Why is Spanish Spoken in the Philippines?

The familiar names lead many to believe that Spanish is spoken in Philippines, but today only 0.5% of the population speaks it as native language.

spanish in the philippines

Manila Bay at sunset.

How many Spanish speakers are there in the Philippines?

Spanish was introduced in the Philippines in the 16th century, when it fell into Spanish rule. Spanish settlers maintained a strong presence in the archipelago until 1898, until the Spanish-American war. With Spain’s defeat, English became a co-official language. It lost its official status in 1973, but was quickly reintroduced a few months later. Spanish would only be removed with a Constitutional change in 1987. Nowadays, it’s an “optional language”.

In 2013, there were 439,000 Spanish native speakers in the Philippines (0.5% of a population of 92 million). However, 1,200,000 people spoke Chavacano, a Spanish-based creole. Including Spanish and Chavacano native speakers, as well as Filipinos who can speak either as a 2nd, 3rd or 4th language, the Instituto Cervantes estimates there are 3 million Spanish speakers in the country.  

Some famous Spanish Filipinos are José Rizal, Andrés Bonifacio, Antonio Luna, Pilita Corrales, Marian Rivera, Ian Veneración and Isabel Preysler.

Spanish in the Philippines

Philippine Spanish (Español filipino) is the variety spoken by most speakers. Due to the emigration from Latin America, it’s quite similar to Mexican Spanish in pronunciation.  

Philippine Spanish adopted some loanwords from Tagalog, Visayan and Malay. Spanish also influenced local languages: 4,000 words made their way into Tagalog (between 20% to 33% of Tagalog words). Approximately 6,000 words entered Visayan and other indigenous languages.

There are several names with Spanish origins and the Spanish presence is still noticeable in streets’ names as well. Some contracts, newspapers and literature are still written in Spanish and there has been a moderate revival of the language in schools.

Take our free Spanish Level test.

Are you A1, C2 or something in between? Our thorough test will let you know.