Filipinos and the English Language

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Why is the Philippines included in  the discussion about which country is the BPO/Call Center capital of the world?

There are lots of positive qualities Filipinos have that make their country an attractive destination for business process outsourcing. This article, however, focuses only on what could possibly be on top of that list – their good command of the English language.

There were a few netizens from some parts of the world who, in videos, made fun of the ability of the Filipinos to speak in English. Whatever people, through the Internet, have seen in such videos make them think that it is the truth about the Filipinos’ ability to communicate in English.  There were foreigners also who experienced conversing with drivers, vendors, and bystanders in the streets of Manila or in far-flung tourist destinations in the countryside, who thought that the “broken English” they heard from these common people is a representation of the English proficiency of the Filipinos. It is not.

What kind of English do you expect from taxi and jeepney drivers in the Philippines? Do you expect street and sidewalk vendors and bystanders, who might not have even completed elementary education due to financial constraints, to speak impeccable English?

Those common people, not well-educated that they are, at least, can carry out a conversation in English, “broken” it may be. They understand what native English speakers tell them. They can give the latter information and directions they need. You are barely scratching the surface of the Filipino English proficiency when you talk to them. You need to dig deeper. One has to visit the halls of the academic community of the Philippine and stay in the lounges of the country’s business sector in order to have a more informed evaluation of the speaking, writing, reading and listening skills of the inhabitants of the island country.

It is safe to assume that the English proficiency level of the Filipinos occupying the lower stations in society is from “low intermediate” to “high intermediate.” The higher the level of proficiency of the Filipinos become when they at least finish high school. Once they succeed in receiving a college diploma that means that they have acquired both the lower and higher order thinking skills in English. They can remember and understand materials written in English. They can apply what they learned, analyze and evaluate them. In terms of language they can create… write sentences, paragraphs, and essays. Students in the tertiary level in the Philippines are required to write reaction papers and term papers in English while pursuing their degree and, in most universities and colleges, before they are allowed to graduate, they need to present a thesis.

it is no longer surprising that in surveys conducted to test proficiency (of non-native English speakers), Filipinos perform well.



For example, in a survey held (among countries not considered native English speaking) in 2016, the Philippines ranked 7th in the world (1st in Asia) in workforce English proficiency.

Philippines also received a strong rating in another 2016 survey among countries best at English as a second language. Philippines is 13th over-all and 3rd in Asia where in first and second places are Singapore and Malaysia, respectively.1

The fact that Filipinos are good at English is hard to dispute.

How do you think would English being the official language in Philippine schools (from pre-school to tertiary levels… including the graduate school) affect their proficiency in the language? (I chose not to expound on this but leave the analysis to you.)

Filipino children, as early as the age of 5 or even younger, start their training in the English language. And if their parents are professionals, or they belong to wealthy families, they would be hearing English and Filipino sounds even before they go to school. Even in the simplest neighborhoods in the Philippines, it is not surprising to hear in households people speaking in English. Having been a former colony of the USA, English has assimilated deep into the Filipino culture.

The Filipinos are bilingual and multilingual people. Filipino and English are the two official languages. Ninety-two percent (92%) of the 103 million Filipinos can speak English as a second language.2

Filipinos start to write and speak in English at an early age. English is heard and read everywhere in the Philippines. As mentioned earlier, it is the language used in schools. Almost all subjects are taught in English.  Even the business community has it as the official language. It is in English that all communication in business and government are done. Most of the newspapers (all major broadsheets actually) are also written in the said language.

That is the kind of exposure to the English language that the Filipinos are getting and that started more than a century ago when the United States of America annexed the Philippines and made it their colonial outpost in the Pacific. The Americans established the public education system in the island country and used English as medium of instruction to gradually supplant Spanish as the second language of Filipinos.

The Filipino accent in English is what some netizens and self-proclaimed language experts usually make fun of.

It is hard to understand why there are some who make accent a big deal. In communication it is the pronunciation that counts, not the accent.

“Pronunciation can be good or bad, but accent is accent and there isn’t a good or bad accent really.”3

There’s no such thing as right or wrong accent.



