The 9 Best Books to Learn Tagalog Fast and Easy

Gardenia Reynoso Published on May 19, 2023
Best books to learn Tagalog

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Tagalog is a language that has many benefits if you can speak it. It’s not the easiest language to learn though. You may not even know how to start your learning journey, but don’t worry; I’ve got your back. I compiled the best Tagalog books in this article so you can start studying right away.

Tagalog is an Austronesian language spoken as a first language by a quarter of the population of the Philippines and as a second language by the majority. It’s one of the most spoken languages in Asia. As the basis for Filipino, the national language of the Philippines, learning Tagalog can open a lot of doors, including personal, economic, and cultural opportunities. And that’s exactly why I wanted to review and test Tagalog books – to help you improve your Tagalog skills and save you time.

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How I Picked The Best Tagalog Books

For any language learning products our team has tested or researched, we follow a strict testing methodology to make sure our experts make the same considerations and follow the same criteria to ensure we only recommend the best products. Here are the factors we looked at when testing books to learn Tagalog specifically:

  • Structure and Topics: We reviewed the layout and organization of the books to see how logical they are, and we also examined which topics each book covered and how in-depth and accurate the explanations were.
  • Quality of Content: We read several chapters of each book to gauge the quality of the content, including the example texts, exercises, and explanations. It’s important that each book contains clear and easy-to-understand content that’s appropriate for the learner’s current Tagalog level.
  • Author Knowledge: We researched the author or brand that published the book to see if they have direct experience with the language and culture. This is an important factor that most other reviews don’t consider.
  • Value for Money: We took the three previous factors and compared them to the price of the book to determine if it offers a good value for the cost. 

Our Top Picks for Best Books to Learn Tagalog

Below are the 9 best books to learn Tagalog and how they can help you make significant progress in your language skills. Scroll down to find out more about each book.

Best Overall Tagalog BookElementary Tagalog
Best for BeginnersTagalog for Beginners: An Introduction to Filipino
Best for GrammarEssential Tagalog Grammar
Best for Reading PracticeTagalog Short Stories for Beginners
Best for Learning QuicklyBasic Tagalog: Learn to Speak Modern Filipino/ Tagalog
Best for ConveniencePocket Tagalog Dictionary
Best for Speaking PracticeThink in English and Speak in Tagalog Like a Filipino
Best for TravelEasy Tagalog Phrase Book
Best for Visual LearnersTagalog Picture Dictionary

Elementary Tagalog

Best Overall Tagalog Book

Elementary Tagalog is the best overall book to learn Tagalog because of its all-around approach to studying its different aspects. This book covers all practical areas of Tagalog, like grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. It received the highest score in our testing because of the depth of the lessons and the structure of the book. It’s very well-organized and the lessons follow a clear and logical format. For example, the first lesson, Unang Araw ng Klase has a lesson overview, vocabulary, a dialogue, comprehension activities, then grammar and a review. Later in the book, the authors also include reading exercises in addition to dialogues.

Another reason this book scored so highly in our testing is because of its authors – one has a PhD in Philippine Studies and the other is on the faculty of the Southeast Asian Center at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies. Their vast knowledge shines through in the lessons, and by the time you finish this book, you’ll have a solid foundation that prepares you to pursue more advanced resources. On top of that, the price of this book is very reasonable for the value it provides. You can check out the book here.

Key Benefits

  • The author’s experience and knowledge ensure you build a solid foundation in Tagalog
  • The dialogues and reading exercises show you how the grammar and vocabulary are used by native speakers
  • The format and structure of the lessons is logical and easy to follow, ensuring a smooth learning process

Tagalog for Beginners is the best book for beginner Tagalog learners because it has a practical focus and a healthy mix of language and cultural notes. The author, Joi Barrios, is a renowned linguist and educator, and this book reflects her extensive knowledge and expertise in teaching Tagalog. She designed the book as a self-study guide, and there are a lot of supplemental resources inside the book for that reason. I recommend this book to beginners because it starts with the most basic topics. The first few lessons cover things like introductions, greetings, visiting a friend’s house, cities and towns, and family.

