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Why English Proficiency Matters

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Key findings of the Education First – English Proficiency Index (EF EPI) have strengthened further the position of the English language as the world’s lingua franca. The world becoming increasingly globalized made it necessary that people from different parts of the world speak a common language. English emerged as that common language. There may be more native speakers of Mandarin and Spanish than English but people living in most countries from the world’s different continents have English as their second language. What contributed to this were the facts that the United Kingdom, where the original Anglo-Saxon language evolved into the modern English language that it is now,  used to be a colonial power that ruled many parts of Asia, Africa, and South America and the rise of English speaking countries, particularly the United States, to political and economic prominence when the colonial period ended. But as Borzykowski1 asserted, “English is for everyone. The shift [to English] is not a throwback to colonialism or a play for cultural superiority.”

The EF EPI ranks countries (annually since 2011)  by the average level of English language skills among those adults who volunteered to take the EF tests. Critics have dismissed the results of the EF EPI saying that they are not credible and reliable.  They (the critics) cited methodical flaws and sampling bias as the primary reasons why they are questioning the results. But this initiative of the Education First, an international education company that specializes in language training, educational travel, academic degree programs, and cultural exchange, is more than just ranking the English proficiency of participating countries. What could be considered as a more important objective of the endeavor is  finding out the correlation between English proficiency and several economic, political, and social factors.

The annual ranking can be ignored (by those who disagree with it) but the key findings Education First would present after conducting the surveys are difficult to disregard. The said findings explain why becoming proficient in the English language is a must.

As reported in  EF EPI’s  2011 edition, recruiters and HR managers around the world disclosed in a survey that preference is accorded to candidates with English skills above the local average and receive salaries  30-50% higher than similarly-qualified candidates without English skills2. This means that employees prefer to hire applicants who are more proficient in English and that they receive better salaries. These findings are supported by several studies that have established the correlation between English proficiency and employability and income3,4,5 & 6.

Highlights of the findings of the  2012 edition of EF EPI include the following: “English is a key component of economic wellbeing, both nationally and individually. Better English proficiency goes hand in hand with higher incomes, more exports, an easier environment for doing business, and more innovation7.” The following year (2103), results pointed out that while those with proficient English earn more, people who are poor at English may be passed over for promotion8. This is how important and necessary English proficiency has become.

Key findings of the succeeding editions of the EF EPI (from 2013 to 2017) have consistently shown the same – “that there exist  strong correlations between English proficiency and income, quality of life, ease of doing business, Internet usage, and years of schooling.  The 2017 edition specifically cited that “countries with higher levels of English proficiency tend to have more service exports, better Internet access, and more investment in research and development than countries with lower English proficiency9.” The report added that such strong correlations have been consistent across the 2011 to 2017 editions of the EF EPI.

The last two editions of EF EPI (2018 and 2019) have presented more reasons why English proficiency should be taken seriously.

The 2018 edition of EF EPI revealed that more scientific  journals are published in English and cited a report that close to sixty percent of all multinational organizations already operate in English10. This serves as a confirmation that English is indeed the leading language not only in business but also in education.  Proficiency in the language then is required not only to catch up to the competition but also to gain access to information, particularly important research findings. Therefore, in order to become (and remain competitive) in the business world and in the academe, it is important  to gain proficiency in what has become the academic and corporate language – English.

In addition, the latest (2019) EF EPI stated that “English is the principal language of international collaboration11.” It is by speaking a lingua franca that would allow a manager or an employee from a particular country to work with other managers and employees from other countries. This edition of the EF EPI asserted that “English-speaking  teams are able to attract  more diverse talent and access ideas from around the world12.” It also cited  recent studies showing that “companies with managers from many countries earn more of their revenues  from innovation than their less diverse competitors13.” The more diverse are the nationalities of managers and employees of a company the more innovations are possible. But collaboration among those who speak different native languages would only be possible if they speak a common second language. This is the reason that, as reported by Borzykowski, “a growing number of global firms are using English as their main language – even if they are based in Japan or France14.”

What has been consistently mentioned across all the editions of the EF EPI  is not only how English proficiency correlates to certain economic factors and education but also to various measures of investment in research and development (R&D). The significance of R&D to any areas of human existence is something that does not require further elaboration.

All of the foregoing discussions about why English proficiency is important and how necessary it is are things that professionals in any field of endeavors and university students preparing for any career in the future should take into serious consideration. But it should be noted that there is no shortcut to gaining proficiency in English. The 2019 edition of EF EPI debunked the “quick and easy way of becoming proficient in English” which blog and vlog posts in the Internet are trying to impress upon people. “The reality is that an adult who does not speak English will need at least 600 hours of high-quality instruction and 600 hours of speaking practice to master English well enough for the average workplace15.” The required number of hours could be more, the report added, for people whose native language is very different from English.

A study on the relationship between time spent on learning English and proficiency in the language verified that the number of years studying English significantly predict English ability16. On the other hand, the lack of time to study the language is considered a barrier in attaining proficiency in the language17.

