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English in the Philippines

I know I have touched this subject in past articles but I thought I should post something I just wrote for the “Living in Davao” yahoo community website.

There was an American and English Teachers discussing employment possibilities here in Davao. The discussion went to different directions. One was “the Queens English” used in England verses “American English” used in America. Then there was talk about the need for OFW’s (Overseas Foreign Workers) needing to pass English Proficiency tests to work in many countries.

At the start of these discussions was about job opportunities to teach English here in the Philippines. To work here is a subject I am investigating but have not found a complete answer. I have recently received my 13a Visa (permanent residency). Even with this, I think I will need a work permit from the Department of Labor and Employment. Because of the “Philippine First” laws, a foreigner cannot take a job that can be filled by a Filipino. Being an English teacher would probably be accepted.
About the use of English here, I am in conflict and guilty of some of my thinking. Being an American with a poor ability to learn languages I came here because most Filipinos have some knowledge of English. Unfortunately as people get older and do not use English often, their proficiency in English decreases.
One point is, we are visitors here and out of respect to the country we reside, we should learn their language. To be able to be understood in all regions of the Philippines and to watch TV, Tagalog would be the language of choice. If you want to easily converse in Davao and a lot of areas, then Bisaya or Cebuano (which are almost identical) should be learned.
As mentioned, to work abroad in many countries, a test for English proficiency is required. To do this Filipinos will need to learn and practice. Unfortunately English is not taught in public schools until High School and most teachers here are not competent to teach this. I am not sure of my accuracy but I think I heard of teachers teaching English in public schools, 86 failed.
In the Universities where English is required, some teachers allow Bisaya to be substituted. With the heavy course load and the inability to teach proper English, the Filipino student is getting the short end of the deal.
There is another point I find humorous here. Government signage, traffic postings, most business signage and advertising and a lot of newspapers are in English. So what does someone who cannot read English do? That is one of the many contradictions here in the Philippines.
So what do we do, change what we can, help when asked and learn to accept what we cannot change.

30 Responses to “English in the Philippines”

  1. James says:

    Hi Bruce,

    I was going to suggest this to you or the expat community but I was reluctant because you probably have other more important things to do. Even so, just in case you push through with this project, count me and my wife in. Hehehe. I want to improve my diction. I’m positive a lot of people will prefer real English speakers such yourselves because real substance of the language is learned.

  2. Boris says:

    hmm… I’ve read a blog and he stated that tagalog is a second language. and I agreed with his opinion.

    English can be found in the newspapers, call centers, getting a job, the government, and all.

    As for the public schools, hope they could have good english lesson.

    Sorry for not replying last week about the trivia quiz. anyway, the answers are posted and you did a terrific job! 🙂

  3. Tom Martin says:

    The Philippines can credit Cory Aquino for English no longer being a focus in public schools. She is the one that deemphasized English in schools and allowed it only to be used in High School.

    I find it amusing that many of those that appear in the media and write for the Newspapers who oppose English in public school below grade six send their children to private schools where English is the language used for instructions. Are they really interested in preserving the 700 plus dialects that continue to exist in the Philippines or are they guaranteeing their children will not have competetion in the future from poor children. The dialects continued under Marcos when the emphasis was on English.

    Last week I heard one of the fine professors from University of the Philippines saying the Official Language of the Philippines is Tagalog and the government should enforce its use. He knows that is not true, but he is trying to move the masses to adopt his views. The Philippines does not have an Official Language just like the U.S.A. does not have an Official Language.

    I have an acquaintance that teaches in a local public High School. He cannot carry on a fluent conversation in English. I was shocked when he told me he was tired of the government forcing students and teachers to learn English. I was even more shocked when I ask him what the Business Lanuage of the world was and he replied SPANISH. He wanted to argue with me when I told him Commercial Pilots were required to speak English and he told me Filipino pilots did not have to speak English.

    Children are quite capable of learning two languages. Many homes around the world have parents from two different nations and two languages are spoken in the home. It is common that children in Europe speak several lanuages.

    I told my acquaintance that teaches here in Davao, “I do not care if the children in the Philippines learn English or not because it is not effecting me one way or the other, but I would think he would want the best for the children of the Philippines.”

  4. Bruce says:

    I have an american friend here who was a teacher for 25 years teaching ESL, English as a Second Language.
    We talked this morning about the possibility of starting ESL and conversational English classes. It is just in the thought process now. I will enroll you but the commute for you will be expansive from Dubai.

    As I stated, English is not a formal language here but is widely used to some degree. But do we have to change a country? If your from America and want to work in Argentina, do you not have to learn Spanish? It is up to us in the Philippines to get to learn their language or complain about it. IT is up toe the Filipinos to choose if they need it and then learn it however they want.