Another reason this book is excellent for beginners is its organization. The lessons follow a logical order and each one builds on what you already learned. For example, in Section 4, you learn how to make a reservation, then you learn how to check into a hotel. After reading through the lessons, it’s clear that the author took the time to write material that’s useful for people who genuinely want to learn the language. You can find out more about the book here.

Key Benefits

  • The lessons start with the very basics of Tagalog and progress in a logical way
  • There are audio recordings you can access to practice your listening and speaking skills
  • The cultural and historical notes about the language add a level of detail that most books ignore

Essential Tagalog Grammar

Best for Grammar

Essential Tagalog Grammar is the best choice to learn grammar because it offers a thorough and in-depth exploration of Tagalog’s grammatical features. The book covers the language’s phonetics, morphology, syntax, and semantics. These features are explained using clear and straightforward language, making them accessible to learners at all levels who love grammar. Essential Tagalog Grammar offers lots of practical examples that focus on everyday, informal Tagalog, accurate definitions and translation keys, as well as pronunciation marks.

It also comes with audio recordings of Tagalog sounds and alphabetical lists of noun, verb, and adjective affixes. These are particularly useful for building your vocabulary. Being a grammar book, I looked closely at this one to see how it was organized. A useful grammar book teaches you about the language but also works as a reference if you need to look up a rule further along in your studies. The organization and structure of Essential Tagalog Grammar is logical and easy to navigate. For this alone, it’s worth the price. Check out the book here

Key Benefits

  • Covers every topic of Tagalog grammar so you’ll understand the structure of the language more clearly
  • Logical organization makes it easy to reference grammar rules you need to brush up on
  • A full breakdown of sounds to ensure accurate pronunciation

Tagalog Short Stories for Beginners

Best for Reading Practice

Tagalog Short Stories for Beginners is an engaging reading book that helps you enhance your comprehension skills in Tagalog. It’s the best choice to develop reading skills because it contains 20 short stories written in simplified language, specifically designed for beginners. My favorite feature is that you get both a book to read and an audiobook to listen to the stories. At the end of each story, there’s a vocabulary list, comprehension questions, and a summary in English. This is helpful to make sure you understand the smaller details of each story. 

The stories also provide a unique glimpse into Filipino culture, like how families and friends interact with each other. My only criticism of this book is that it could be a little difficult if you’re a complete beginner. If you know nothing about the language, start with some of the other books on this list. However, if you know the basics or want a challenge, Tagalog Short Stories for Beginners is certainly worth getting. Check it out here.

Key Benefits

  • Has short stories in increasing difficulty to quickly improve your comprehension skills
  • Vocabulary lists make it easy to review and each story has a summary to make sure you understand everything
  • The audiobook is a helpful add-on that allows you to hear the stories while you read them

Basic Tagalog is similar to other books on this list (which automatically means it’s awesome!). It stands out in one main way though – it helps you learn more quickly than the others I tested. The book is divided into 44 lessons, and it’s a strong choice if you don’t want to be overwhelmed by grammar. It does cover important grammar, but those sections are spread out among the more conversational lessons. For example, lesson 10 covers the question word Ba, and lesson 11 teaches you phrases to make comparisons.

Another reason I suggest grabbing a copy of this book is the manga-like comics it uses to visually teach you new expressions. Each comic shows a full dialogue in Tagalog with an English translation underneath it. These are cool tools for understanding the proper way to talk to others, like your coworkers and bosses. It’s an affordable book, and it’s completely worth the price if you’re looking to reach a basic conversational level quickly. Find out more about the book here.

Key Benefits

  • A variety of lessons teach you essential communication skills and grammar in an approachable way
  • The comics and online audio recordings help you finetune your conversational skills
  • If you’re motivated, you can quickly reach a comfortable level in Tagalog quickly

Pocket Tagalog Dictionary

Best for Quick Reference

The Pocket Tagalog Dictionary is the best for quick reference because it’s a compact, but mighty, book that helps you expand your Tagalog vocabulary. This dictionary contains 3,000 words, including a lot of words and phrases you’ll need during a regular conversation. The reason I prefer the Pocket Tagalog Dictionary over others is the simple pronunciation guide it has at the beginning. Other books make it complicated, but this one is direct: “t like the t in time,” “e like the ay in way,” and so on.

