How the Philippines’ outsourcing industries can benefit from Paula Jamie Salvosa and Christopher Lao

Following another viral video circus, this time involving Ms Paula Jamie ‘Amalayer’ Salvosa, we find an emerging pattern in the sorts of “scandals” that Filipinos tend to salivate over. A common denominator underlying these is a perverse fascination with the hilarious gaffes Filipinos routinely deliver in their on-going clumsy effort to use the language of their former (?) colonial master.

Private-schooled former viral video star Christopher Lao bizarrely struggled with it despite his priviliged upbringing stammering out this pained explanation for why he drove his car into a flood: “Why do you info—why do i—Bakit ako? Diba? (laughs ironically) Dapat i-inform, i-inform, I should have been informed, yun lang yun”. How the obviously village-raised boy could get it so wrong highlights the desperate plight of even more ordinary Filipinos to master the language that holds the key to relatively vast wealth.

Most recently it is Salvosa and her “I’m a liar?” taunt to a security officer at an LRT train station that launched the global-trending Twitter hashtag #amalayer. Sloppy use of the English language does not seem to be the issue here as most Filipinos are mediocre speakers at best. It seems more a case of its use in an inappropriate occasion — the way Salvosa dished it out when her native Tagalog dialect would have sufficed or even been more effective in this instance. This is the sort of thing that gets picked up by Filipinos’ collective Trying-hard Detector. Most people can sniff out wannabes a mile away. And the quintessential Filipino wannabe is the average bozo who attempts to power trip using a mediocre command of the English language.

As GRP writer Kate Natividad observed in a previous comment

Wielding the English language is like wielding a gun.

An amateur who plays with [one] is likely to just end up hurting herself. But an expert professional, can rob a bank with one and even get away with it.

While Jimmy Santos shrewdly turned the blanket dagginess with which Filipinos speak their colonial master’s language into an entire comedy act that was the highlight of his career, (ending his shows with his famous sign-off blurb: “And remember, wherever you are, I love you three times a day”), Filipino cinema often gets it wrong. The snippets of English-language dialogue in Philippine cinema almost always comes across as severely contrived — written by folk who have a superficial understanding of the sosyal people they try to bring to life in their hastily-written scripts. Think Cherie Gil’s classic “You’re nothing but a second-rate, trying hard copycat!” in the film Bituing Walang Ningning.

Filipinos need to master the use of English where it counts.

English remains the “gold standard” lingua franca of business according to a Forbes.com report which highlighted a McKinsey study that showed that “only 13% of graduates from emerging countries are suitable for employment in global companies, and the number one reason cited is a lack of English skills.” The Philippines was cited for its relative general proficiency in the use of English for business highlighting how the quality of its speakers puts them at an advantage in the race for employment in excellent multinational corporations…

[…] serious career-minded individuals who hope to work as foreign correspondents for O Globo TV in New York, Brazil’s biggest broadcaster, will need solid English. As will the IT service guys coming to the U.S. from India on business visas, and the Russia venture capitalists looking to close deals with investors in Silicon Valley.

This is partially why the Philippines has taken over India as a hub for call centers. Their English is better. The islands attained a score above 7, putting them within range of a high proficiency that indicates an ability to lead business discussions and perform complex tasks. India? A low 5.57.

However, the Philippines falls behind Scandinavian countries in terms of proficiency in English amongst non-native speakers

Norwegians, Danes, Swedes and Finns are four of the world’s top five best non-native users of English, according to a new study by the world’s biggest private educational company, Stockholm-based EF. Norwegians have the best English as a second language, followed by the Dutch, then the Danes in third place, the Swedes in fourth and the Finns in fifth.

And yet, the Philippines is being touted as the cheap-as-chips English language education centre of the world…

“We have very competitive rates compared with other countries,” says English teacher, Jesy King, citing her school’s fees of $500 (£313) for a 60-hour class – about a third of the price of an equivalent course in the US or Canada.

Another major advantage is the accent.

Filipinos speak with a clear American accent – partly because the Philippines was a US colony for five decades, and partly because so many people here have spent time working in call centres that cater to a US market.

