If you can speak passable Tagalog, you'll never have to worry about getting by and making friends in Manila. Even on your own you'll find life in Manila easier, more engaging, and simply more fun.
However, there's an idea that "exposure" and "immersion" simply make a language permeate your consciousness.
We'd all like to step off the plane at NAIA with some essential phrases, then charm our way around town as those basics grow into fluency.
In reality, it's a lot different. It involves plenty of frustrations, a constant lack of knowledge (even quick learners don't always know why their approach works), and often fleeting progress that doesn't stick.
The biggest problem is finding an efficient way to keep going.
Anyone who has studied Tagalog or related languages will understand what I mean. English is nearly universal in Manila (and the whole of the Philippines) so there is no practical urgency.
Living with a native speaker—my wife is one—does create some personal motivation, but it still doesn't guarantee efficient progress.
So how do you get useful, practical Tagalog to stick without devoting every waking minute to studying?
For me, Glossika Tagalog is the difference between steady, efficient progress and the haphazard learning I used to struggle through.
You can sign up here right now, but since it's not cheap, I suggest reading through to make sure it's right for you.
What I Want In A Tagalog Learning Resource
When you start with an unintuitive language, then throw in work and family and other time constraints, it gets frustrating.
Limited and fractured study time amplifies the importance of getting bite-size yet effective pieces. Getting through an extended lesson in one go isn't always feasible, and figuring out how to test your recollection is even harder.
A great thing about language apps is that they can "game-ify" learning. They can break things into manageable chunks, stop us when we're nearing our limit, and quiz us at the ideal time, all while showing progress in fun ways.
In other words, well-made language apps are the polar opposite of textbook learning.
Another thing I look for in a resource is modern, colloquial language.
It's not like I want to know all the teenagers' slang; I just don't want to sound like I'm halfway through some Tagalog for Business Travelers course, either.
Finally, it needs to focus on listening and speaking. That means I expect to be able to use lessons without text supplements and to have enough time to repeat phrases before the instructor moves on.
So, when an app promises a convenient and highly efficient methodology, focusing on colloquial language with a listening-first approach, I'm all ears. If it costs a bit more, then it's money well spent...if it actually works.
After trying several resources and multiple apps, Glossika Tagalog fits the bill (almost) perfectly.
The user experience is pleasantly simple and the course pacing is excellent. You'll find yourself picking up grammar without realizing it. It also forces you away from direct translation and into more intuitive, idea-based translation.
However, it's an expensive resource if you use only one language. The experience isn't great for mobile users, which is especially disappointing at such a premium price.
On the whole, it's effective and therefore worthwhile, but you need to be dedicated to get your money's worth.
Below, we'll see what makes it unique, plus my thoughts on the good, bad, and ugly of Glossika Tagalog.
You can try it out here if you're really itching to start, but I'd recommend reading on through first.
How & Why Glossika Tagalog Works
There are a few different modes that ask you to write a lot, a little, or none.
I only use the listen-only mode (no writing). Filipino writing is basically phonetic, so there's little to practice in that regard, plus I always find listening and speaking harder than reading and writing. Might as well embrace discomfort for the sake of progress!
All that to say, there are probably features of the app that this review won't address.
If you want writing and dictation practice, then you'll find that in Glossika, and it uses a similar repetition approach. It's just not something I'll discuss in detail.
It focuses on meaning, not translation
Most language classes focus on translation, and most language students instinctively translate.
We've all been there: stuck translating a single word at a time into something that isn't exactly wrong, but it's light years away from sounding normal.
That's painful to struggle through, and all the more so when the end result is like the primitive early days of Google Translate. (For those too young to remember, that's not a good thing.)
Getting your head out of word-for-word translation is absolutely critical. The goal is more like "thought-for-thought" translation, where you convey a whole chunk of meaning rather than dissecting it.
Glossika is the most intentional app—and I'd say the most successful—at forcing me away from translating individual words and toward holistic, meaningful phrases.
Here's an example that might help.
In Tagalog, you'll immediately notice something kind of like the passive voice in English. It's not exactly the same, but it looks and feels close, so the analogy works.
The only problem is that the rules around using it are hard to define. They're also unintuitive to English speakers, even if you can define them.
Anyway, translating word by word based on your English phrasing will almost always lead you down the wrong path.
For instance, you might try to use the English subject-verb-object pattern, which sounds strange or altogether wrong in Filipino. Or you might guess (wrongly) that Tagalog is always in the passive voice, and just apply that across the board, which sounds equally strange.
Glossika steers you away from either of those mistakes. You learn only whole sentences and therefore start thinking in terms of whole sentences.
It's hard to describe how powerful this is until you try it.
It's almost like the difference between punching in a passcode and simply swiping a key fob.
