Most universities here in South Korea (and other Asian countries) prefer to recruit 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. And whether that policy reaped dividends and made the students in those countries better at English or ripped those countries of their precious dollars is an interesting topic for discourse.
There are a few tertiary institutions in this country employing teachers from the Philippines to teach English. These are the universities that 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, and Ireland. I have also written an article about the Filipinos and their romance with the English language. I also discussed in the same article a little bit about the thesis that ACCENT is getting in the way of INTELLIGIBILITY and COMPREHENSIBILITY. I am planning to explore the topic further in future articles.
If the statistics gathered in 2013 by the Association of Filipino Professors in Korea (AFEK) is accurate then there are more or less 100 teachers from the Philippines in this part of the Korean peninsula. That could still be the same number as of 2022. Reportedly, there are more in elementary and secondary schools and academies (hagwon). This 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 any official record that could give the exact number of Filipinos 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.
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, not because of their qualifications and pedagogical skills, but because of their geographical roots.
Most of the Filipino professors here are PhD degree holders. The minimum requirement FOR THEM is Masters. Surprisingly, some native speakers of English, are allowed to teach in universities here even if they don’t have Masters.
To the universities that opened the opportunity for Filipino professors and hired them, 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 have 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.
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. When they need to, Filipino teachers know how to 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.
The Filipinos are good at English with the said language being the official medium of instruction in the Philippines from kindergarten to college – even in graduate school. Filipinos, at an early age, write and speak English. They hear and read it everywhere. It is also 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. It’s neutral, to say the least. This is the reason why the Philippines is one of the leading countries for BPO. But notwithstanding all the aforementioned, still the said universities prefer native English speakers and do not include Filipino teachers in their lists of preferences.
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 easy to learn to mimic somebody’s way of creating vowel and consonant sounds and diphthongs but it is hard for teachers to be passionate about the job and compassionate with the students…. especially if they are not really trained to be one and were only forced to accept the teaching job for lack of better options.
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.
- EF EPI 2011 – ef.com
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- EF EPI 2012 – ef.com
- EF EPI 2013 – ef.com
- EF EPI 2017 – ef.com
- EF EPI 2018 – ef.com
- EF EPI 2019 – ef.com
- EF EPI 2019 – ef.com
- EF EPI 2019 – ef.com
- EF EPI 2019 – ef.com
- 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
- 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
(A Personal Essay)
Each meeting with my students is important but it’s the first day that I consider very special – the most strategically important. It’s the day that I would attempt to accomplish one of the hardest things to do in education – to shatter the students’ image of the classroom as a prison cell, with them as prisoners and the teachers as nasty prison guards. It’s the day when I begin to lay the foundations of what every teacher should endeavor to forge between them and their students – a good rapport.
The entire semester is a long haul and I know that winning their hearts would make our journey together as enjoyable and productive as it could be. If I succeed in making them trust me during the first day, half-of-the battle is already won. Earning the trust of my Korean students is very important to me as an expat teacher teaching English. What makes that task of earning their trust not only necessary but also (doubly) challenging is the fact that I yes I am an ESL teacher with the proper qualifications and training but I am not from any of their preferred native English speaking countries.
There’s nothing very special about the way I conduct my first meeting with my new students here in South Korea. It’s just a bit unconventional.
My introduction would always include telling my students the nickname which I adopted with the intention of eliciting laughter whenever I deliver a talk – Tonitonipoponibananananapoponinomimayfofoni. (Inspired by Laura Branigan’s song entitled “Name Game.”) Amazingly, when I tell my students that and jokingly threaten them to memorize it if not they would fail in my subject, they would try very hard to repeat it after me and laugh at themselves if they wouldn’t be able to say it.
Then I would add, “Whoever could say my nickname correctly will get an A+.” I don’t mean it of course. Luckily, up until this time, no one among those who tried succeeded. It was me who would always succeed – in getting their attention.
From there, I would give them the necessary information about me as their teacher. The most significant of those information (as far as I am concerned) is the number of years I have been teaching. It currently stands at (a few months more than) 30 years. The point I wish to drive home for highlighting to my students how long I have been teaching is – I wouldn’t stay this long in the academe if I don’t love my job.
The next part of my first-day-of-class script would touch the boundaries of philosophy.
I would be delivering something like an“eve-of-battle” speech. The way they do it in movies.
I would ask my first question: “Why am I teacher?”
Puzzled, the students would grope for an answer.
I would give follow-up questions after that – Would you call a woman a mother without a son or a daughter? Are your mothers and fathers mothers and fathers without you as their children?
Amid their “aahs” and nods I would then say, “I am a teacher because of the students. My reason for being a teacher is each of you. Without you, I am just a person – not a teacher.”
That’s my way of telling my students that the most important stakeholder in a school are them. Schools exist because of them. School administrators and teachers have work because of them.
That’s my way of telling them that I exist (as a teacher) to serve their interests.
I would end that part with the following statement: “Thank you for having me as your teacher.”
After that I would show them a video clip from the movie “Collateral Beauty” – that part where Howard Inlet, the character played by Will Smith, delivered a speech in a gathering of his employees at the beginning of the movie.
- “What is your why? Why did you even get out of the bed this morning? Why did you eat what you ate? Why did you wear what you wore? Why did you come here?”
I would pause the video clip after each question and would ask them to give an answer.
Then I would ask them follow-up questions. (These were the only questions I asked when I was not yet using that movie clip.)
Why are you here in school?
Why do you want to finish your studies?
The last question I would ask – Why did you enroll in this class?
I never failed to ask the said questions because I want my students to understand that for them to succeed not only in their studies but in all their present and future endeavors, they need to set goals. They ought to know their whys. They must know the reasons why they do what they do, say what they say, and think what they think.
I would tell them also that the worst “why” to have for studying is to get A+ – that grades are not the be-all and end-all of schooling.
All of the foregoing would be finished in twenty to thirty minutes.
I would then ask the student to introduce themselves.
After all of the foregoing , I would proceed to the presentation of the course syllabus – explain the course objectives, give the topics to be discussed weekly, and tell them what activities will be done in the class and how are they going to be graded.
In explaining discipline in the class, I would simply ask this question – “Are you small children?” They would of course say “NO.” Then I would tell them this – “I therefore expect you not to speak and behave like small children.”
Then we proceed to the finale – presentation of course requirements.
It’s not surprising to see the students frown when they see the course requirements on the last page of the syllabus. That’s the time that I would deliver the last part of my “eve-of-battle” speech.
I would ask – “Is learning fun?”
As expected, majority would say “no.”
My next question would be – “Is work fun?”
Of course the students would say “no” again. And every time I would ask that, one or two would say “There were many times I heard my father complained about his job.”
Then I would go on and tell them the following:
“Nothing is to be given to you in a silver platter. You need to work hard to achieve your dreams. Studying and working would require effort – you have to exert mentally, emotionally and physically. But something could make studying and working fun – your attitude. Your attitude towards studying will be dictated by your whys. Your whys put together is your philosophy.”
I would spend another minute or two to explain something about “personal philosophy.” At the end I would tell them that each teacher has a personal teaching philosophy and mine is as follows:
“The classroom is my playground. The students are my playmates. The subject is our toy.”
How surprised they would be whenever I say that when I come to class I don’t work, I play. Work is hard. Play is fun.
As we end the first meeting I would tell them, “Come back next week and let’s play.”