Indeed, that coveted American accent. If there is anything that can be noted from the Amalayer Salvosa viral-video circus, it is that Filipinos are getting better at detecting subtle nuances in the delivery of spoken English that separates the trying-hard wannabes from the true English-speaking-since-birth elites. Perhaps, in this regard, this makes Filipinos the much-needed top-notch el-cheapo English language teachers of the planet — because they are Top Gun when it comes to spotting and sniping badly-spoken English.

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36 Comments on “How the Philippines’ outsourcing industries can benefit from Paula Jamie Salvosa and Christopher Lao”

  1. Funny but we tend to always pick on sensationalizing things as they do it in local telenovelas and on TV news but does not posses the same motivation in running after those shameless politicians and their ilks who screw us bigtime 24/7.

  2. “Perhaps, in this regard, this makes Filipinos the much-needed top-notch el-cheapo English language teachers of the planet — because they are Top Gun when it comes to spotting and sniping badly-spoken English.” Exactly. A lot of call center trained pinoys didn’t have the accent at the start. Its the ability to comprehend and self-correct that’s important. You need to know how catch your own mistakes so that your accent starts to sound more natural.

  3. O Benign0! Don’t tell me you are in the same league with “GRP’s Resident Intriguera and Usisera” aka Madame Kate Natividad regarding this typical, barrio-style gossip about Paula Jamie Salvosa??

    It seems preposterous to make such insights about Philippine society out of an recorded incident that had been taken out of the context many times since its inception by the media??

    GRP, you are disappointing! “We beg to differ”? Yes, in the beginning but I think you’re becoming more like Manila Times!

      1. I am missing the point of the article, yes?

        But I am not missing the point about the article’s purpose. Now here is my point!

        Just ignore the “Amalayer girl” incident because it’s not worth a dime!

        1. He’s sharing his opinion about the amalayer fever, going with the flow of the trend. It draws more website traffic that way.

  4. I think his purpose is of talking more about Pinoys rather than just focused on Paula, Migs.

    And i agree with benign0 about the cinema. Instead of being an example to or a mirror of Filipino society, they’re a false and disgusting reflection..especially the telenovelas. They’re supposed to be the water washing away the dirt in people’s eyes, instead these script writers, producers, and directors put canal water or whatever shit else they come up with in to the solution. This, in my opinion, forms a huge part of the Taglish problem.

    1. Oh, and the huge divide its put up between the classes of our society.. Just sad, films are supposed to be unifying the nation.. But i heard nation building doesn’t sell in that industry..

    2. Why even put films, cinemas, television into the context. We all know that everything that comes out of that idiot tube is guess what – idiots.

      And the problem here is, most of us don’t know about it that they are gradually being turned into mindless zombies.

  5. Not to brag, but I’m taking up my PhD in Linguistics right now (minor in International English). I also help out IELTS and TOEFL candidates. A good rule of thumb in language acquisition (especially in English) goes this way: if you wanna break the rules, you have to master them first.

    Call centers train agents in linguistic PERFORMANCE (using English in specific situations), which unfortunately pales when compared to linguistic COMPETENCE (general usage and improvement of English. Philippine public education sadly also focuses on performance over competence, hence the degradation of English in the country.

    1. Sad but true. A doctor friend of mine laments the lack of English skills among their candidates when they screen new residents. They can’t string two words together. And these students are from the top universities in Manila.

  6. Great read! This is one of the articles I read, aside from Kate’s, that has a different opinion on this video. I agree with the fact that there is always the right time and the right place to say words in English. Honestly speaking, I worked for the call center industry for 5 years and I don’t usually use the English language when I’m out in the mall or other public places, unless, I am with a foreign friend. I guess, I just don’t want to be branded as “mayabang” or “pasosyal”. In short, she should have just freaked out in Tagalog. Better yet, she should not have freaked out at all.

  7. Is it just me but do I get the feeling Benign0’s fixated too much on the misuse of the English language by Paula’s “freaking out moment” in the LRT against the unsuspecting lady guard? Deal with it dude! If she feels like speaking in English, no matter how bad it actually sounds, then let her be!

    Actually, you wouldn’t be criticizing her English skills if not for someone who took a video out of it and spread it for all of us to see and ponder about.

