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Speak English to Me

If you have read the comments, there is a newcomer here, Steve in Davao, who often comments. I know little about Steve, except he is 51 years old ,he married his Filipina wife in 2003 in the U.S., and they have a 5 year old daughter. They moved to Davao last November and are enjoying their new life here.

I joked with Steve via email about his Christmas Day, with family there, how much English he heard during the day. In response Steve wrote another interesting article about now living in the Philippines.

Speak English to me! by Steve in Davao

Bruce emailed me the other day with this question. “I wonder once your daughter learns Bisayan and uses it on a daily basis and now your wife is back in her element, how much English you will hear.” He also asked if I hear many complete English sentences spoken in my house. It doesn’t sound like a real hard question, but it did set me to thinking.

The question actually cracked me up. I found it a rather funny question, and at the same time, a little disquieting, almost a plea for help (or at least a good conversation). I have only been here a short time and already I “get it”. Between my wife, her niece, who lives with us and my sister-in-law, who lives down the street, I rarely do hear full English sentences spoken in my house. To complicate things further, my brother-in-law is Japanese and we find ourselves hanging around his friends a lot. They are a great bunch of people and we enjoy being with them, but the language barrier does exist. Luckily, my 5 year old speaks good ole’ American English, but, a conversation with a five year old does have its limits. I do worry that she will start to lose her English over time.

I had not given a lot of thought to the language barrier until Bruce asked me about it. He mentioned that my daughter would soon be learning the Bisayan language and I would become even more isolated. He’s right! I will hear less and less English spoken as time goes by. I think that is why he asked the question. He is already feeling the effects of being a little isolated by language, you can only be the outsider on so many conversations, and you start to feel left out. Maybe I need to cultivate some new friendships between the English speaking population here in Davao. I already have plans to meet Bruce and Elena after the holidays. I think we will hit it off and we will become friends.

Note: My wife calls all non-Filipino looking people “Americans”. She said that includes all European or European descent, including Americans, African-Americans, Australians and just about all foreigners. So please bear with me if you’re not an American, but fit into her broad definition.

One observation I would like to get some opinions on. Have you noticed that most “Americans” you see, do not make eye contact and generally ignore each other? Am I mistaken on this or what? I actually stopped a Canadian family in a grocery store recently just to chat and they seemed a little taken back at first. We had a nice chat and enjoyed the conversation, but that was it. I have smiled and made eye contact with many “Americans” here, but most just look away and go about their business. I would have thought that we English speakers would seek each other out for conversation and possible friendship. I think I am starting to get a complex.

I once read an article in this forum that mentioned numerous organizations here, made up of expat’s. Expat and Foreigner Relationships in the Philippines
was the name of the article and you can read it under Bruce’s heading “culture”. Maybe that’s part of my reaching out to Bruce and Elena for friendship. Bruce might, in turn, be able to introduce me to other expat’s. I do not know how I pictured the expat community prior to coming here. I have not been here that long, but so far, I am not feeling very welcome. Is that only the impression of a newbie who has not given Davao a chance or are people that tight with their friendship? Let me know your thoughts on this.

Anyway, the longer I live here, the more Filipino, Japanese, Chinese and other languages I will hear and probably less and less English. That is not a problem because I don’t think I will “lose” my English, but I just might start to feel a little isolated at times.
In the meantime, anyone who wants a new friend, I speak English and I‘m available! ….Ha-ha!
Steve in Davao

35 Responses to “Speak English to Me”

  1. david S. says:

    Bruce, I’d be curious to find out how you’re dealing with the language barrier. Does anyone in your household converse with you in English?

    • Bruce says:


      I only get very little conversation unless they need to ask me something or I start the conversation. Elena and I talk but the rest of the time, she and our nieces speak in Bisaya.

  2. Richard T. says:

    Steve and Bruce, Don’t feel alone. I am married to a fantastic Filipino lady from the Davao area and we are living in Arizona. When her family and friends are here all i hear is the Bisayan language and 1% English words. Sometimes i seem to pick out a few words and know what is going on but for the 99% i don’t understand it is time to go my hobby/computer/ham shack room and do my own thing. “Rosetta stone” software only has Tagalog. We have property there and plan to retire in the next 5 years. I either need to learn Bisayan or learn Bisayan. Know of any Bisayan language classes there? Or as the old saying goes when in Rome, Be a Roman… One more thing my wife wants to switch from cable TV to Direct TV because “Direct TV has 10 Filipino channels” I told her nope not going to happen because I will never hear English in this house unless I start talking to my self.