A recent study (Putting accent in its place: Rethinking obstacles to communication) explored the relationships among accentedness, comprehensibility and intelligibility.4 The study concludes that accent, comprehensibility, and intelligibility are partially independent constructs, and that simply altering accent will not necessarily affect the other two. In fact, communication obstacles are often based on things other than accent, but because of its extreme salience, accent is given more weight than it deserves.

On the contrary, there is evidence coming out that accent itself could be a barrier to effective communication.

According to an article entitled “Native English speakers are the world’s worst communicators,” “…often you have a boardroom full of people from different countries communicating in English and all understanding each other and then suddenly  the American or Brit walks into the room and nobody can understand them.”5

The article also explains that, “Native speakers are at a disadvantage when you are in a lingua franca situation, where English is being used as a common denominator, it’s the native English speakers that are having difficulty understanding and making themselves understood.”

What makes the native English speakers difficult to understand? Is it their accent? So, is ACCENT getting in the way of INTELLIGIBILITY and COMPREHENSIBILITY?

It’s a great thing that the Filipino’s English accent is (as generally described) neutral.

This could be one reason the Philippines is fast becoming, if not yet, the BPO/Call Center capital of the world. They can be clearly understood by both native and non-native English speakers.

The main goal of communication is understanding, not to sound fancy by copying somebody else’s accent. But if the Filipinos want to mimic somebody’s way of producing vowel and consonant sounds and diphthongs, they can easily do it. What works in favor of the Filipinos in terms of learning English is that they are no strangers to the language.

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  1. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/11/which-countries-are-best-at-english-as-a-second-language
  2. http://www.k-international.com/blog/countries-with-the-most-english-speakers/
  3. Gordon Scruton (http://gordonscruton.blogspot.kr/2012/11/accent-vs-pronunciation.html)
  4. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/language-teaching/article/putting-accent-in-its-place-rethinking-obstacles-to-communication/11D7A6BB87C915E074F50DE01FB7995F
  5. http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20161028-native-english-speakers-are-the-worlds-worst-communicators

On Teaching English In South Korea

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Filipino professors attending a meeting of the AFEK

Most universities here in South Korea (and other Asian countries) prefer to hire English teachers from countries where English is the native language. That is a matter of policy but it does not follow that the best English teachers are the ones coming from those countries… they could be somewhere else just waiting to be given an opportunity to prove their mettle in ESL teaching.

There are only a few tertiary institutions in this country who employ Filipino teachers to teach English. These are the universities who believe that teaching English is not a monopoly of the teachers labeled as “native speakers” coming from the following countries: USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland.

If the statistics gathered in 2013 by the AFEK, Association of Filipino Professors in Korea, is accurate then there are more or less 100  teachers from the Philippines in this  part of the Korean peninsula. Reportedly, there are more in elementary and  secondary schools and academies (hagwon). This, the organization (AFEK) came to know when they launched in May, 2017 the program “Skills Enhancement for Filipino Teachers Teaching English in Korea.” Several of the attendees were Filipino women married to South Koreans and are employed as English teachers.  The Philippine Embassy in Seoul, however, doesn’t have an official record as to how many Filipinos are teaching in the basic education schools and academies here.

Filipino professors are not limited to teaching English subjects only. They are E-1 visa holders and are allowed to teach content subjects depending on their fields of specialization.

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E-2 visa holders are allowed by the Ministry of Education here to teach strictly English subjects only. One advantage of hiring Filipino professors, because theirs is E-1 visa, is they can be asked to teach content subjects related to their fields especially if the curriculum requires that the content subjects are should be taught in English. Currently, in the university where this writer is teaching,  three teachers from the Philippines, are also teaching, aside from English subjects, content subjects in the university’s Graduate School.

I wouldn’t say that Filipino professors in universities in South Korea are lucky to have been hired. Why? They have to go through the proverbial eye of the needle to have a chance of getting hired. They applied alongside teachers who are native speakers of English who have the upper hand because of their geographical roots.

Most of the Filipino professors here are PhD degree holders. The minimum requirement FOR THEM  is Master’s.

To the universities who opened the opportunity for Filipino professors, the applicants needed to prove that they are as equally capable as their counterparts from the native English-speaking regions of the world. When they got hired, it was because they are qualified and had proven that they have what it takes to be English teachers. It wasn’t luck.

Filipino teachers are trained in the Philippines to both know what to teach and know how to teach what they know.