  8. A lot of college grads have dificulty in communicating in the english language. What is surprising though is that even in their native dialect they are inarticulate and could hardly express themselves. Just try talking to them and most of the time you get vague answers like. “ok lang”,” ‘yong kwan’, “‘yong ano”, and the word “depende” in which when further asked leads to incomprehensible answers.

    1. most pinoys who freak out in english blurt out lines from movies. amalayer girl is no exception, hence the line, “I’m just returning the favor”. this has got to do with the problem in language proficiency in both urban/rural/private/public educational institutions in the Philippines as education has just become another business for the investors. so the average pinoys’ “english” is at best mediocre. surprisingly few pinoys have even seen or read a book on etiquette. that’s why we have ill-bred pinoys who wander the malls and streets strutting their mediocre english. who are we to blame then?

  9. It seems that it is just about that time again of the year when Filipinos need their daily dozes of useless news to fret about. Instead of blaming themselves for the sad state of the country and doing something about it, they are again looking for the scapegoat that somehow will magically make their lives look less miserable. I guess it is this girl’s turn at the moment, how long could this placebo last?

    For those that are more educated or at the least more civilized, I guess the Filipino identity just fell further down the sinkhole.

    1. If not the Catholic religion or a “showbiz intriga”, recorded incidents of public scandal and misbehavior are THE DRUGS for most Filipinos whose lives are already drab and uncertain. The country’s mainstream media (be it in television, internet, radio, print) knows this, that’s why they have an effective formula to keep us from thinking about effective solutions and actions for real issues! I thought GRP would be a breath of fresh air (and it was!) but I guess it’s also succumbing to it. I guess it’s an ugly cycle, the media gives shitty information, the viewers (aka Filipinos) get used to it and psychologically changed their paradigm about everything. Then if some intelligent people would show them a different paradigm, they would remain apathetic and these same intelligent people realize they should also show things WHAT the people want to see! Thus they lose their noble purpose of WAKING THESE PATHETIC PEOPLE UP. Now, I’d say:

      Get Real Get Real Philippines!

      I know it’s redundant. Sounds bad right?

      1. Well, for someone who is supposedly choking on what he’s discovered to be the non-fresh air here, you seem to be hanging around quite a bit.

        Fact is, you need to do your homework as this bizarre notion that I am “fixated” on the misuse of the English language does not seem to be consistent with what I wrote in the article, particularly where I said “Sloppy use of the English language does not seem to be the issue here as most Filipinos are mediocre speakers at best.”

        Even more amusing is the irony in what you say that escapes you as this article is, in fact, all about the way Pinoys tend to focus on trivial differences in the way English is spoken when most of them are, in reality, mediocre speakers of the language themselves.

        Stidi ka lang dyan. 😀

        1. I don’t know,there are many Filipino’s that make the ‘homey’s’ in the states sound like true imbeciles(“What-chew bees lookins ats chrome-bones?”) .Even if that is not too difficult an assignment,its true.How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice,Practice,Practice.The English spoken in the Philippines is something to be proud of,rather than criticized.
          English is one of the more difficult languages to speak/comprehend but it sounds good when spoken correctly.Ez on the ears.

      2. Migs,

        Love ’em or hate ’em, viral videos are now part of the social fabric of the 21st century.

        It isn’t as if you have the monopoly on righteous indignation. Look across the planet and you’ll find that when a circus like this erupts there will always be pundits who lament the fact that humans have nothing better to do than obsess over (Ms Salvosa’s) histrionics. And there will also be any number of satirists and late night talk show hosts featuring her on their personal “dumbest things of the week” list.

        In the end, we’ll probably look back on Ms Salvosa’s “incident” with fondness. We got a laugh. We got to live vicariously through her, to vent our frustrations at the faceless, monolithic system of drudgery that oppresses us daily. We got to ruminate over the state of Filipino language and culture. And also, because she became the topic of a post here, the commentary branched off into tangents that were topics of more serious discussion.

        That is probably the most useful thing Ms Salvosa did for us. And that would not have happened if Kate Natividad hadn’t written the article or if benign0 hadn’t written this follow up piece.

        So take it with a grain of salt. You got pissed at some things. You probably picked up a few useful snippets here and there. It is what it is. Let’s move on.