Word-for-word translation is like trying to remember each number in the code. Whole-sentence translation is like presenting the fob that unlocks the door all at once.
The analogy is clumsy, but you'll see what I mean after an hour or two of practice in the app.
It keeps pace with you (almost) automatically
Now, you're thinking, people have learned languages perfectly well without automation since time immemorial.
But like a dishwasher or a digital camera, the right automation can get us much more for much less effort.
Getting comfortable with Tagalog—or another language, or another skill altogether—comes down to two things.
What should I learn and how often should I repeat it?
The wrong things—or right things in the wrong order—is a waste of time.
Too little repetition and you're wasting your time. Too much and you're just crawling along when you could be walking.
But finding the right balance is highly contextual and personal.
This challenge is what Glossika's artificial intelligence aims to solve. Later, I'll elaborate on this and also share an important tip to help the AI work its best for you.
It teaches practical things you didn't expect
Isn't the practical stuff exactly what you'd expect?
Yes and no.
I can't blame you if that sounds strange, so let me explain.
It's clear as day to any language student that you'll need to do things like order food or barter at the market.
That's in Glossika, of course.
But a lot of other things are (more?) important in daily life, especially if you're learning Tagalog for the same of family or friends.
Things like "He's still watching TV" or "Are your parents over there?" just to give some basic examples.
This is the sort of practical but non-obvious language that Glossika emphasizes for beginners.
It feels a little random as it comes up, since these aren't complete thematic conversations like you're probably used to.
But I was amazed at a) how well these "random" sentences stick and b) how often I use them in real life.
Why does that work? I bet it has something to do with how contrived conversations in language courses never play out that way in real life.
Even if those elaborate dialogues lessons are about practical topics, the problem is you learn new words/sentences only as responses to other specifics ones. They can be surprisingly hard to call to mind in any other context. Likewise, when the real-life conversation takes a different turn—and it will—you're in a pickle.
Instead, Glossika uses equally practical but standalone sentences to plant seeds. You learn it alone (as a whole sentence, not individually translated words) and that's how you practice it, too.
Slowly but surely, you build up a mental library of ideas in your new language. With time, they get ever easier to combine.
It's all a little abstract to write about, but you'll quickly see what I mean once you sign up.
You simply have to trust the system, but it's worth it. (And that could easily be my one-sentence review of Glossika as a whole.)
What Bugs Me About Glossika Tagalog
Keep in mind that this is specific to the Tagalog version. There may be language-specific issues in other versions, but I couldn't say.
It’s one of the most expensive options
For perspective, Filipino Pod 101 is a fine resource that starts out far cheaper. Its highest tier is around the same price as Glossika, but includes extensive resources and even personal tutors/conversation partners.
To my knowledge, Glossika includes nothing more.
On the one hand, that's all right. The whole point is not to delve into PDFs and written lessons and unnecessary cultural notes. Their whole methodology tries to make those things unnecessary, and it works.
I did say at the beginning that I want and believe in audio-first language learning.
That's what Glossika does. It does it so well that I'm happy to pay more. All good there.
Still, if I'm not paying for extensive supplements—and, again, I don't want them—then what exactly costs so much more than competitors?
If the price isn't a concern, then get on with it and enjoy. But if you're tight on cash, you may need to skip Glossika unless or until they offer a cheaper single-language version.
On the bright side, this price does grant you access to all the other languages, too. That's irrelevant if you're only pursuing Filipino, but a bargain for us language hobbyists who balance a few at once.
The mobile experience is subpar
For the price, I'd really appreciate a better mobile experience.
In fact, it's not really a "mobile" experience like you might expect. As of writing, there is no app to download. It's the same, browser-based web application, just in a phone-friendly format.
That rules out offline use, which can be a headache for travelers. And one imagines a lot of Glossika customers are travelers…
Thankfully, as long as you're connected, the mobile web page is easy enough to use. Here's an example of what you'll see upon logging in.
How To Make Consistent Progress With Glossika
Glossika is an excellent but relatively expensive app.
There are cheaper (or free) ways to dabble in studying Tagalog, but it's money well spent if you use it diligently.
So, if you want to give it a try, then here's how I get the most out of it.
Use the free trial realistically
As of writing, you'll get 7 days of full access before they charge you a penny.
It's easy to sign up enthusiastically for some course, spend hours in it right away, then lose track of it the next day and never return.
That's not a good idea here.
Those massive chunks of time aren't a realistic way to study in the long run. They won't give you a good sense of Glossika's effectiveness or student experience.
And most importantly, they're not what Glossika is designed for.
Instead, dedicate perhaps 10-15 minutes 4x/day throughout the trial period. That's enough for two learning sessions and two review sessions each day. More or less should be fine, but I'd start there.
The best way to make the free trial worthwhile is to use it in a realistic way, not as a one-time binge. More on that just below.
