Photo by Abigail Amon

Ambot 101: A Foreigner’s Survival Guide to Speaking Ilonggo

By Joel Roth

As a foreigner living in Iloilo for four years, I’ve learned how to not be so “foreign.” To me, this adjective connotes to a foreigner who still hasn’t quite blended in. This could be anything from how they dress, carry themselves or, in this instance, how much of the language they still have to learn after years of living in Iloilo. Of course, learning the language can help one blend in easily.

joel roth molo plaza iloilo city
Photo by Abigail Amon

My process of learning started with a few simple phrases and words that I use on a regular basis.  In addition, I tend to get fixated on a certain word for a month because I like how it sounds or find it entertaining to use. So, please note that how I learned may differ from how you or anyone else will do when learning the language.

So, here are nine of my personal favorite words, some of which are even common phrases today. Please note that not all the words I featured here are appropriate for every circumstance, so ask your friends first when it’s appropriate to use a word. If you are a foreigner or know of a foreigner, I hope this quick survival guide will help them in starting a new and exciting chapter in Iloilo.

1. Lupot

This is word number one, and my personal favorite. Ilonggos will, without a doubt, ask you, “WHERE ON EARTH DID YOU HEAR THAT???”  But just imagine the look of shock and, I hope, laughter on their faces if you say that.

Lupot means diarrhea. You may think, “Hmmm… why the heck would I ever want to use this word?” Well, if you’re a foreigner like me, there will be times that your stomach will be sensitive to changes in food and natural bacteria. This is common even for many travelers, so I would advise that you get used to it and enjoy your lupot days.

2. Kabit

This is another favorite word of mine. Kabit is a fun and exhilarating word because, to me, it means hanging on the side of a jeepney or tricycle when commuting. Sitting on top of these vehicles is also one of my favorite ways to travel, especially at night because I can look at the stars on my 45 minute-to-1-hour commute.  Dreamy, right?

Though the act is prohibited in local ordinances, kabit is still a common practice in jeepneys trawling the provincial routes, and also fun for most foreigners because it’s illegal to hang in the back of a public vehicle in our home countries.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Kabit, when used as a noun, can also mean this, unfortunately.]

3. Cherva/Churva

This is a gay lingo that serves as a filler word for when you don’t know what else to say or when you feel. It’s also a fun word to use when I’m feeling “lazy” to explain my thoughts more thoroughly instead of just being “foreign”. I notice that this word is being used by many millennials these days, whether they be gay or straight, girl or guy.

I use this word for 60% of my sentences when I have a hard time expressing myself, but at least it makes my friends giggle upon hearing it.

4. Diyos ko/Jusko

Jusko (also formally spelled as “Diyos ko”) literally means “my god” and is a phrase commonly used in Iloilo. This word is just fun to say, particularly when one is shocked or bothered about someone’s behavior or some other circumstance. If you have never heard someone say this word in Iloilo before, then chances are you may not have been talking to an Ilonggo. If you want to hear this phrase more than five times a day, then better befriend a tita.

5.Dali lang, ha?”

You use this phrase when asking for someone to just wait. A. Bit. This is applicable for when your friends are walking way ahead of you or if you’re feeling anxious because you’re holding up the payment queue at SM City while digging through your coin purse because you’re trying to identify the one-peso coin from the new five-peso coin.

6. Diin ka na?”

This phrase is useful when asking whether someone is ready or not. This could be because they are half-an-hour late to a coffee-and-chika date because they woke up late and decided at the last minute they were going to take a shower.

7.Sa lugar!”

This is a really useful phrase that someone foreign will use every day, and will most likely say with a forced accent when you want the jeep, trike, or bus to stop. If it’s a Miag-ao jeepney, you better say this loud to the driver 300 hundred yards before your designated stop.

8. “OK lang.

This is another phrase that can be used every day and for many situations. “OK lang” is used when you are just fine with something or, in a local context, when you’re forgiving someone. Of course, you want to say this phrase with a smile on your face because “when in Rome!”

9. Liwat

This word literally means “again” and is used when you need something repeated or wanted something done again. Because let’s face it, when experiencing things for the first time, it’s going to take a little time and patience until you stop being “foreign”. But the saving grace with using “liwat” is that Ilonggos are extremely patient.

Making friends and having new experiences are the fastest way to learn all of these words, and more, at no cost. You don’t even have to buy a dictionary to lessen your “foreigner” syndrome.

joel roth molo church
Photo by Abigail Amon

If your Ilonggo friends, which are most likely friends you’ll keep for life, tease you about how you look like a backpacker with your oversized bag and sunglasses, then you’re probably a foreigner and have a lot more to learn. When you find yourself squatting more than standing at times while waiting for transportation like me, then you are a fully-fledged, assimilated kano. Or, you know, some other nationality.



Joel Roth traded a small-town state in Ohio for an even smaller-town province in Iloilo. He is currently finishing his Communication Media Studies at the University of the Philippines Visayas.


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