It depends on your intentional use of the language.

Anki Bisaya Phrasebook Flashcards

There could be a number of reasons you are considering learning a local language. If your purpose for learning a language is to assimilate with the locals, then you might be in for a surprise. I have seen many foreigners that get along great with their families, neighbors, etc. that don’t speak any local language at all. I think that it has much more to do with the person, than the language. I’m not saying the language can’t help, of course it can, but don’t think that it’s going to suddenly get you accepted. You’ll need to work on that. If you can also speak to them in their native tongue, then you have that extra ability to understand and bond.

Honestly at this point the main reason I’m still working on it is to have something to keep my mind active. This is hard for me and I have to think quite a bit. If I didn’t have my language lessons, and the study in between, I could easily become even more mentally complacent than I already am.

I’m very happy I chose, and am trying to learn, Bisaya. I wish it was easier for me. I do not think I would be disappointed if I had chosen Tagalog, as I think in most cases it would serve me almost as well here in Davao. I don’t think there is a right or wrong with the two. If you really want to learn one, set your plan and get going.

The most important aspect is to know why you want to do it.