Natural and Idiomatic Tagalog
versus Wooden, Unnatural Speech

Translations read better in natural and idiomatic Tagalog. Source texts should be translated in a way that is understood by people who may not be fluent in Tagalog or Filipino: Filipinos who have been abroad for a long time, Filipinos who are non-native Tagalog speakers, Filipinos who are learning to speak the language. Even technical documents such as listed below, should be accessible and reader-friendly so they will be useful.

  • Health care
  • Infant care
  • Community organizing
  • Entrepreneurship, livelihood projects, and home businesses
  • Micro-financing literature
  • Caring for the environment
  • Religious literature
  • Advocacies against drug and alcohol abuse
  • Anti-crime and violence campaign
  • Counseling books for youth, parents, and small children.




What A Translator Needs to Know About the Intended Readers
To translate into natural and idiomatic Tagalog, a translator must be conscious of the following:

1 Characteristic language groupings in the representative areas
In Tondo and in Payatas for example, not everybody is a native Tagalog speaker; each would have come from all 7100 islands in the Philippines. Yet all of them have to know basic and practical Tagalog because they live and move in the Greater Manila Area. In their households, they speak in their first language which can be Cebuano, Ilongo, Ilocano, Hiligaynon, Chabacano, etc.

2 How they use Tagalog reading materials
Generally, Filipinos are not naturally inclined to reading. Most people love to listen to stories, and would prefer to sit in groups and tell each other anecdotes and snippets of everyday struggles. In fact, any kind of entertainment is welcome, but it will take a special prodding to make them read, especially books. Often, in places where people have to scrape by either gathering trash and selling them or similar trades, it will help if somebody else reads the literature aloud, maybe in a group that will also discuss its contents. Booklets would have more chances of being read than long books, but the shorter, the better.

3 The Tagalog materials they read?

  • The government sometimes provides day care centers story books both in English and in Tagalog, but there are not enough materials in Tagalog for distribution.
  • Public School children share copies of textbooks from the Department of Education.
  • Sometimes, volunteer teachers have to orally translate English storybooks (these arrive in boxes from donor friends of NGOs).
  • Comic books are popular among the youth and young adults because of the realistic images (as opposed to abstract) and the short dialogues.
  • Escapist literature such as short Tagalog romance novels are sometimes rented out for a small fee.
  • Most people are reading pages from tabloid news, which they get either from the stands or from stuff wrappings.
What the Translator Needs to Know about the Intention of the Translation

Natural and idiomatic Tagalog is preferred because of one main reason: The text wants to meet a perceived need and expects a practical response from the reader. Any wooden and unnatural translation will defeat this purpose. But even if the translation is in natural and idiomatic Tagalog, it may not communicate immediately as intended. With the Filipinos' tolerant nature, anything is welcome, everybody will nod and say this is ok out of politeness and it’s not a norm for people to say no immediately. The text will be read, but there wouldn’t be enough thinking and pondering about it unless practice and demonstration goes side by side with the information campaign.

Check out what we mean using some samples of natural versus idiomatic transfers in this pdf. file. For Tagalog translation to become effective natural and idiomatic tagalog the translator must be an active student-listener of how the language is actually spoken and used by the specific intended readers. But even this is not always an assurance that the final users will understand every Tagalog expression. On the whole though, they won't be misled by the meanings. Context will decide their final interpretation.

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Tagalog Lessons

Tagalog Sentence
Tagalog Parts of Speech
Tagalog Nouns
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Tagalog Adjectives
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