Five Things Non-Filipino Spouses Say in Tagalog

Because married life with a Filipino means you pick up more than a few useful phrases.

As much as Filipinos love karaoke, dancing, and food, I think they like repetition. Having been born and raised in Canada and unable to speak Tagalog fluently, I’m surprised at how much my Tagalog terms and phrases have rubbed off on my Japanese-Canadian husband after living together for just five years. Here’s a list of 5 expressions that become common knowledge for non-Filipino spouses.

“Lamig” (cold) and other expressions of temperature.

Filipinos love heat — and love complaining about it too — but you’ll find “lamig” (cold) to be the more common complaint in Canada than “mainit” (hot). “Masyadong” (too much) or “maraming” (more) are optional, spoken by more seasoned — or sensitive — spouses.

“Po” — Used at the end of words said to elders.

You can say “po” at the end of a sentence as a sign of respect to elders. Examples: “Salamat po” (thank you), “Hindi po” (no). Family terms are also a must before a person’s name if you want to be included in holiday celebrations and family dinners: Tito (Uncle), Tita (Aunt), Lolo (Grandpa), Lola (Grandma). They’ll end up saying these way more than “Mr.” and “Mrs.”

“Ay nako!” (Oh my!) and other terms of surprise or acknowledging bad behaviour.

“Hala” is another great phrase that can mean “go ahead,” “watch out,” or “if you do that, there’ll be consequences,” all at once. Spouses of Catholic Filipinos might even break out “sus-mary-osep” which are Jesus, Mary and Joseph’s names combined. Be careful with that one as it could also mean a curse word to the most religious of elders.

“Baon” (Packed food to take away) and ulam (food).

“Can I take that for baon?” becomes a daily phrase when leftovers are involved, and certain times of day can also trigger certain things to eat — 4 p.m. is merienda (snack) time in our house. Spouses will know the names of their favourite Filipino dishes, especially if they want more of them at the next big dinner.

Non-verbal cues or noises.

When a word just doesn’t do a situation justice, Filipinos will turn to facial cues or noises like “ssst” when you want to get someone’s attention in a public place, or “tsk tsk tsk” with the tongue and shaking of the head when someone’s misbehaved. A minimum 20-year relationship is required for non-Filipino spouses to adapt the ability to point with their eyebrows or lips instead of their fingers.

If your spouse is Filipino and you haven’t yet been exposed to these expressions, have fun practicing your Tagalog!

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