Build short, frequent Glossika sessions into your day
Again, you should use the app briefly but regularly. There are two reasons why, which I'll quickly elaborate on.
First, consistency is key to any results. That's a general principle that we all know from experience.
Whether we're studying Tagalog, getting fit, learning a craft, you name it...consistency gets results and sporadic practice does not.
Fortunately, the course is built for this. As long as you have internet access, you pick it up and put it down at a moment's notice.
And that ties into the second reason.
Glossika uses a recall method that is built around quick but regular sessions. You're not explicitly studying so much as absorbing (or "training" as they call it). Biting off a huge chunk won't get you very far.
They put together a neat infographic with a sample study plan. Adjust it as you see fit, but it's a terrific baseline that has worked for me.
Use the feedback buttons liberally
I mentioned earlier that Glossika uses an artificial intelligence algorithm to figure out what needs practice.
AI is insanely complex, of course, but the principle is pretty simple in this case. You give the algorithm a goal, then give it points of comparison, and it does whatever is likeliest to achieve that goal.
So as you learn and review, the software is thinking, "Let's see, my goal is for this person to remember this sentence. I know what's worked for other people...so based on that, when should I show the sentence again to maximize the chance that they remember it?"
That's ridiculously simplistic, but you get the drift.
The thing about AI is that it gets better as it gets more points of comparison. And in Glossika, you provide those through the heart and smile buttons.
I was a little confused at first, but the heart means "I want to keep practicing this" whereas the smile means "This is easy for me."
Perhaps not obvious, but simple enough once you know.
Anyway, the more actively you use those buttons, the more information you're giving the software. And the nature of AI is that more info means better choices, so you're ultimately helping yourself by using the buttons as soon as they feel appropriate.
(By the way, that might be another reason that short, frequent sessions are better than long, occasional ones. Study time is a huge variable for memory, so keeping it the same probably helps the AI work even better. But that's just an educated guess...)
Try other languages, if that's a goal
Although it's an expensive tool for just one language, keep in mind that your subscription unlocks all languages.
As of writing, there are 60-something to pick from.
However, one caveat here: don't study others from scratch at the same time.
If you're already at a basic but useful level in another language, then you'll probably be fine working on both at once. Maybe that more proficient language is Filipino, and you'd like to improve it while branching into, say, Cantonese. You'll do fine.
But if you're a raw beginner in Tagalog and another language, then I find it counterproductive to start both at once.
It's not just a matter of vocab, since (in this example) Tagalog and Cantonese words are 100% different. The issue is that your brain hasn't picked up the structure of either one, yet. Two sets of totally new language patterns is a whole lot of input to handle.
Instead, wait at least a couple months until you're past Glossika's "beginner" stage in the newer language.
Then I would take up another...but only if it's a priority in the first place.
And if not, that's just fine.
Dedicated use with just Tagalog will certainly get your money's worth, too.
If it's working, then save on an annual subscription
You'll notice that Glossika offers a discounted year-long option. That's nice for them, with more predictable revenue. And it's nice for you, with basically two months free
Now, a year means committing a lot of money at once. To be frank, I would not do it just based on a good experience with the trial. Keeping it up for one week doesn't mean that you will for 52.
But if you're still consistent through the first paid month, then you've probably built a new habit that's going to stick. So that is the point where I suggest upgrading to one year.
Now, if the trial really impressed you...and you know you'll be dedicated based on past experience...then no harm going for the annual subscription sooner. But for most people, give it a few more weeks to decide.
The Verdict: Who Should Try it?
If you want to learn Filipino through listening and speaking, then Glossika Tagalog is the best way I've found so far.
It handles all the repetition and study-planning, so you don't spend a second on anything besides learning. You also don't need to plan exercises, monitor your progress, or really give much thought to anything outside your session.
For my money, and my busy schedule, that's as convenient as it gets.
It deliberately avoids explicit grammar lessons, which I appreciate. It's too easy to get caught up in memorizing rules that don't actually bring proficiency.
(And if you're dying to know why some phrase uses ng instead of ang, or the difference between nag- and naka-, or whatever...then it's easy to Google your way to grammar sites like this.)
That said, the lack of a true mobile app is disappointing. That's mostly because I want full offline access when traveling. But unless you have serious trouble with WiFi or mobile data access, then it's not a deal-breaker.
For most people, the main sticking point is price. Even at the slightly discounted yearly rate, it's an expensive resource. No two ways about it.
But then again, it's no more than Netflix plus Spotify...neither of which has helped me learn Tagalog.
P.S. I mentioned the 7-day free trial above, and it's worth reiterating how useful that period is. Remember to carve out daily sessions to get a good feel for the app! Use this referral link to start your trial instantly and get a $5 discount on your subscription.