English proficiency is a continuous improvement process

Filipinos are generally good at English. At least that’s the impression foreigners get when they encounter us. It is also one of the primary reasons why foreign employers like hiring Filipinos. It is well-established that English has made its way into the world as a sort of lingua franca, and we wield it as an advantage…for now.

I bet many Filipinos were ecstatic when a recent survey came out where the Philippines topped a list of countries in terms of business English proficiency. The proponent of this study is an American company called GlobalEnglish. To read the official statement about the results of their study, click here.

While I can agree with the sentiment that our general skill with English is still recognizable, by no means do I think it is a reason for us to throw out the party hats and once again scream Pinoy pride all over the place. It is not an excuse for us to rest on our laurels and quit on improving ourselves. If we stop and allow to be static this advantage of ours, relative to most of our neighbors, then we stand to lose, in my opinion, one of the few saving graces that Filipino workers have left. Yes, cheaper and hard-working is no longer the game. If our English skills slide to mediocre and worse, we can forget about even being looked at by employers.

GlobalEnglish noted that a country’s business English capability is an indicator of its economic growth and business success. What I think they failed to note was that it is but a minor indicator. Also, keep in mind that the study was done by an American company; naturally they will push the assumption that English is the only language for business communication. While English is a major language, it is by no means the only one.

However, I am not writing this just to cast doubt on the study. I also want to expound on the idea on how reports like this should be taken as an impetus for us to stay sharp. No doubt about it that a big portion of their sample population in the Philippines came from either the business process outsourcing (BPO) or call center sector. There’s nothing wrong with that; it just doesn’t tell the whole story.

In Filipino society there still exists a stigma associated with people who are fluent in English. They are regarded as intellectual snobs. They are regarded as traitors for not preferring to speak in the “native tongue”. They are regarded as latte-sipping coño hippies who accumulate their wealth by plundering it from the masa.

The world is what it is. When was the last time you saw a job wanted ad without the “English proficiency required” line? English is a major language of international business. English is a major language of the arts and sciences. It is an official language of the United Nations. We can’t deny the fact that for us to become globally competitive, maintaining and developing our English skills is the way to go. Yet, we should be aiming not only for excellence; we must strive for equity. We need to enable many more of our kababayans to possess a confidence in English.

If Filipinos want to maintain, much less develop, the status of having an above average command of English, then there are a few mindsets prevalent in our society that we have to shake off:

Being proficient in English does not mean that your skill in native tongue has to suffer

Rabid Filipino-first advocates will always put up the argument that Filipinos’ proficiency with their native tongues will regress if we decide to focus on English proficiency. That is simply not true. As I mentioned in one of my previous articles, being bilingual or multilingual entails having to stretch your brain capacity a little bit. That’s a good thing; pay the price when you’re young, reap the benefits of more doors of opportunity opened later.

Do not focus on the accent, but on the content

An approach included in learning English in call centers and BPO’s is accent reduction/neutralization (AR/AN). While technically this isn’t really a bad idea, I’m more concerned that Filipinos may stop at developing the accent and forget developing their skills, know-how, and personal knowledge related with it. Where are the programs encouraging people to read more? After Efren Peñaflorida, who else followed suit in attempting what he did? Exactly my thoughts.

An additional idea under this point: Not everyone else in the world who speaks English in business speaks perfect American English. Many of them tend to think in their native tongue and translate to English. I know this because I’ve worked with three (3) other nationalities apart from Americans. Other nationalities couldn’t care less about how good your accent is; what is important to them is that they understand what you’re trying to say. And that is the key point to becoming an effective communicator.

There is no conflict, nor separation, of “class” when it comes to speaking English well

The proficiency of English need not be monopolized by rich, powerful, and privileged people. As I said, we must also aim to make as many of our kababayans proficient in English as well. Yet knowledge is power; and the privileged live by this maxim all too well. They remind me of the friars during the Spanish era. They decreed that the indios must remain illiterate; otherwise, they will use their knowledge to rise up against them and seize their power. It will not hurt to be resourceful in finding other legitimate methods to learn English. It will not hurt one bit to help your fellow Filipinos achieve proficiency in English. In fact, haven’t the key decision makers thought a bigger, more articulate talent pool is better for everyone?

Proficiency in English will not sacrifice your cultural identity and prospects for development

To find examples of developed countries whose people speak English well enough but with a distinct non-American accent, but whose development outstrips ours, one need only look to our neighbors Singapore and Malaysia. Yes, Singapore and Malaysia were at one time British colonies. Yet they fiercely maintained their native tongues and cultural identities while simultaneously advocating English as a medium of instruction and as a language of business.