  10. The snippets of English-language dialogue in Philippine cinema almost always comes across as severely contrived — written by folk who have a superficial understanding of the sosyal people they try to bring to life in their hastily-written scripts.

    In pinoy teleseryes, those who are rich and english-speaking are typically depicted as evil villains, while those who are poor and straight tagalog-speaking tend to be portrayed as the heroes — as if ‘being rich and englsh-speaking’ is such a bad thing (unless, of course, they either have fallen in love with someone who belongs to that poorer class or have given away their wealth to them — considered as redeeming qualities to their tele-fanatic followers). Reinforcing these pinoy social stereotypes and feeding on their complexes by these tele scriptwriters of limited imagination only do more harm than good.

  11. Benigno, I got a question. This really puzzles me…

    What’s with the coveted American accent? What’s with it that most Filipinos are drooling over it to the point that Pinoys sometimes lousily try to immitate it?

    I am asking because I highly doubt that the American accent is the “correct” accent (and whether there’s such a thing as “correct” accent in English language is also open for debate).

    I have been to New Zealand and Kiwis have a very distinct accent. It’s hard to describe.

    Also, I have a very strong preference towards British accent.

    And finally, I myself have this strange accent, somehow resembling that of a Norwegian or Dutch or German, and I did very little effort to correct it. Why? My job involves speaking with a lot of nationalities, and so far my not-so-American accent has kept me afloat.

    So I don’t get this fervour towards the American accent.

    1. Hi Empi. A South African acquaintance of mine offered some insight into that.

      She tells me that to the Europeans she’s talked to American English sounds “friendlier.” She puts it down to a drawl that, to their ears, sounds more approachable than the clipped, nasal twang of say, British speech. It makes them more relaxed to hear an American speak than an Englishman or someone from the continent.

    2. Indeed, there is no “correct” English accent and I suspect that the reason why Scandinavians are supposedly the best non-native speakers is because they speak it with hardly a trace of self-consciousness (in the same manner that they are famously nonchalant about their sexuality).

      Pinoys, on the other hand, are all about face. They are driven by hiya (flawed translation: “shame”) and are therefore constantly fumbling in a monumental effort to get the accent right. Result is the sorts of things we see today evident in these videos and in the manner with which Filipinos react to them.

      1. “Pinoys, on the other hand, are all about face. They are driven by hiya (flawed translation: “shame”) and are therefore constantly fumbling in a monumental effort to get the accent right. Result is the sorts of things we see today evident in these videos and in the manner with which Filipinos react to them.”

        And that comes down to conditioning. If you’ve lived your whole life being told that English speakers are the people you want to hang out with, that these are the “upper class of people,” the ones who are sure to get rich, that your command of the Filipino language and appreciation of Filipino culture do not prepare you for getting ahead in life, you will react accordingly.

        Our popular media constantly reinforce these caricatures and stereotypes. The newspaper, television, radio, movies. Worse — government has joined in on this downward spiral, claiming that using popular media in this manner is the best way to communicate with their constituency. As a result we are perpetuating the wrong values. We end up endeavoring to “out-Celine” Celine Dion. Our so-called artists plagiarize movies, change the names and locations in the copyrighted material and claim its an “homage” or “new interpretation” of the same hoary old crap. And we try to make ourselves look and sound like the latest outer space monstrosity on the red carpet in Hollywood. Then we have the nerve to give ourselves meaningless awards so that we can feel good about being mediocre.

        Luckily, I’m guessing the people posting here on GRP won’t be falling into the same malaise.

        1. There’s a term in linguistics called “code switching,” wherein depending on a situation a person alternates between one language and others without these languages intruding with each other. As an example, a bilingual Filipino would say a complete English sentence with one person and then say a complete Tagalog sentence with that same person WITHOUT resorting to Taglish.

          I admire people who can be proficient in multiple languages and use them to the fullest, without degrading their content. For me, it’s way better to be fully fluent in Tagalog (or any Filipino language for that matter) than to have a distorted understanding of English.

          Maybe it’s just me, but whenever I go to remote rural places in the Philippines (such as villages in the Cordilleras), their English seems to be much, MUCH clearer than the English spoken by us urban dwellers. I guess that the missionaries did their job well.

