Resources for Learning Cebuano

IJsselstein, Sunday, 11 August 2013 19:09:58

Learning Cebuano

Since Cebuano has no official status, and minimal government support as result, it is not easy to find books that will help you learn Cebuano. In local bookshops, you'll sometimes find small phrase-books, that sometimes offer a curious insight into Philippine culture, but are not very useful to learn the language. However, if you search a little further, good resources can be found. We've prepared on overview of Cebuano Learning resources on this site.

If you have any suggestions for additions to this page, please do so in the comment box below.

If a few canned phrases are all you need, this site has a short Cebuano Phrase Book available.

If you want to take the challenge and learn more of the language, invest in at least two dictionaries, and some of the better books mentioned below.

Cebuano has a number of features (shared with other Philippine languages) that make the language a very interesting object of study for linguists. In particular the way Cebuano treats its verbs are a continued area of debate, and as a result, you will see grammar books describing the Cebuano verb system in wildly diverse ways, which can at first be confusing. However, once you can see the system in practice, and memorize the patterns, it can be handled without all the theoretical baggage. Cebuano toddlers also learn it that way...

Courses and Grammars

On-line, a number of sites are available to help you learn Cebuano. Tom Marking has prepared a large PDF file with his study notes. Other sites with Cebuano material are and

Freely available from US government ERIC site is the Cebuano Language Packet, prepared for the US Peace Corps Volunteers. They also have a complete language course by Betty Baura, Cebuano para sa mga Peace Corps Volunteers. (The ERIC server sometimes refuses to serve most PDF files to non-US-based addresses. If this happens, look for a US-based webproxy that allows you to download this 10 MB file).

Another curious resource, prepared by the US military, is Cebuano Headstart2. This is fairly basic in content, but includes interactive exercises with graphics and audio, and many phrases only relevant to soldiers.

Marked for "missionary use only," but in fact giving a concise introduction is Cebuano Language Objectives, produced by the Mormon Church.

Mark Rubrico has a number of Philippine language courses, on his site, including Cebuano. They also sell the Cebuano course Magbinisaya Kita ("Let us speak Visayan") by Jessie Grace Rubrico. Given it's high price, I haven't purchased a copy, and am unable to review it here.

Conversational Cebuano
Conversational Cebuano
Available from the Cebuano Studies Center is a very nice introduction to the language: Conversational Cebuano, which, published in 2010, is the most recent work available. This book includes a CD with mp3 files of the dialogues. At P350.00 it is recommended, but to buy it, you will need to go the Cebuano Studies Center Library at Josef Baumgartner Learning Resource Center, University of San Carlos Talamban Campus, Nasipit, Talamban in Cebu City. It is not available in other shops. While you are there, don't forget to pick-up copies of the small bilingual books with Cebuano folk-tales, songs and riddles, they sell for a small price.

For children (with a Cebuano background) there is Think and Learn in Cebuano, available print-on-demand for USD 5.95.

You can also buy A Handbook of Cebuano by the Filipino (Boholano)-Finnish couple Anssi and Nida Räisänen. This combines a short topically organized vocabulary with a concise description of the grammar. It however, does not include a graded introduction of the language, as you would expect from a study book.

Older is Cebuano for Beginners by Maria Bunye and Elsa Yap. Published in 1971, this comprehensive 836 page intensive course was originally intended for US Peace Corps volunteers. They also published a dictionary to accompany this book.

Beginning Cebuano II
Beginning Cebuano II
Even more extended in scope is Beginning Cebuano, in two volumes by John U. Wolff, which appeared in 1966 and 1967. Wolff's course is designed for both classroom use and self-study with the help of a Cebuano speaker who can act as an informer. It contains extensive drills and dialogs. The second volume is still available from Yale university, but not very useful without having first completed the first volume, which only very rarely appears in second hand bookshops.

One drawback of Wolff's book is that it does not follow the common way of writing Cebuano. Although the use of the letter q for the glottal stop is very clear, it takes some time to get used to (also for Cebuano speakers trying to help you).

Further Cebuano language books do exist, but I have not been able to obtain. Some of these are:

If you have access to any of these, please be in touch with the webmaster.

Mainly of historical interest are a number of Cebuano grammars that can be found on Google Books. Those all were published before 1923, and use the old, Spanish based orthography. Furthermore, they often try to force the grammatical concepts of Latin on Cebuano, which has a completely different structure.


Good dictionaries for Cebuano are also quite hard to obtain, but a number of good ones do exist.

On this site, we offer a search interface on the excellent Cebuano dictionary by John U. Wolff, first published in 1972. Scans of this book are available on line at Cornell University: Vol I (A-K) and Vol II (L-Z). This is the best dictionary available for Cebuano. However, make sure you read the introduction before using it, and understand that it does not use the common orthography.

Also very useful is the dictionary at, produced as an offshoot of the author's research in Cebuano verbal morphology. It has a large vocabulary, and is able to find matching root words at ease.

Cebuano Dictionary
Cebuano Dictionary
At bookstores in Cebu, you will probably be able to buy An English-Cebuano Visayan Dictionary by Rodolfo Cabonce. Although comprehensive, this work is more useful to Cebuano speakers who need to look up the meaning of a Cebuano word than for learners of Cebuano who like to find out a word in Cebuano.

More recent is Jes Tirol's Kapulongnan Binisay-Ininglis/Dictionary Bisaya-English, which appeared in 2010, and is well worth its PHP 950 price-tag.

Almost simultaneous with Wolff's dictionary, in 1971, Maria Bunye and Elsa Yap published their Cebuano-Visayan Dictionary.

More dictionaries are listed on Jessie Grace Rubrico's Review of Cebuano dictionaries..

Jeroen Hellingman