Of particular interest is Malaysia. Although Malaysians speak decent English, their native tongue Malay has been highly resistant to foreign influence. Contrast that with our situation; our English skill as a people is plateauing, yet we are allowing our native languages to evolve by allowing more foreign words substitute for native words that are perceived to be long and inconvenient.

English skills will provide confidence. Confidence in themselves is something that many Filipinos oh so desperately need to have right now, given their current circumstances. Filipinos must not be afraid to make mistakes; their desire to improve must be stronger than their desire to maintain their face. After all, many other nations, in their path to greatness, have fallen much lower, and for other bigger reasons, before they were able to get up again.

As an additional reference, let me play grammar nitpicker for a bit and provide here a link to a forum with the most common Filipinisms.

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About FallenAngel

А вы, друзья, как ни садитесь, все в музыканты не годитесь. - But you, my friends, however you sit, not all as musicians fit.

37 Comments on “English proficiency is a continuous improvement process”

  1. I experienced being politically singled out in an office because I can casually talk to our white boss without flinching, pausing, or in colloquial terms, “suffering from nosebleed”.

    Hindi nila naunawaan na magmula pa pagkabata, naging adhika ko na ang pagyamanin pareho ang aking Filipino at Inggles upang maipahiwatig nang maayos sa kung sino man ang nakikinig sakin ang aking saloobin, at upang mas mapakinggan din silang mabuti.

    Sa kasamaang palad ang pagtingin nila sa kakayahang ito ay kahambugan o paninipsip.

    1. You dirty rat, showing up your co-workers like that. You are supposed to be a social socialist and not aspire to self-improvement or skill better than the most ignorant of the masses. The whole nation sucks talent down in just that way.

        1. Yeah Joe, look at Filipinos, one of whom is nelson ongpauco: They won’t say if anything is wrong, and then when it all blows up, they blame the boss. for not telling them what to do.

    2. I used to feel the same way — when I was 15.

      Politically singled out? They don’t want to have lunch with you at the cool kids’ table?

      Come on, man. If you’re getting ahead in the world because of your skills, so be it. Don’t mind them. The fact you’re psycho-analyzing those blokes mean that you’re sort of affected.

      Eh kung marunong ka naman magsalita ng wikang Pilipino, eh di ikaw ang mediator between them and the bossing. That should give you a lot of power in the office. Use it wisely.

  2. “Filipinos must not be afraid to make mistakes; their desire to improve must be stronger than their desire to maintain their face.”

    That is absolutely the most profound statement I have read anywhere in a long time. It gets right at the heart of the difference between Western productivity and Filipino non-productivity. The passion to aspire, to reach, to achieve, to improve. Versus to defend, to hunker down behind rigid walls of face, to tear down those who seem to be threats. The confidence to take the risks necessary to grow and prosper.

    I would add that there is another half to the statement: that Filipinos should be more gracious in allowing others to make mistakes deriving from earnest effort.

    It also seems to me the Philippines does “the English language wobble”, a kind of dance that spins between the notion that we are whole only if we don’t let go of who we are, as if language were some ratty old baby blanket we still need to carry as adults, and the recognition that the Philippines can be a healthier and wealthier competitor if we get skilled at English, the language of global commerce. It is insecurity that keeps the blanket at hand. When the nation is confident, it will go aggressively toward English and hold no regret.

    Also, if the Philippines can’t muster up the passion and ability to keep the Chinese off its islands, it should switch from English to Chinese and get on with being assimilated.

    1. Ironically, Joe, the whole issue *is* confidence, because sadly at school we were trained to pay a fine and then dig our heads into the sand with shame if we were not able to get our t’s crossed, i’s dotted and tenses correct.

      The irony even goes further: there is a social stigma for English speakers because it’s supposedly the language of the well-heeled, when in fact today’s well-heeled rich speak this horrible mishmash of bad English coupled with equally bad Tagalog (or whatever is the regional vernacular) that people derisively call “conyo”.

      It is sad to note that benign0 would probably cringe at the fact that the current generation of Ateneans (and Lasallians too, sadly) aren’t up to par with the eloquent English speakers of yesteryear. But then again, the Filipino spoken by today’s generation is just as cringe-worthy.