  12. Seems the issue started from the guard preventing Salvosa from entering the train because the latter refused to have her bag checked. But rules are rules: no bag check, no ride. I hope Salvosa (as well as those who attacked her) isn’t one of those who say, “Filipinos should learn to follow rules,” and then refuse to follow rules themselves.

    Benign0 lives up once again to “begging to differ.” He pointed out how Filipinos may laugh at the “lousy English” of Salvosa, but may have “lousy English” themselves. Faux Majeure, Da Pinoy.

  13. And yes, anti-English sentiments are gonna bring down our country, I tell ya. Wait, it’s already bringing down our country.

    1. anti-english sentiments? Where? maybe anti-U.S. imperialists(for good reason) but english? anyone who speaks one of the Roman-based languages and then listens to Thai,Visayan,Laotian,and just about all of the vowel-consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel-consonant languages spoken in S.E.Asia realizes that these languages are hard on the ears of the listener,sound as if they were developed by a child and are just poor excuses for a ‘language’ that is really just a step above facial expressions/ape speak. I mean really,who came up with ‘ummalaylay’,whew!(Help me out here!)…joke!

  14. Benigno is right for bringing up this matter because the murdering of English is no small issue.Our TV broadcasters have been perpetrating it and God knows how many Pinoy viewers have adopted their crooked English.Have you ever noticed them utter “s” in supposed to be plural words? Legacy Group of Company. Board of Director. Dalawa ang engine ng Piper Seneca. Hinabol ng mga pulis and tatlong carnapper. Where did the ‘s’ for Company, for Director, for engine and for carnapper go? During the fight at the airport by Baretto and Tulfo the broadcaster asked one of the one of the witnesses who started the fight. She replied: ‘sila ang unang nag aggress. Good Lord, this was in plain view and hearing of millions of TV viewers. Nag-agress. try looking for the word in any dictionary. That matter of Salvosa’s English is no small matter.

  15. Former colonial master? Who does anyone think runs the Philippines? It certainly is not that balding,whats his name, ‘Nit-wit’?HA,might as well be ‘Jack-Ass’.
    Taking a job that just needs an English speaker,and very little else, is just SAD.Those call center jobs are in the Philippines for a reason and it is not because they are high-paying.India has crapped out of that market because Indians do not want the dead-end crap job that ‘call center agent’ no doubt is.In 5-7 yrs.,neither will Filipino’s.It is slavery.

    1. “Taking a job that just needs an English speaker,and very little else, is just SAD.”

      The job is not just an English speaking proficiency. The applicants are also tested for their mental aptitude. I believe there are more call center jobs in our country that requires one to be with technical knowledge, aside from communication proficiency. And it’s a high paying job with very promising career opportunities. Much better than a security guard or a restaurant crew.

      The only setback is that these call center employees will have to work night shift throughout years.

      How about a scenario that call center jobs in the Philippines is not available?

      “Those call center jobs are in the Philippines for a reason and it is not because they are high-paying.”

      It seems to me that sentence is contradicting itself. Nevertheless, the jobs are in the Philippines because salary wise,those employers, pay about 30% to Filipinos as to what they’re going to pay to Indians.

      1. There is no contradiction,unless…no,I ain’t goin there…just don’t care.It is a bad job for anyone to take in the Phils.,for a lot of reasons.Globally speaking.Paying someone less money to do a job that workers in the states used to make a living doing is destroying the U.S. middle-class,working class,driving down the price of labor globally(and that is one reason why people in the fils need to stop having children they can not afford to feed…they are just producing futuree slaves,There I said it!T.S..)and keeping the people in the Phils poverty stricken anyway while they help destroy another economy,same thing w/China,those imbeciles will work for nothing and put up with anything the boss shoves up their ass.The labor struggles in the USA that were fought in the 50’s-60’s-70-s-80’s where guys died to get a fare wage…have been kicked back to the stone age by outsourcing,free trade agreeements etc…at the cost of the American people,who,btw are the first to help the rest of the world when the rest of the world has problems(WHAH!).I do not expect you to know about the labor struggles in the states,but to say I seem to contradict myself…please,been working too many night shifts at the call center?Good luck with that.

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