    I agree about children learning other languages at an early age. It is easier for them.
    About an official language, I heard it was Pilipino. It was to be an mix of dialects, but since it was decided in Manila, of course it is mainly Tagalog.
    Also about your friend the Professor, that just goes with what I say about the education standards here. But how can we change a country.

  5. ghee says:

    ive been away fr the PI for very long years,and this article really brought me into disappointment and depression…

    it changed a lot eh???in my time,english was taught since we were in kinder!!even in the public schools!

    hmmm….it was an issue that teachers must teach students thru the language or dialect that they do understand…so that the students can comprehend more…however,they will be needing to send their kids to cram schools or any english classroom to overcome the language disability(which is happening here in Japan).Though,the people,mostly,cant afford it,right?ugh…really,the government or the DECS must do something about it…

    btw,you are WELCOME to visit my site 🙂


  6. bingkee says:

    I beg to disagree with your observations. Have you ever been inside a classroom in the Philippines. I have learned to speak English since I entered kindergarten in the Philippines. English is taught from Kindergarten to High School. Then into college as a general subject. Even in the public schools. Only a few public schools are eradicating English because of a tight budget to hire good English teachers. Where did you get your facts? I am a Filipino and Americans think my English is great, though I have an accent.
    That is not true what you are saying about “as older people get, their proficiency in English decreases”….my relatives do speak English very well and they’re getting older.Once you learn something, you cannot unlearn it….you may forget for a little while, but you can bounce back and recapture the knowledge.
    What are you talking about here? The reason why some people don’t speak English is because they think “why speak English when everybody is talking in our national language? Why bother speaking English? This is not America.” English as a medium for instruction, for mass media and others –such as signages –is just vital for us because we speak a lot of languages compared to Americans. And this might be a good way to invite foreigners into our country. Aren’t you glad that you don’t need an interpreter to learn what the “signage” means?

    • Bruce says:

      I welcome disagreements.
      I know in the past english was taught better in schools. I have tried to talk to some elementary kids if they knew english and they shake head no.
      I do accept there are many adults that speak very good english, and I have talked to many. What I was refering to is older filipinos that are not in the areas of business that need to use english. My wife has 2 brothers that are in their 40’s and college graduates. One speaks a little english and the other practically none at all.
      I find many understand some but do not like to speak it.
      I do agree somewhat that foreigners should learn to speak the native language here. But it is difficult for many like me.
      I have heard that the Retirement VIsa group advertise in the US that Philippines is a good place since they speak english.
      I will try to find some of the facts I stated and post them in a future article.
      Thanks for dropping by, as I follow your blog when I have the time.

  7. MsRay says:

    I am attending college in Hawaii and I have to enroll again in English because our English subjects are not recognized here. The reason: the Philippines is a non-English speaking country. I had to pass both the COMPASS/ESL and essay tests before I could enroll in a higher English subject, i.e., English Composition. I have no complaints because I enjoy my English Composition class and the professor is good 🙂

    • Bruce says:

      Thank you for visiting and commenting. I have a few questions about this topic:

      What part of the Philippines are you from?
      Did you attend public or private school?
      Do you feel the knowledge of the English you learned was sufficient?

      I am not trying to embarrass you or insult you. I am trying to get a clearer understanding on this subject.
      Best of luck in your schooling and your future.

  8. MsRay says:

    Aloha, Bruce!

    In reply to your questions:

    I am from Bacolod City.

    I attended private school. I graduated with 2 degrees: Bachelor of Science in Commerce and Bachelor of Laws. I am an attorney in the Philippines but the Hawaii State Bar does not allow lawyers coming from Civil law jurisdictions (like the Philippines) to take the Hawaii Bar exam unless they go back to three years of law school. Instead of going back to law school, I decided to pursue AS in Paralegal Studies (I am now in my second semester). I have explained in my previous post why I have to enroll in an English course here.

    I believe I received excellent training from my English teachers back in the Philippines: grade school and high school -La Consolacion College. College- La Salle. I am able to participate with confidence in oral discussions and doing very well, too, in written work.

  9. gagay says:

    I AGREE to Ate Bing..

    She REALLY has the POINT! Oh! If you happen to go to our school, you can even see local dialect or the national language being used in signages.

    Should I quote here what Ate Bing has said, “The reason why some people don’t speak English is because they think “why speak English when everybody is talking in our national language?”..We are not, I guess, STUPID to use english everyday that it’s not even our national language or even our local dialect.

    • Bruce says:

      I do not complain of people not speaking English, but the poor english being taught. Also with so many wanting to go Abroad as OFW’s, since one of the buggest exports, it to learn it better. If your in school, you expect the best education from qualified instructors.

