English Proficiency in the Philippines
Introduction Because English is so widely spoken, it has often been referred to as a “world language”, the lingua franca of the modern era, and while it is not an official language in most countries, it is currently the language most often taught as a foreign language. The history of the English language really started with the arrival of three Germanic tribes who invaded Britain during the 5th century AD. These tribes, the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes, crossed the North Sea from what today is Denmark and northern Germany.
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At that time the inhabitants of Britain spoke a Celtic language. But most of the Celtic speakers were pushed west and north by the invaders – mainly into what is now Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The Angles came from England and their language was called Englisc – from which the words England and English are derived. Approximately 375 million people speak English as their first language. English today is probably the third largest language by number of native speakers, after Mandarin Chinese and Spanish.
However, when combining native and non-native speakers it is probably the most commonly spoken language in the world, though possibly second to a combination of the Chinese languages (depending on whether or not distinctions in the latter are classified as “languages” or “dialects”). Countries such as the Philippines, Jamaica and Nigeria also have millions of native speakers of dialect continua ranging from an English-based creole to a more standard version of English. The Philippine-American connection has undergone considerable changes since then.
Today, English – the means the Americans used to teach us via the mass media, the arts, social, business and political interaction – continues to be a strong thread that binds the two nations. The Spanish language, meanwhile, has been relegated to a college elective and to private gatherings of wealthy clans of Spanish descent. Why has English become so easy to learn and so easy to use in the Philippines? A major reason is that the Americans were once our colonizers and continue to influence our everyday lives in many ways.
Another reason is that for most Filipinos, English is not seen as a foreign language. In a country of 60 million people who speak no less than 8 languages, English is a second language. In some areas, English is more popular than our official national language. For a select few, it is even a first language. It is not unusual to see Filipino children responding to and speaking English words long before they learn these in school According to Philippine statistics data released on March 18, 2005-six out of ten persons aged 5 years and over can speak English.
Among household population 5 years old and over, 63. 71 percent of them can speak English. NCR (81. 75 percent) was the highest across regions followed by Ilocos Region (73. 75 percent), CAR (70. 99 percent), and Central Luzon (70. 12 percent). The lowest was ARMM (29. 44 percent). On the other hand, there was a relatively higher proportion among females (7. 39 percent) than males (5. 61 percent) with academic degree holder who can speak English. Body
Usually, by the time the child enters elementary school, he or she has built a vocabulary of English that includes body parts, names of animals and objects, action verbs, simple adjectives (dirty, good, bad), polite expressions (please, thank you, I’m sorry), nursery rhymes, and simple questions (What’s your name? How old are you? ) For most middle and upper class Filipino children, English begins at home with adults who use English or through snatches of English words and phrases heard over the radio and on TV.
To the Filipino child or, at least, one who has grown up in a home where English is often heard and spoken, English is not an alien tongue. Filipino children may not understand the nuances of the English language, but it’s there and it’s theirs to manipulate. English is familiar and, better yet, user-friendly. Anybody can use it and once you get the hang of it, there’s really nothing to it. The fact that the Philippine education system has been using English as a medium of instruction from elementary to university level for decades has also reinforced the notion that English is easy – even a child can do it – and available.
It is a tool for learning and a medium of communication. More than this, English is the language of power and progress. In the Philippines, it is highly valued not only because it is functional and practical and washes over us constantly, but more importantly, because it is an affordable item, a skill that can be used to increase one’s position, respectability and marketability. In most cases, the better one’s ability to understand and use English, the better one’s chances of career advancement. This is true for both extremes of the socio-economic ladder.
English is as important to the Harvard-educated Filipino working in Manila’s cosmopolitan business district as it is to the overseas contract worker working as a domestic helper in Saudi Arabia. In fact, now, more than ever, English is important to the Filipino masses seeking employment abroad. The Filipinos’ skill and cheap labor are in demand, yes, but so is their command and comprehension of English which makes it easy for foreign employers to tell them what to do. English, after all, is a global language and, luckily – some say unluckily – Filipinos managed to unravel this code quite early and easily.
In recent years, serious questions have been asked about the appropriateness of English as a medium of communication for a people searching for a clear-cut identity. Filipinos are not Americans, our nationalists cried. Why then do we continue to dream their dreams and speak their language? Much as our purists and nationalists wanted to erase all traces of American colonial influence, they knew that the language, rather than the dreams, was less difficult to delete. Or so, they thought. Like the US military bases in the Philippines, English had become a symbol of the subtle but strong dominance of America.
