Living in Cebu & Learning Bisaya

Lambug Beach Badian Cebu

Kabalo ko magbisaya. I know how to speak Bisaya. But it took me a while to learn this language. 

I believe learning another language doesn’t take any special training. It starts with a great desire to communicate with people around you. 

In my case, I learned the most basic forms that would get me through the day. For example, I learned how to ask for directions, like.. 

“Asa dapit ang _____Colon_____? (Where is Colon?) Unsay sakyan padung ____Colon____? (How do I get a ride to Colon?)”

These phrases have very practical application in real life, so I had to learn them fast. 

Of course, Cebuanos can understand Tagalog and English just fine. But it’s not a guarantee that they will respond in either language. Naturally, they’d reply in Bisaya. That’s why it’s really worth knowing some Bisaya (especially if you like to haggle for the best bargain).

What do I find most fascinating about learning Cebuano or Bisaya? It has a ton of similarities and quirky differences with Tagalog.

Just this morning, while I was out buying pan de sal (pan is bread here in Cebu), I thought about how humorous some translations are from Tagalog to Bisaya.

For example, rekado in Tagalog (or ingredients in English) is called panakot here in Cebu (it’s also called lamas). In Tagalog, however, panakot is something that you use to scare someone, from the root word takot, or fear.

In a superstitious provincial area in Luzon where Tagalog is widely spoken, they might say, 

“Ilabas mo ang isang tali ng bawang, panakot sa aswang.” 

But in Bisaya,  bawang or garlic is called ahos and it is a kind of panakot or ingredients for cooking. Fun right? 

Now that’s just in the kitchen. We haven’t even talked about the bedroom terms. Like habol, lagay, libog, and more. 

I talk to Neil about these differences and we usually have a good laugh about them. I guess this is how opposites attract really works for us. 

So, whenever I meet a Tagalog here in Cebu, and I find out that she or he is single, I really encourage them to date a local. Because when you’re trying to communicate with someone you like, you just learn a language easier that way.

In my case, I was able to learn Bisaya while interacting with people at work and dissecting conversations with Neil at the end of the day. He clarified the confusions I had and gave me some useful words and phrases to get by. (He’s an awesome teacher.)

It’s not so hard to learn Bisaya. You just need to learn to laugh it off every time you make a mistake, because you will make mistakes. That’s a crucial part of learning. 

I love that I’m able to communicate with this language. It’s like a whole new world.

I’ve made some friends in Cebu without a problem and they don’t mind my grammar mistakes. They actually appreciate that I’m trying to adjust by learning their language.

I see myself living in Cebu for the next five years or so, and I’m happy to report that this city has become dear to me. A second home. 

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