Learning Cebuano Language: How to Speak like a Local

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Befriend the locals by learning some simple phrases in the Cebuano language.

Most seasoned travelers will agree that learning the local language of their chosen destination requires effort. However, in most countries, you can easily get by with English. 

While the same can be said about Cebu, you’ll find that learning the Cebuano language will make a huge difference and impact on befriending the locals.

To get you started, here are some basic Cebuano phrases that you can use. 

Simple Phrases in the Cebuano Language

  • What’s your name?
    Unsay ngalan nimo?
    Unsay pangalan nimo?

  • Nice to meet you.
    Maayo kay nagka ila-ila ta.

  • Do you speak English?
    Makastorya ka og Iningles?

  • I don’t understand. 
    Wala ko kasabot.

  • Where do you live?
    Asa ka nagpuyo?
    Taga asa ka?

  • You’re pretty/beautiful.
    Gwapa ka.

  • I don’t know.
    Wala ko kabalo.

  • Good morning.
    Maayong buntag.

  • Good noon.
    Maayong udto.

  • Good afternoon.
    Maayong hapon.

  • Good evening.
    Maayong gabi-i.

  • How are you?

  • Excuse me. (getting attention)
    Kadiyot lang.

  • Forgive me.
    Pasaylo-a ko.

  • Let’s eat.
    Mangaon ta.

  • Thank you very much.
    Salamat kaayo.

  • You’re welcome.
    Walay sapayan.

  • How old are you?
    Pilay edad nimo?

  • Let’s eat breakfast.
    Mamahaw ta.

  • Would you like to go shopping?
    Ganahan ka mag shopping?

  • Merry Christmas!
    Maayong Pasko!

  • Happy New Year!
    Malipayong bag-ong tuig!

  • What do you do? (job)
    Unsay trabaho nimo?

Read more: Bisaya Phrases You Should Learn and Know

Now that you know some basic Cebuano phrases that are useful in a daily conversation, let’s move on to practicing how to pronounce the Cebuano language correctly. 

How to Speak like a Local: Pronunciation

Make the most of your trip to Cebu by engaging with the locals.

1. Start by learning the 5 vowels in the Cebuano alphabet.

Before the Spanish influence, the Cebuano language had only 3 vowels: “a,” ‘i,” and “u.” Now, “e” and “o” have been added to the Cebuano alphabet. 

Here is how the 5 vowels sound:

The letter “a” has an “ah” sound similar to the “a” in the English word “rather.”

The letter “e” has an “eh” sound similar to the “e” in the English word “egg.”

The letter “i” has an “ih” sound similar to the “i” in the English word “pin.”

The letter “o” has an “oh” sound similar to the “o” in the English word “gold.”

The letter “u” has an “ooh” sound similar to the “u” in the English word “flu.”

Tip: Every vowel in a Cebuano word is pronounced individually. If you see two vowels next to each other (e.g., “maayong”), you need to read it in separate syllables – mah-ah-yhong.

2. Use vowels to break words into syllables.

Again, take note that every vowel in a Cebuano word is pronounced, and each syllable has only one vowel. Here’s an example:

The word “Cebuano” has 4 syllables. So, it will read as: ceh-boo-ah-noh. However, this rule does not always apply. The majority of native speakers speak more quickly. It may now sound as: ceh-bwah-noh (with 3 syllables). 

Note: Either of the two is correct; you may choose whichever you’re most comfortable using. 

3. Place the stress on the correct syllable.

The position of the stress in every Cebuano word can distinguish word meanings. There are Cebuano words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently. Stressed vowels can be long or short, and it’s the vowel length that makes a difference in a word’s meaning. 

For example, “dapit” in Cebuano has two meanings: place or invite. When you say the word dapit (a short stressed vowel), it means place, while dapit (a long stressed vowel) means invite. 

4. Listen to Cebuano music to improve your pronunciation.

Cebu has a thriving music scene, and it should be fairly easy for you to find a few songs with Cebuano lyrics that you can enjoy listening to. 

You can sing along with the lyrics or try translating the lyrics into your native language. This can also improve your understanding of the language. 

Moreover, if you want to interact more with the locals, it’s best to start with phrases used for greetings and common courtesy. Below are some tips:

1. Continue your greeting by adding “Kumusta man ka?”

This is the most common phrase used when asking “How are you?” or “How have you been?”

A person can then respond with, “Maayo ra ko, ikaw?” (I’m good. How about you?)

2. Add polite words and phrases to show respect. Cebuanos also have their own “magic words” whenever they want to be more helpful and forgiving.

These polite Cebuano phrases include:

  • Please.
  • I beg your pardon?
    Pwede nimo balikon?
    Unsa gani to?
  • Excuse me.
    Paagi-a ko. 

3. Lastly, greet people based on the time of the day.

Greeting someone with “Maayong buntag” (Good morning) is commonly used in formal settings. However, if you want to make a relatively casual greeting, you can use the Cebuano word, “Hoy.” This is commonly used to get someone’s attention or to call out to them without mentioning their name.

Note: The term “Hoy” may sound impolite or inappropriate when used with people you just met or aren’t that close to. When addressing friends with this word, don’t say it too loud so you don’t come off as rude.

There are some fun Cebuano idioms and interesting Bisaya phrases too!

These common greetings and courtesies in the Cebuano language will definitely help you get by in a daily conversation with the locals. 

But did you know that Cebu also has its own set of idiomatic expressions? Here are some examples:

  • Ang gaba dili magsaba. – This basically means karma.

  • Pasayan. – Used to refer to someone with a great looking body but an ugly face.

  • Pagputi sa uwak. – Not likely to happen.

  • Naa na sa akong pahak. – I already know about it.

  • Baga og nawng. – Someone who is ungrateful or has no shame. The audacity.

  • Gubot pa sa lukot. – Very tangled or untidy.

  • Katagakon akong mata. – Very sleepy.

Why You Should Learn Cebuano When Traveling to Cebu

Imagine traveling to a foreign country and being met with a blizzard of signs, cultures, directions, and characters that you don’t understand. This, for sure, will make your trip less enjoyable. 

That being said, making an effort to learn the local language makes all the difference. Also, here are the common benefits of doing so before heading out to a foreign city or country:

  • It makes getting around easier.

  • It helps you connect with the locals.

  • It helps you avoid cultural faux pas.

  • It increases safety.

Learning the Cebuano language doesn’t mean you need to speak it fluently. Just learn the basic terms and phrases, and for sure, your trip to Cebu will be more fun and worthwhile.

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