It took a strong-willed Philippine Senate and the eruption of Mount Pinatubo to figuratively and literally bury the US bases in ashes. Obliterating English is another matter. Despite presidential orders to require government offices to communicate in our national language, and requiring all schools to use it as a medium of instruction, the campaign to Filipinize our information and communication highways and networks has not met with much enthusiasm or success. Although most Filipinos understand and are literate in the national anguage, it is not their mother tongue. Many of us have little use for it except when travelling to other areas in the country, watching local movies made in Manila, reading comics and tabloids published in Manila, watching local TV programs produced in Manila, and listening to the pronouncements of national officials, most of whom come from the capital region. Filipino, our national language, is 95% Tagalog, a dialect (or language, some scholars insist) spoken by those who live in Manila and its outlying areas.
The rest of the country speak their own dialects or languages and many see the “use-Filipino” campaign as nothing more than another form of domination by those who reside in the seat of economic and political power. Meanwhile, the education system, long used to English textbooks and instruction, had to scramble for Filipino books and qualified teachers who could speak Filipino. Unfortunately, the government failed to consider the difficulties – and the huge amount of money needed – in transforming centers of learning from English to Filipino.
In a setting where education is one of the lowest budget priorities, where teachers are among the lowest paid professionals, and where the systematic translation of English to Filipino has never been given serious thought or considered important, the shift from English to Filipino ended in confusion and frustration. Perhaps, the best lesson we can learn from that experience is that language grows slowly. It cannot be transplanted and expected to blossom quickly by a mere presidential decree. The English language should be used correctly and proficiently.
This does not only include pronouncing the words right but also using the grammar correctly either in speaking or writing. It is true that millions of us Filipinos use the English language, but the question is that are we all using it right? Here in Cagayan de Oro, it could not be denied that the level of education varies from every school. Thus, the degree of learning also differs. The phrase “nose bleed” has been a subject of ridicule in the city for those who are hesitant to respond in English when conversing.
Call center companies have provided jobs for the local Kagayanons and this requires being well versed in the English language. Universities have also produced proficient graduates. But although these factors may seem relevant, it doesn’t conceal the fact that the level of English proficiency in the city is declining. And this is also true to other areas in the country. According to the Philippine Star – the findings of a group, which was accredited to administer English proficiency tests that the skill of Filipinos on the language is deteriorating.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo was commenting on the report from the IDP Education Pty. Ltd. Philippines that showed the average score of Filipinos who took the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) last year was a poor 6. 69 where 7. 0 is the passing score. A made on how English is taught in schools, explained the poor scores in the IELTS. The level in English proficiency was also “obviously affected by the standards of resources available, especially the textbooks. ” Filipinos are exposed to less and less English as programs in the local language now dominate television.
The apparent deteriorating quality of teachers teaching English, error-riddled English textbooks and the decreasing English content in public primetime television were seen as the cause of the declining level of English proficiency in the Philippines. The government should address these causes if the country seeks to retain its image as foremost supplier of workers skilled in speaking the English language. A continuous decline in Filipinos’ English proficiency could affect the growth of the call center industry which is providing employment to hundreds of thousands of workers and the chances of Filipinos getting work in other countries. As many countries are demanding higher English scores (in the IELTS), Filipinos may not be able to meet the English requirement and this will have human and economic consequences for the country,” Conclusion There is still hope that the Kagayanons’ proficiency in English will still improve and that if not all at least the majority will come to realize its importance in all fields especially as they advanced in their careers.
While other Asian countries are riding the Third Wave, the Filipinos are paddling in opposite directions because many of them are afraid the wave will engulf them and drown their sense of nationhood. While others keep trying to find ways to increase their English proficiency in the light of international relations, global cooperation and rapid developments in computers and telecommunications, we have been engaged in finding a voice we can truly call our own. One day, we may find that voice and speak in unison, but until then, I believe that English can do it for us, too.
That is, if we stop thinking of it as a colonial instrument that broke our spirit, but as the code that helped us break through other worlds. Language, they say, is the key to understanding others. What many Filipinos miss is that English can also be used as a key to understanding ourselves. English, after all, does not belong to America. If we accept it with grace and use it with wisdom, it can belong to the rest of the world. Bibliography Avila, Darcas M. et al. Effective Writing.
Malabon City: Mutya Publishing House, 2009. Barrameda, Rosalina O. et al. (Eds) Freshman College Composition. Ateneo De Manila University, 1992. Pacasio, Emy M. et al. Basic English for College. Quezon City, Philippines: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1999. Robles, Felicidad C. Developing English Proficiency in College, Book 2. Quezon City, Philippines: JMC Press, Inc. Vinuya, Remedios V. & Santa C. Buri. College English Composition. Makati, Philippines: Grandwater Publications, 2001. The Philippine Star. May 2009