    • Bruce says:


      Well your getting acclimated to living in Davao before you even move here. 🙂
      There is some teachers available to come to your home and teach Bisaya. Maybe your wife can start giving you lessons before you move here. Once you learn Bisaya, then you will also have a problem with local TV, most shows are in Tagalog.

    • Robert says:


      Where is Ariona? I live in Phoenix, for a few more months. Then I will be immigrating to the Philippines. I’m single, but I love the country and the people; and when you are retired you can live where you want. 🙂

      I wholeheartedly agree with your comment about when in Rome, be a Roman. However, like you, my language program only has Tagalog. If you find out more about learning Bisayan, please pass the information along.

      • Bruce says:

        There are not any I have found with Bisaya tutorials. But if you learn Tagalog, everyone speaks that and it is the main language on TV.

        • Nestor says:

          Ayo naa ba si Bruce diha? Wow! I am flattered to know that there are some all-american guys wanting to learn my language; Bisaya. But first things first, let me introduce myself. My name is Nestor and I am from Panabo the city next to Davao if you are going north to Tagum. I was born there 58 years ago and me and my wife are now in the city of Orange in southern California.

          I might be of some help to all of you guys who want to learn how to speak Bisaya so you won’t feel left out when you are conversing with your bisayan family and friends. To better know each other better I would suggest adding me as your “friend” on facebook. Try searching for nes rofers on facebook or email me @ and we can go on from there.

      • Richard T. says:


        I live in Tucson on the Northwest side.

  3. Marvin says:

    I just can’t get comfortable when saying something in Itawis, Ibanag, Ilocano, or Tagalog. Folks always laugh, apparently because they are happy to hear from me, but I never know if thats the case or I mispronounced a word.

  4. Bruce & Steve, You’ll just have to learn another language! And don’t say you are too old! I was 55 when I retired and moved to Austria. Not a word of German did I know, so I was left out of lots of conversations. Now, it is almost second nature to think in German, and I was never very good in languages in school! It’s called “immersion”.

    • Bruce says:

      You might have needed it more if nobody used English. Here you get some understanding of English at different degrees. I guess for me it would be easier if my family took the time to teach me words and help review to lock them in my thick scull. For me, the pronunciation is different from the way words are spelled. Even Classmates here is spelled as Klasmyt

  5. Steve in Davao says:

    Marvin, the fact that you try to speak the local language is great. They probably laugh at your accent. Keep it up!

    John, Good advice and I am learning, but (you knew the “but” was coming)this is also an English speaking country. English is a required language in school here. AND some conversations will include two or even three distinct language and dialects, so learning just one language is not the end all. So, as you can see, It’s not exactly total immersion into a slingle language here, but I am learning and will learn more as I go. Thanks!

    Steve in Davao

    • Bruce says:


      Not all schools teach English and the English they do teach is substandard. A while back all English teachers were tested for competency and 86% failed. Also Cory Aquino stopped the mandatory teach of English in public schools. Many areas do not teach English until high school and by then the acceptance to new languages is tougher than when children are young.

  6. alan cline says:


    Welcome to the Philippines . As far as stand offish being the norm from other expats here that might have more to do with where you are located in the Philippines than anywhere else .

    We have a quite close knit group of expats here in Cagayan De Oro but that may have more to do withe size of the city than anything else . Cebu and Davao friends are much more spread out as those cities are are quite large in area .

    As for the language issue , don’t feel left -out as i could sometimes go for days without ever hearing English spoken in my house unless i address someone and they have to answer in English . 🙂

    • Bruce says:

      It fustrates me at times. We will sit at the dinner table and I have no understanding of what their conversation is. Then I spend most of my time in my bedroom because they are watching tagalog tv in the sala.

      About contact with foreigners, there are many here in Davao, and there are expats that I feel had trouble making friends in the US, come here and have some young sweetie but has no social skills to make friends.

  7. Steve in Davao says:

    Alan, thanks for the welcome. I hadn’t thought about it in those terms. Population and city size might be a direct cause. Maybe expat’s here are just so use to seeing other “American” types that it’s no big deal. Being new here, it’s a big deal too me. Once again, I’m still a newbie here and maybe my expectations are overblown. Anyway, I will continue to make friends as I go. Thanks for your input.
    Steve in Davao

    • Bruce says:


      Now having met you, and enjoying your openness to friendship and conversation, you should have no problem developing friendships. Just do not forget your first Kano friend here. 🙂

  8. I’m coming from a different perspective here. I am a native Filipino born in Manila and lived there for all of thirty years until I moved to Australia in 2000.