      If there were only less guilt and resentment (oh so Catholic!) towards the skillful handling of English, even the medium of instruction issue won’t be a big deal!

      1. out of topic: in a hundred years will this mishmash of english and tagalog be one day embraced and celebrated like the mishmash of spanish and cebuano(zamboanga) / tagalog(ternate) in certain parts of our country?

    2. Aah, this Maher boy comments –

      “It gets right at the heart of the difference between Western productivity and Filipino non-productivity.”

      The question is – is it?

      What is the Filipino non-productivity and western productivity?

      Are we talking here of something tangible like something we could touch or something intangible, something that we can’t touch.

      What in the heck that all call-center in Philippines has boomed or still booming? Is that non-productivity? Is that unpoductivity?

      Being productive is not always something that you can touch.

      I can always dwell more with western and local productivity if it gets to be an issue.

  3. We’re talking about spoken English, right?

    “Other nationalities couldn’t care less about how good your accent is; what is important to them is that they understand what you’re trying to say”

    In my experience with other nationalities, you have to figure out their different accents for you to understand them effectively. Imitation isn’t flattery in this case, but more of a learning tool. I’ve dealt with different nationalities and I can only say that pa-cute Amboy English and Gangsta English isn’t 100% effective in communicating with different people. Oh,there’s also Cartoon Network English, which is good if you’re dealing with 5-year olds.

    As for Filipino, ang hirap ng formal na Filipino. Isa yun sa mababang grade ko nung elementarya.

    1. I loved my trip to London last year because there were four distinct accent groups of spoken English that you had to understand:

      1. British
      2. Jamaican
      3. Indian/South Asian
      4. Irish

      This aside from the Chinese, American, and Eastern European variants of English here and there.

      No need for any accent changes there! We could speak in the plain Pinoy Rico Hizon (no wonder he works for the BBC) accent without problems!

  4. sa america ay puro sinungaling ang mga tao puwera lang ang mga pinoy sa aknila pag nagsinungaling ka manniniwaala sila sa iyo pero pag nagsabi ka nga totoo paghihinalaan ka ang napansin ko ay masmabuti pa ang masinungaling dito america ..huwag tayong magtitiwala sa mga puti mexecano .at itim dahil patalikod mo ay paguusapan kanila .sisiraan ka sa supervisor mga ingittero sila .ang paginsulto sa atin ay ginagawa nilang biro ..ang aking pamangkin ay akala niya ay kaibigan niya ang isang puti pero noong nakita niya na maykausap na mga puti ay sinabihan niya ng hello pero hind siya pinansin parang hindi siya kilala ikinahihiya siya nito.yan ang ugaliu ng mga tao dito pagmarami sila hindi kapapansinin kaya ang ginagawa KO AY pag nagiisa ko kinakausap .

    1. Naku, hindi exclusive sa mga Amerikano ang pagsisinungaling. Isama mo rin yung talking shit behind your back. Para mo na ring sinabi na likas sa mga Pilipino na kumain ng aso. Lahat ng lahi merong baho, but what’s worse are the sweeping generalizations about a race/nation/ethnicity.

  5. i agree with the author. This article reminds me why, way back in my elementary days, we watch Voltes V in english and all other english language shows in english. Nowadays, I dont understand why my kids can watch spongebob in tagalog and also other english language movies dubbed in tagalog. (As if, tagalog is the only dialect in the Philippines). The government should do something about these simple media things as they can influence the next generation big time.

    I, too, have worked with other nationalities and find it a necessary tool of the trade. While I dont turn my back on my mother tongue, it makes sense to at least have this edge.

  6. I’m just happy that I earn more, have been around the world, and have a wider view of the world thanks to having English in my upbringing. The dipwads who were into that all-“Filipino” thing when I was young, got stuck at home, fathered children out of wedlock, and are driving school buses to put food on the table.

    To think that I didn’t even lose any native language I grew up with. I can speak and write in Ibaloi, Ilocano, and oh-shit Tagalog (I wonder why people who take umbrage at English go on and rant in Tagalog, not in Ilocano or whatever), and also managed to learn Cantonese and written Chinese along the way.

    People who would want to drop English as a spoken tongue by Filipinos, are the same persons who would rather have all Filipinos poor, ignorant, and pliant. In other words, mangmang.

    1. Agree. There’s a bigger world outside Da Pinas.

      I am glad to have grown up during the time that dubbing wasn’t the norm and free tv wasn’t crammed with silly shows full of scheming br@ts a.k.a. soap operas.