  10. gagay says:

    I AGREE to Ate Bing..

    She REALLY has the POINT! Oh! If you happen to go to our school, you can even see local dialect or the national language being used in signages.

    Should I quote here what Ate Bing has said, “The reason why some people don’t speak English is because they think “why speak English when everybody is talking in our national language?”..We are not, I guess, STUPID to use english everyday that it’s not even our national language or even our local dialect.


  11. Wow Ate bing & gaygay was here

    Yes! I agreed! even kindergarten they taught us English but like me i am very stubborn lol i never ream to come here anyway but my fate is here. I’m trying to learn more

  12. tokunbo says:

    this reminds me about the “english” that is taught here.

    my job requires a much higher level of english than that which is taught in the schools — meaning, people who have the english proficiency to do what i do generally come from households where english is the primary language of the *grandparents*, and thus, they probably have a lot more $$4 and better career prospects.

    my son attends an afrikaans-language school, on purpose. i was a good enough student in school, and i read afrikaans well enough, to be able to review his lessons with him in english after he gets home from school. i want him to be totally bilingual, and this is the best way to do it. [there are people who want to put him in english-language schools, but i’m somewhat against it for a number of reasons.]

    • Bruce says:

      Thank you for visiting. I enjoy reading about other expats assimilating into a new culture and how they do it. With all the outsourcing and international businesses using English it is good to be proficient. Being fluent in local languages is also needed to be included and know whats being said.
      I will continue to visit your site. Thanks again for visiting.

  13. Vicki says:

    I agree with your observations. As a Filipino-American, I feel that English should continue to be taught in schools from kindergarten on to college. As you pointed out, if Filipinos expect to be able to work overseas, they have no choice but to be proficient in English.

    During my grade school years in the Philippines (back in the 70s), English was the primary language of instruction. We had one subject taught in Tagalog – that was Pilipino. Former classmates I kept in touch with who graduated from high school/college confirmed this. Over the years some younger cousins have told me how English was no longer the priority; classes were being taught in Pilipino. I thought that was sad. Having Pilipino/Tagalog as the official language doesn’t mean schools shouldn’t continue to teach English. What is wrong with learning another language other than your own?

    One of my husband’s former classmates lives in Vienna, Austria. He speaks Tagalog, English and German. Another lives in Belgium. She speaks Tagalog, English and Flemish. As Tom Martin stated, European children speak several languages. I was most impressed with Luxembourgers. During a tour of the city, the guide translated her spiel into 4 or 5 languages. She said that because Luxembourg does not have its own university, its citizens go to another country to study. Which is why students learn English, German and French starting in grade school. I thought that was very impressive. Having lived in Germany for 3 yrs, my husband & I tried our best to learn the basics. Even if we had to pull out our English-German dictionary. Or even our English-French dictionary when traveling.

    As for the US not having an official language. I personally think it should be English. When I migrated here in the mid-70s, all government services were in English (as I remember). Nowadays, there are translations for voting materials, driver license handbooks, social security documents, food stamps, etc. It’s one thing to allow people to talk in their native language amongst themselves, but it’s another thing for immigrants to expect government services be provided in their native language. That is just wrong.

    So who is to blame in the Philippines? The government or the media? What about people like Tom Martin’s acquaintance? With that kind of attitude, I feel sorry for his students.


  14. Cecily says:

    The thing with English in the school systems today is that its not as integrated as it was before. I graduated from high school in 2002 and back then, most of the classes except Filipino and Sociology were taught in English.

    I guess I was lucky to have graduated from one a private school in Davao. I once applied for a position as an English tutor for Korean students and I was asked if i remembered learning English.

    I don’t.

    Its just something innate since I was exposed to it from a very young age. Come to think of it, I am more fluent in English than I am in ‘tagalog’ (my English is already far from perfect, one could only imagine how good I am at Tagalog).

    My ‘Tagalog’ may be below par, but I am proud of the fact that ‘lalom akong bisaya’ so much so that some of friends (who have lived in davao all their lives)can’t understand when I speak deep terms. I always end up translating it into the more commonly used terminologies.

    Without a doubt, there is some merit to the idea that the Filipino language should be advocated over English. After all, this is the ‘official’ language.

    Then again, I think it should be the medium of instruction in schools. The local language is spoken in the home anyways and so it’s far from in danger of being forgotten.

    • Bruce says:

      In some ways I agree, the native language should be used, but with all the interest in being an OFW, call center business, tourism and wanting to increase retired expats to move here, not to mention all the newspapers and signage, english should be better spoken.
      But with the teachers not inforcing the use of english and the poor quality of english being taught, it will continue to be a problem.