    Perhaps it is because of my nature as a loner that makes me welcome living among people who are standoffish or avoid eye contact (though I think that might be an Australian thing as I recall an American living here mentioning to me how cold he often finds Australians to be). Back in the Philippines I didn’t really enjoy the way Filipinos tended to stare excessively at one another. And that’s me speaking as a native. I can imagine what it may be like being an “American” in the Philippines as you guys probably get more than your fair share of staring and gawking from the locals.

    Here in Australia, expat Filipinos are the opposite of that standoffish behaviour Steve observed in the Canadian couple in Davao. Filipinos in Australia tend to check out one another even more obssessively than we would back in the Philippines. And it annoys me even more. So I find myself being even more standoffish to fellow Filipinos over here!

    Maybe that is what might explain some of the behaviour of that Canadian couple in the supermarket and the other “Americans” Steve observes.

    • Bruce says:


      Maybe Filipinos in Australia are trying to figure out which language to use. People act differently with each other in all countries. With staring. When I would be outside the office I worked at, at times a jeepney would pass and a rider would stare at me like I was from outerspace. I would stare back and point with a look similar to theirs.

  9. Steve in Davao says:

    Suddenlyforty, First off, where did you get your online name. Interesting.
    Second, I see your point. I lived in Italy and it was considered a compliment if you would stare at a girl. In Korea, it was impolite (as in many cultures) and in Honduras it wasn’t an issue either way. In the end, I guess it really comes down to personal preferences.
    Thanks for your comment.
    Steve in Davao

    • Bruce says:

      Steve and Suddenlyforty,

      For me I enjoy seeing all the beautiful ladies here and also as a people watcher I look at everyone. I look at styles, clothes and attitudes. About looking at pretty ladies, I tell my wife, “just because I am on a diet, it odes not mean I cannot read the menu.”

  10. Marcel says:


    I had similar feelings initially when I have emigrated from former Czechoslovakia to Canada many years ago. Not understanding English well initially left me longing for people from my old country. Now, I behave quite opposite, when I hear my native language I keep my distance on purpose. Therefore, yearning to connect with other white people in an ocean of Filipinos is understandable. I’ve married Filipina almost 2 years ago and I’ve been to Philippines twice already and planning to go this year again. Every time I saw white person there it made me feel better knowing that I am not only one sticking out as a sore thumb but I did not feel desire to get into conversation with anyone. Same here in Canada, we do not run into total strangers to strike a conversation. This will surely change once will be able to retire there finally. Many years to go for me unfortunately…

    • Bruce says:


      Sometimes people want to meet and talk, other times you might have something on your mind or a time restraint where you cannot stop and talk. I do not get hung up over it.

  11. alantooth says:

    to suddenforthy, i think you’ve forgotten the “crab mentality” filipino has, yes we’re very much hospitable, it’s quite easy for us to make friends when we’re out of the country, but i dont understand why filipinos (not all) dont accept some filipinos who succeed in life, what i mean living abroad…… hayst!!

    • Bruce says:

      I think it is jealousy and or boasting. Because of the lower life they feel the need to show how well off they now are now. Then their family’s back home getting the remittance flaunt how well their life has become.
      Even as an American, it is hard for some not to be jealous or envious or others who have done better.

  12. alantooth says:

    another question bruce, how dyou find american/caucasians who can’t face their fellow americans when they met in malls? unlike we filipinos when we met in states and some other part of the country, we bond a little and talk evethough we dunno each other…

    • Bruce says:

      There are some Expats that were socially inept in their own country and could not make friends of find a girlfriend, come here and have a sexy young lady. When out they do not look at others in the eyes because they do not know how to meet and have a conversation. With the Filipino friendly ways and being in another country, they see a Filipino and think, wow, someone I have not met before, let me go bother him.

  13. ian says:

    I guess I treat other caucasians that i meet in malls in the philippines the same way that i treat them in the malls in Canada- unless I particulary have something to say to them I dont pay any attention to them. Doesnt make sense to me to be profiling people based on race

    • Bruce says:

      In the states, or in Canada most are Canadians or Americans. We meet friends through friends or in a bar or some social situation. Here it is as if we are such a minority, many need to reach out to meet others.

  14. alantooth says:

    i think i can get a beautiful american lady when i started the conversation, hahahaha joke!! i think american ladies dont like pinoys…
    bruce make a blogs bout FILIPINO TNT(TAGO NG TAGO) and why fellow pinoys who lived in states wants to earn money from them…

    • Bruce says:

      Gigolos live everywhere. And there are men and women who look to find an older lover to support them. If you would like an older Caucasian lover, I might be able to introduce you to one, but you need to be a good lover. hahaha

  15. alantooth says:

    hahaha!! nice one bruce, can i see her pix? how old is she?

  16. alantooth says:

    hahahaha haeve you seen my photos

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