      I got to enjoy consuming non-pinoy media out there. Literature, movies, and, as childish as they call it, video games. Haha.

      May tagalog video games ba?

  7. Personally I’m for English-as-first with regional-dialect-as-mandatory-second education.

    What pisses me off isn’t so much that people speak either but the resulting “Taglish” feels so muddled and inconvenient – far beyond Japanese having a separate alphabet for “Engrish.”

    I guess I have a thing for linguistic purity i.e. unless the word absolutely, positively cannot be translated into Tagalog, it’s best to keep them separate.

    Yeah, I rambled, but after seeing this old commercial I gained a bit of appreciation for deep* language.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49dk6xsFjNw

    *note: not sure how ‘deep’ it is as i am still unable to speak the language. ;_;

  8. Fluency in languages is just one of the tools you use for success. Fluency in English does not guarantee instant success in your life or career. I work in the Technical Field. There is a Polish co-worker of mine, who speaks fractured English. Yet, his brain is full of knowledge and innovations. Now, he heads a Research Department. His team is composed of English speaking Americans and British. Most of the Scientists in the Manhattan Project, that produced the first Atomic bomb, came from foreign countries. Some speaks fractured English…yet, they opened to us the Atomic Age…

    1. Manhattan project… different nationalities, but almost overwhelmingly, of Jewish descent. Most Nobel Prize winners are also of Jewish descent; as well as business leaders. Makes me wonder, what’s so special about them that they’re always on top?

  9. The Patriachs; the Prophets; Religious leaders; and Jesus Christ came from the Jewish Race…Jews value knowledge and education a lot. this is their upbringing (No to YellowTards, like us)…daily prayers, their religion and their lives are intertwined. Prof. Albert Einstein of Princeton University is a German Jew…the one who wrote Pres. Roosevelt to start the Manhattan Project…

    1. The Jews believe that they’re special. Chosen. Predisposed to succeed. That mentality is practically encoded in their DNA.

      Filipinos, of course, think that they suck. They always need to find what wrong they are doing to the world. And hence they are predisposed to fail. That mentality is practically encoded in their DNA too.

      Time to change the predisposition.

      1. French Mathematician and Philosopher: Rene Descartes famous words: “Cogito Ergo Sum”…translated to: “I think , therefore, I am”…if we think that way, like a YellowTard thinks…then, we become one…

  10. Filipino communicates in COMPETENT English.

    Pinoys use CARABAO English.

    Get the drift and get a grip.Ciao di Mancanza mi Amici della getrealphils.

  11. I work in the a call center and we were required to go to the globalenglish website and be evaluated and then we have our improvement goals and what not. And this is not for the entry level employee answering phones. So yeah, I don’t think the results of this study represents anything close to the majority of population of the country. Probably not even the majority of the call center industry.

  12. I actually am learning Tagalog with Rosetta Stone program because virtually nobody here in Lower Laguna area speaks English and they never have, this article would mainly deal with a higher learning individual that has a need nobody here has the need.

  13. It is sad that a lot of teachers in the primary and secondary levels are not that proficient in English unlike two decades ago.

    DepEd should do something about this. Cultivate new breeds of highly proficient english teachers

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  14. The best way to acquire English proficiency with ease is to encourage children to read “Fairy Tales”.Let them discover the beauty of story telling at young age and the passion for the language will soon develops.But then not all children have a free access to these books especially the less privelege.It would be great if there is a library in every community that conducts public reading for children even twice or thrice a week.
    Actually,it’s my dream for my community back home.If I won’t die early,I would go for it.:)

  15. “To find examples of developed countries whose people speak English well enough but with a distinct non-American accent, but whose development outstrips ours…”

    Funny Singapore and Malaysia are measured to be “non-American” – they should be measured against being “non-British”! And they’d fail on that as well!

    Actually, the only Filipinos associated with having Americanized accents are products of schools with heavy English speaking cultures. They are the minority. Majority Filipinos of backgrounds outside that minority but have the conversational English skills are respected and recognized as being Filipino. Look for some English speaking Pinoy vids on Youtube and you’d find people writing comments asking if the speaker is Filipino.

  16. Very informative, indeed. If the Filipinos will know how to separate things in the field of English and Tagalog, then probably the literacy rate might have increased.

    Gaya ng aking nabanggit, nawa’y ang ating mga kababayan ay matutunan mahalin ang sariling wika habang nakikipag sabayan sa tinatawag nilang “globally competitive”.

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