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Modesty aside, the Philippines have a very good education curriculum implemented through the Commission on Higher Education which closely monitors  TEIs (Teacher Education Institutions) to ensure strict compliance. Thus,  Education graduates from the Philippines can be relied upon not only in terms of the knowledge, skills, attitude and values in their field of specialization but also in pedagogy and in research. Filipino teachers are good in both instruction and research.

One of the best features of Teacher training in the Philippines is teachers are made to understand that the most important stakeholder in a school is the STUDENT, not the TEACHER. Filipino teachers adhere to the philosophy that the teaching-learning process  should be student-centered.

One reason, if not the main and only reason,  most universities in Asian countries (like South Korea, Japan and China) prefer to hire teachers from those seven countries is ACCENT.

Filipinos are good at English. It (English)  is the medium of instruction in the Philippines from kindergarten to college – even in the graduate school. Filipinos, at an early age, write and speak English. They hear and read it everywhere. It is also the the official language of communication in the Philippines.  All business and government transactions are done in English. The country also has the 3rd largest group of English speakers in the world. Their accent is not bad. Philippines wouldn’t be the BPO/Call Center capital of the world if so. But notwithstanding all the aforementioned, still the said universities prefer native English speakers and not include Filipino teachers in their lists of preference.

But there are two things that would make hiring a Filipino teacher a wise investment – two things far more important than ACCENT… their PASSION for teaching and COMPASSION for the learners.

It is not difficult for a teacher to improve his accent. It is easy to train the tongue to mimic somebody’s way of producing vowel and consonant sounds and diphthongs. What is hard is to convince a teacher to be passionate about the job and to be compassionate to the students…. especially if he/she is not really trained to be one and was only forced to accept the teaching job for lack of better options.

Source: On Teaching English In South Korea

PAKWELANG TALUDTURAN

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Nag-eksperimento ako sa isang uri ng tula. Sinubukan kong gumawa ng tulang apatang taludtod (quatrains sa English) na ang unang tatlong linya ay animo’y seryoso ang tinatalakay subalit ang pang-apat (ang tinatawag na clincher) ay sundot na patawa. Tinawag ko itong “pakwelang taludturan.”  Hindi ko lang alam kung may dati nang gumawa ng ganito.

Meron din naman akong ilang mga apatang taludtod dito na straight-forward na patawa at walang parteng seryoso.

Mahirap gawin. Wika nga nila, ang pagpapatawa ay isang seryosong bagay.  Sana nga lang ay matawa kayo.

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SMILEY2 HETO ANG PANIMULA!
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Pakwelang taludturan ay pausuhin
Simulang seryoso sa biro’y tapusin
Tagiliran ng babasa’y susundutin
Ngiti nila’t utot ating palabasin

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SMILEY2 YUCKY…!
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Habang nakapikit ako’y may nalanghap
Ito ay samyo ng hinog na bayabas
Natakam…kaya’t mata ko’y iminulat
“Ay sus!”Katabi ko… braso’y nakataas

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Bakit ako’y hirap na ika’y tanggihan
Hindi mapakali kapag ika’y nagparamdam
Kapag tumawag ka lahat iiwanan
Hahanapi’y inidorong mauupuan

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Pinipigilan ma’y lumalabas kang pilit
Doon ka dumadaan kung saan masikip
Kapag lalabas ka na ako’y alumpihit
Baka may makaamoy o makadinig

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SMILEY2 YUMMY…!
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Namumulang kutis oh katakam-takam
Ako’y nanggigil, nanginig ang kalamnan
Tumulo ang laway…sila’y nilapitan
Grilled chicken sa kaliwa…lechon sa kanan

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SMILEY2 CAFFEINATED…!
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Nangakong kita’y kakalimutan
Nangakong ‘di ka na babalikan
Pangako’y ‘di ko mapanindigan
O kape kay hirap mong iwasan

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SMILEY2 HI SEXY…!
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May seksing sa jeep nakatapat ng upuan
Aba’t labi ko matamang pinagmamasdan
Tumabi sa akin at ako’y binulungan
“Brod! Mugmog mo sa nguso iyong punasan!”

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Sa mata n’yang kay pungay ako’y natingin
Sa nakita’y nabagabag ang damdamin
Di ko napigilang pabulong na sabihin
“Miss may mutang sa kilay mo lumambitin.”