  15. Aaron says:

    The problem is fact: the quality of English being taught IS inferior. People should not take this personally, but the majority of professionals using English have no idea how inaccurate they really are (including the posters here!)-but especially those teaching ESL. One only has to read the adverts they post when advertising for online tutoring. They are unwittingly doing thier clients a disservice. If you are Filipino you are unlikely to notice the errors, but a professional native speaker will. I have taught and trained Filipinos here in the Philippines for years. Every time I am invited to an English speaking school the teachers are shocked to realize how ‘wrong’ their English is. It was how they were taught, they always say.

    My point however, is that for Filipino to Filipino, the evolution of English -or any language, within a country is normal and as long as they understand each other it’s fine. But if one wants to learn internationally understood English, whether British or North American, then the quality of the instruction for that purpose must improve considerably. Syntax, pronunciation, archaic terms, indirect speech, filipinoisms, syllable stress, grammar, misused vocabulary, etc. I have interviewed countless graduates who want to teach ESL here, and the vast majority are very weak in all ALL these areas. Many are hired simply because there is nothing better available. English newspapers in the Philippines contain errors -sometime many. All English broadcasting contains errors. It is a well documented fact that this problem has now slowed the development of the call center industry in this country.

    I do what I can to help, but the Dept. of Education has to get serious about how it trains it’s own teachers before they are allowed to teach English themselves.

    • Bruce says:

      It is true what you say. English is not forced in school, including colleges. Their instructional material is not accurate. Many Filipinos feel they know english, but if not used it is forgotten. Plus is the inherent shyness to speak it being afraid of mistakes.
      Unfortunately by the time it is needed ie, Call Center work or work abroad it is late in life and learning is more a struggle.
      One thing to realize, English is not one of their languages and the laws to enforce teaching it has gone away. I do agree it should be improved with all the call centers opening up here and the desire to work abroad.

      But as I say often, we are not in America any more. We are in their country.

  16. Aaron says:

    Bruce, I understand you and want to make it clear that -as I stated, the level and form of English used amongst Filipinos is not the issue, and they are certainly entitled to use it as they wish. It’s only when they want to compete or participate internationally that difficulties arise. But I do have a problem with Filipino ESL teachers who in many cases offer an inferior product to other Asians who don’t even realize it, whether in the innumerable academies that have sprung up across the country, or online.

    • Bruce says:

      I know a English Professor from America planning to open an ESL school here once he moves here. I might be involved with it and will report on our quality and the problems it will entail. Most are just wanting to pass the English tests to work abroad.

  17. Aaron says:

    I wish him luck, but he should consider carefully, as the obstacles to success in such an endeavor are growing. Primarily, not being Korean or Japanese is the biggest, as establishing effective links via agents and other parties in the market countries is essential; very difficult to do unless one at least speaks those languages, but best when you are yourself a native. Additionally. the problems and expenses associated with those agents who are unregulated and not always reliable is not insignificant.

    Then comes the previously mentioned matter of providing quality English instruction from within the domestic population -it’s just not there in sufficient quantity. Significant retraining is necessary, requiring in MOST cases a qualified and experienced native speaker with the requisite background (This is one of the things I do).

    Ironically, the economic situation around the world should be good for the ESL industry in the Philippines. Study here becomes even more attractive when comparing with the expenses of studying in the US, Canada, Australia, etc. But many ESL students soon discover that what they are getting here is often not the ‘real thing’, which they tell to others in their homeland. This cannot be good for the industry in the long run.

    A good ESL school CAN be viable here -and should be, but the language delivery issues needs to be addressed, rather than ignored or simply accepted, as is most often the case. Language teaching is a business, of course, but the business of private education is quite different from any other. Too often business people looking to make money overlook this fact.

    I apologize if I have gone on too long on this topic!

    • Bruce says:

      I agree on your viewpoint but also with all the call centers and the graduates wanting to work abroad, pass the English requirements and people wanting to work in the hotels there is a demand for better English skills.
      If it will succeed or not, we will see.

    • Bruce says:

      I agree and I have one new friend who has taught English emphasizing on pronunciation and grammar. He wants to get involved in a school too. We are currently doing the leg work on the requirements and costs.

    • Bruce says:

      I understand your point of view. I have someone here who is experienced in teaching English with an emphasis on pronunciation and grammar. He would like to team up with the possible school. We will soon start the legwork for all the steps needed to open a school.

  18. bubba says:

    bruce–i have been to 3 different small public elementary schools back in the providences of mindanao–in all of them english was being taught and also most of the locals i met were very good with english as were all the school teachers etc–

    • Bruce says:

      I am happy and encouraged to hear that. From what I have heard English is not taught until High School here in Davao. With if being taught in the provenances in elementary school is very good and if the teachers are teaching it well is even better.
      Thank you for the information.

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