Another major advantage of this dictionary is its size and portability, making it ideal if you want to study on the go or use it as a quick reference. I do want to be clear that this is only a dictionary though, not a standalone resource for learning the language. It’s best used in conjunction with other language-learning materials or courses. It’s a nice and cheap companion, though. You can learn more about it here.

Key Benefits

  • A clear and concise pronunciation guide helps you quickly master the sounds of Tagalog
  • The two sections of the book translate both ways to make it easy to find words in either language quickly
  • Its small size makes it easy to carry around and reference whenever you can’t think of a word

Think in English and Speak in Tagalog Like a Filipino uses an approach that is controversial in the language learning community. It teaches you to think in English and translate to Tagalog. The author argues that this approach is more effective than other methods because it uses what you already know – English. The first sections teach you proper pronunciation, then the next sections cover basic grammar. After that, the book goes directly into speaking topics, like parts of speech and may vs meron vs mayroon. And that’s why I recommend it as the best book for speaking practice.

Each chapter ends with drills that target different aspects of Tagalog, such as verb conjugations, sentence construction, and new vocabulary. If you’re not comfortable speaking in English, you will have a hard time studying with this book. However, if that’s not a problem, I suggest checking it out. It’s a little more expensive than other books on the list, but the unique teaching method could take your Tagalog to the next level. See what you think about the book here.

Key Benefits

  • You learn interesting topics in Tagalog, like ways to express love and the Spanish influence
  • The structure is easy to follow and guides you to more advanced topics as you progress
  • Learn essential cultural information, such as safety tips for travelers and weather in the Philippines

Easy Tagalog Phrase Book

Best for Travel

Easy Tagalog Phrase Book provides language learners with practical phrases and expressions that can be used in everyday conversations in the Philippines. I recommend this book specifically for travelers because it divides the chapters into themes, like “common questions,” “when someone is being rude,” and “ordering food.” I love this structure because if you’re traveling, you don’t need to know grammar. You just need to know how to get what you want! The organization allows you to easily find the phrases you need for specific situations.

One of the strengths of the Easy Tagalog Phrase Book is just that. Each chapter begins with a brief introduction to the topic, followed by a list of useful phrases and expressions, complete with English translations and pronunciation guides. After that, you can read short dialogues to understand how to use the phrases naturally. Another strength of Easy Tagalog Phrase Book is its focus on pronunciation. Overall, this book won’t make you fluent in Tagalog, but it will make your trip a lot easier! Find the book here.

Key Benefits

  • Easily find phrases based on themes to have smooth conversations
  • The pronunciation guides make sure native speakers will understand what you say
  • It includes a lot of topics most books don’t (like people being rude) so you can navigate difficult situations effortlessly

Tagalog Picture Dictionary

Best for Visual Learners

Tagalog Picture Dictionary is the best Tagalog book for visual learners because every word has a picture that shows what it is. The book covers 40 different categories, ranging from animals and plants to occupations and sports. The vocabulary is basic, but this book will help you remember words more effectively than most others. To make things even easier, each picture includes the Tagalog words, the English translations, and how to pronounce the words.

One feature I really took a close look at was the quality of the images. Because this is a visual dictionary, the images need to be clear and colorful. And, they are! The organization by theme also makes it easy to focus on specific topics you’re interested in. I wanted to include this book on this list because it’s also good for children. It won’t teach you any grammar, but it is an effective tool for learning vocabulary. You can read more about it here.

Key Benefits

  • The images are clear and crisp so you easily understand what the words mean
  • The structure of the book makes it simple to find the words you’re looking for
  • The example sentences give you real-life ways to use the words naturally

Other Tagalog Books I Tested

I tested and scored the books on this list, but I also researched some others that didn’t quite make the cut. Here are a few other Tagalog books I looked at and decided not to include on the final list:

  • Learn to Speak Tagalog Without Even Trying: I didn’t include this book because the title is misleading. The same author also has books for other languages with the same time (Learn to Speak French Without Trying, and others). Overall, this book focuses too much on marketing instead of actually helping to learn Tagalog.
  • Conversational Tagalog Dialogues: To be honest, I did enjoy this book. However, the quality of the content just wasn’t as high as the others on the list. This one only contains dialogues, and the books I included above contain dialogues and a lot more.
  • Instant Tagalog: The concept of this book is interesting – express over 1,000 ideas with only 100 vocabulary words. However, it unfortunately doesn’t include any pronunciation help and the content is somewhat generic.

