The Philippines has two official languages: English and Filipino. Filipino is an artificial construct that no one actually speaks and is mainly based on the Tagalog language (a relative of Malay). It was originally intended to incorporate vocabulary and idioms from the many other indigenous languages in use in the Philippine islands, but this attempt died an early death. Mistakenly, many people today equate Filipino with Tagalog, which has been influenced by English, Spanish, Malay, Indonesian, Hindi, Arabic, Chinese and many other languages, mainly from the Indian subcontinent and Europe. While Tagalog is an Austronesian language, like Malay, Indonesian and Javanese, the language was heavily influenced by other languages during the Spanish colonial period, especially Spanish, and to this day the language is dominated by Spanish loanwords. Therefore, many Filipinos can understand a little Spanish, while Spanish speakers would also recognise many Filipino words. Since Malay, Cebuano and Tagalog are closely related, speakers of Malay or Indonesian would also recognise many cognates in many languages of the Philippines.
Tagalog is the language spoken in the Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog regions, as well as in the National Capital Region (NCR) or Metro Manila. In the northern Luzon provinces, Ilocano is the most commonly spoken language, while Kapampangan is widely spoken in Central Luzon. Further south of Metro Manila is the Bicol region, where Bicolano is used. In the southern islands of Visayas and Mindanao, Cebuano is the most widely spoken language and until recently had the largest number of native speakers. Other languages in the south are Hiligaynon and Waray.
English is an official language of the Philippines and is a compulsory subject in all schools, so it is widely spoken in the larger cities and main tourist areas. However, it is usually not the first language for locals. The use of English on radio and free-to-air television is not as widespread as it used to be, with only three television stations using it full-time. However, almost all major newspapers still use English. Tourists will have no problem speaking English when asking at commercial and government establishments. A few simple phrases in Tagalog will be useful when travelling to rural areas, where English skills are limited. Taglish is spoken by urban youth these days, but its use is discouraged by language teachers. It is a mixture of Tagalog and English, and an example is shown below:
Taglish:How are you na? Ok naman ako.
English:How are you? I am fine.
Spanish is no longer widely spoken, although many Spanish words survive in local languages. A Spanish-based creole language known as Chavacano is spoken in Cavite and in Zamboanga. The government is trying to revive Spanish by offering it as an elective subject in public schools. Younger Spanish-Filipinos tend to speak Filipino languages and/or English as their main language; however, there are about 3 million people who speak Spanish, and there is a daily radio programme Filipinas Ahora Mismo broadcasting in Spanish from Manila.
There are some other ethnic groups in the country, especially in more urbanised areas like Manila. The largest group is the Chinese, many of whom have assimilated with Filipino society. Note, however, that since most of them come from Fujian province, they speak Hokkien (and not Mandarin) as well as Lan-ang; a language that is a mixture of Filipino and Hokkien, but they are also taught Mandarin in Chinese schools. Muslim Filipinos are taught to read the Qu’ran in Arabic in schools. Other groups include Indians, Japanese, Arabs, Koreans, Americans and Europeans. In some cosmopolitan areas, there are institutions that speak Korean. Indian languages such as Hindi and Punjabi are also spoken by Indian communities, while Europeans speak their own languages.
Many Filipinos speak several languages. You should not be surprised to meet someone who speaks one or more regional Filipino languages (perhaps Waray and Cebuano) plus English, Tagalog and one or two languages learned while working overseas as a contract worker.