REFERENCES

  1. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20170317-the-international-companies-using-only-english
  2. EF EPI 2011 – ef.com
  3. L. Blake, S.  Mcleod, S. Verdon,  F. Fuller, “The relationship between English proficiency and participation  in  higher  education, employment and income” Int J Speech Lang Pathol.,  20(3), 202-215, 2018.https://doi:10.1080/1754907.2016.1229031
  4. H. Ting, E. Marzuki, K.M. Chuah, J. Misieng, C.Jerome, “Employers’ views on the importance of English proficiency and communication skill for employability in Malaysia  Indonesian Journal of  Applied Linguis- tic, 7(2), 315-327, 2017. https://doi:dx.doi.org/10.17509/ijal.v7i2.8132.
  5. Zhen, “The effects of English proficiency on earnings of U.S.  foreign-born Migrants:  Does  Gender  matter?”  Journal  of  Finance  and  Economics, 1(1), 2013. https://doi:10.12735/jfe.vlilp27
  6. Tam, K.W., Page, , “Effects  of  language  proficiency on labor, social and health outcomes of immigrants in Australia” Economic, Analysis & Policy 2015, https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.eap.2016. 08.003
  7. EF EPI 2012 – ef.com
  8. EF EPI 2013 – ef.com
  9. EF EPI 2017 – ef.com
  10. EF EPI 2018 – ef.com
  11. EF EPI 2019 – ef.com
  12. EF EPI 2019 – ef.com
  13. EF EPI 2019 – ef.com
  14. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20170317-the-international-companies-using-only-english
  15. EF EPI 2019 – ef.com
  16. Magno, “Korean Students’ Language Learning Strategies  and  Years of  Studying English as Predictors of  Proficiency in English” Teaching  English to Speakers of Languages Journal, 2 (1): 39-61, 2008.https://doi.  org/10.1111/j.1944-9720.1997.tb02343.x
  17. S. Ibrahim, M.A. Hassali, F. Saleem,  H. Aljadhey, “Perceptions and  barriers towards English language proficiency among pharmacy under- graduates at  Universiti  Sains,  Malaysia” Pharmacy Education 13 (1), 151-156, 2013.https://doi:10.1016/j.sapharm.2014.07.098

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 placers 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.

An article entitled “Native English speakers are the world’s worst communicators,” asserted “…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.

_____

  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

“ACCENTGOISM” (Playing With Words)

How do I love thee oh Elizabeth Browning’s language?

Let me NOT COUNT  the ways…

Let me JUST COIN a word…

ACCENTGOISM

Yes folks… that’s the word… ACCENTGOISM /ˈakˌsentˌgōˌizəm/

Etymology:  From the words accent and egoistic

(Of course you know the meaning of the words aforementioned. If not, consult “Merriam-Webster.”)

The word was coined by…well…by me!

The word I minted out of the inspiration I derived from my exasperation over some realities I have encountered in the world of ESL teaching.

Stress:  I don’t like you folks to be so stressed on wondering where to put the stress so let me stress that the stress is on the first sylabble.

Part of Speech Label: Of course the word is a noun. Adjective form: accentgoistic

Do you want to make it an adverb? Then add the suffix -ly. Now it becomes accentgoisticly. Better yet make it  accentgoistically.

Pronunciation Guide: You know how to read the words accent  (ˈakˌsent) and egoism(ˈēgōˌizəm). Combine the sounds from the two words. You’ve got to eliminate though the ē sound from ˈēgōˌizəm.  It’s up to you folks if you wish to mimic the way the Americans or the British say those words. Well, you are also free to produce those sounds the way our brethren from downunder do it. Or be real… blurt it out the way your respective frenula would allow it.

Point of Clarification: The frenulum I am referring to above is the frenulum linguae in the mouth, not the frenelum veli in the brain and the frenulum valvae ileocaecalis in the digestive tracts. Not even the ones that teachers of anatomy would discuss when presenting the reproductive systems of both male and female. What is it? Do you want to know? Google it baby!

Related Terms/Synonyms: Linguistic Racism, Linguistic Egocentrism, Monopoly of Language

(Honestly, at the moment I was “playing with the word, ” I was not sure if those terms (in the line immediately above this sentence) were already existing in any form of literature.)

Definitions:

Do I still need to define? Can’t you just refer to the contextual clues provided in the “Related Terms/Synonyms” section?

But if you insist then read on…

1. The tendency of SOME English-speaking people, who,  because of their “distinct accent”  think that they have monopoly of the language.

2. The tendency of SOME English teachers to think that only accent constitute good teaching in English.

3. The idea that only those people with distinct and natural accent are qualified to teach English.

4. The idea that those people who were born and grew up in the native English speakers’ zone are better ESL teachers than those who speak English only as a second language.

5. The tendency of SOME English-speaking people that those who could not speak and write well in English are dumb and ignorant.

There goes “my play with words.”

———-

Dissect the conversation below:

Me: Do you believe that it is the accent in your country that the world must follow?

A friend (a native English speaker): Yes, because we are the most economically powerful country. We set standards in many things, including the way the English language should be uttered.

Me: Oh…China might become the most economically powerful country sooner or later. So, I need to start training myself to speak English the way the Chinese do.

That same native speaker: But they don’t own the language!

Me: Why? Is there anybody who owns the English language?

Him again: Man…you’re ridiculous.

Me: Am I?

Source: “ACCENTGOISM” (Playing With Words)

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