Why You Should Use Books For Learning Tagalog

Books have long been a valuable resource for language learning, offering a structured and comprehensive approach to acquiring vocabulary, grammar, and cultural knowledge. Here are a few ways in which books can aid in learning Tagalog. First, Tagalog grammar books provide clear explanations and examples of sentence structure, verb conjugation, and other essential components of the language.

Additionally, vocabulary books offer a systematic approach to acquiring new words and phrases, often grouped by topics. Also, reading books written in Tagalog, such as novels, short stories, or news articles, can help learners improve their reading comprehension, expand their vocabulary, and gain a better understanding of the language’s idioms and phrases.

Books often include information about Filipino culture and provide valuable context for understanding the language and the people who speak it. By learning about the cultural background of Tagalog, you can better appreciate the language.

How To Use Books To Learn Tagalog

One of the most effective ways to learn Tagalog is by using books designed to teach the language. For beginners, it’s important to select books that offer clear explanations, examples, and exercises designed for your level. You can use several books at the same time to achieve the best results. 

The most effective way to learn a language is through a combination of learning grammar rules and vocabulary and using the language in context and interaction with native speakers. By combining these methods, learners can develop both accuracy and fluency in Tagalog. This can be achieved through interactive books, language courses, tutoring sessions, or even online language exchange platforms where learners can practice with native speakers.

Furthermore, motivation and consistency play a significant role in language learning success. Setting realistic goals, creating a study plan, and incorporating various resources (such as apps, podcasts, and movies) can help you stay motivated. Additionally, regular practice and exposure to the language are necessary for long-term retention and improvement.

Best Books To Learn Tagalog: Final Thoughts

Learning Tagalog offers a range of personal, economic, and cultural benefits to individuals and businesses alike. Books can serve as an invaluable resource in the language learning process, providing grammar and vocabulary knowledge, reading practice, and cultural context. By utilizing books as a tool for learning Tagalog, one can deepen their understanding of the language and enhance their connection with the Philippines and its people.

Best Books To Learn Tagalog: FAQ

What’s the best book to learn Tagalog?

The best book to learn Tagalog is Elementary Tagalog because it has comprehensive coverage of grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, as well as cultural information. The book is divided into 24 lessons in 8 units, each focusing on a specific topic such as family, community, food, travel, health, leisure, and more.

What is the easiest way to learn Tagalog?

The easiest way to learn Tagalog is with a high-quality textbook. You can also benefit by using self-study materials, language exchange programs, and immersion experiences. Each method has great advantages, so a combination of resources is likely to yield the best results. By customizing your learning experience and staying motivated, you can overcome the challenges of learning Tagalog and achieve proficiency in this rich and fascinating language.

What is a good way to learn Tagalog?

A good way to learn Tagalog is through self-study materials, such as textbooks, language apps, and online resources. Self-study allows for flexibility in terms of time and pace, as learners can study whenever and wherever they want. Language exchange programs are also a popular way to practice speaking and listening skills.

How long does it take to learn Tagalog fluently?

According to the  Foreign Service Institute (FSI), a native English speaker needs around 1,100 hours of study to achieve professional proficiency in Tagalog. However, individual factors may influence the actual time needed to learn the language. A dedicated learner can expect to see significant progress with consistent effort and the right learning strategies.

Check out this Fluency Calculator to see how much time it will take you to learn Tagalog.

Gardenia Reynoso

Gardenia Reynoso is a content writer and translator from Lima, Peru. She loves connecting with people from other cultures and learning new languages. She had the opportunity to travel to different countries and received a scholarship to work and study in South Korea. She also enjoys dancing and playing the piano.

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