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Dalagang nakatayo sa harapan ko
Aba’y tumitingin sa aking pundiyo
Ngumiti’t lumapit…binulungan ako
“Ay kuya…bukas ang zipper ng lonta mo.”

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Bebot sa parke… ako ay nginitian
Umakbay sa akin nang aking tabihan
Sa kanyang ibinulong ako’y gulantang
“Cellphone mo!” Kung hindi kita’y gigripuhan.”

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Kutis mo’y makinis malambot parang bulak
Mahubog na katawan mo’y nakakagulat
Nang kita’y lapitan at ikaw ay humarap
Tinutubuan ka pala ng bigote’t balbas

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SMILEY2 BILBILING STRUGGLES…
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Mahirap man ay dapat ko nang aminin
Masakit man ay dapat ko nang tangapin
Sinikap ko ngunit ano man ang gawin
Bilbil ko ay hindi na kayang tanggalin

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Pilit pumupulupot sa aking baywang
Habang buhay yata akong didikitan
Kahit anong gawin ayaw akong iwan
O BILBIL pakiusap ako’y tantanan

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Di nga ba’t tayong dalawa’y nagsumpaan
Na magpakaylanman ay walang iwanan
Sa kabilang buhay man ika’y susundan
Akong BILBIL mo’y h’wag nang ipagtabuyan

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SMILEY2  PAUTANG NGA…!
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Nakabuntot ka’t lagi akong sinusundan
Halos oras-oras kung ako’y tawagan
Pangako sa iyo sana’y panghawakan
Pautang mong 5-6 aking babayaran

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H’wag kang mawawalay sa aking paningin
Kung mawawala ka’y pilit hahanapin
Susundan ka kahit saan makarating
Hangga’t ‘di bayad ang utang mo sa akin

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SMILEY2  PILLOW TALK…!
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Nanabik sa gabi na ako ay yakapin
Hinahanap ka kapag dumatal na ang dilim
Sana naman ako ay lagi mong dalawin
Pakiusap ANTOK ako’y iyong pansinin

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Higpit ng yakap ko’y ‘di mo tinanggihan
Dulot mo’y ginhawa sa pagal kong katawan
Sa lungkot at ligaya ako’y sinamahan
H’wag ka sanang mawala mahal kong UNAN

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Ikaw ang kanlungan ko kapag tag-lamig
‘di pinagdamot  ang kaylangan kong init
Maging mga luha ko’y iyong pinapahid
Giliw kong kumot ika’y kagamit-gamit

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SMILEY2  TOOTH FAIRY …!
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Wala kang awa nuknukan ka ng lupit
Sobra-sobra ang dulot mong pasakit
Gabi’t araw ako ay naghihinagpis
Isusumbong na kita sa aking dentist

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SMILEY2  FAIRY TALE…!
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Si Sleeping Beauty dati’y may insomnia
At si Cinderella ay may alipunga
Si Snow White nama’y gumamit ng Gluta
Hetong si Rapunzel may balakubak pala

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SMILEY2  HAIRY TALES!
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Napaka-cute mo at ubod pa nang lambing
Gustong-gusto mong sa aki’y lumambitin
Balbon ka’t maputi kay sarap haplusin
Sana lang oh tuta h’wag akong kagatin

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Bakit sa akin lagi kang bumubuntot
Kahit saan magpunta kita’y kasunod
Didikit ka pa’t katawan mo’y ihahagod
“Halika na BROWNIE h’wag ka nang malungkot.”

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SMILEY2  FIREWORKS DISPLAY …!
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Kung sa bagong taon bawal ang paputok
Di sige tayo na lang ay manorotot
Hala iangat kili-kiling maantot
Tapos sabay-sabay tayong mag-siutot

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Ang wika ni Brod Pete ay may nasusulat
Na paputok daw pala dala ay malas
Kasi espiritung gumagala sa labas
Sa bahay n’yo papasok kapag nagulat

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SMILEY2  THANKS ANDREW E. …!
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Kay Andrew E. ang pasalamat ay labis
Heto nga’t sasabihin ko na kung bakit
Kay daming dilag kasi ako’y inibig
Nang mauso ang “Humanap Ka Ng Pangit”

 

Source: PAKWELANG TALUDTURAN

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