Exploring English in the Philippines: A Linguistic Journey that Endures

To a businessman, a student or an employee, English is a very important language. It is a mutually known language all over the world. It is a global language, it is the language of the media, the language of the internet, and it gives access to multiple cultures in the world.

Linguistic Tapestry: Home to Diverse Languages and Dialects

With the mix of culture of the Philippines it can’t be denied that through time it has about 170 dialects and languages and counting. Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilokano and Hiligaynon are only a few of the languages commonly spoken by many.

The early influx of people from around the world to the Philippines brought with them not only rich cultural diversity but also foreign influences that left lasting imprints on the country's dialects and languages. Among these influences, Arabic and Malay have made notable contributions. However, it is Spanish and American English that stand out as the most popular and widely spoken languages, owing to the extended periods during which Spain and the United States exercised control over the country centuries ago.

As the Philippines continues to establish its presence on the global stage, the nation has experienced a significant increase in language exposure worldwide, thanks to the rise of technology and the proliferation of social media. Mobile applications have empowered individuals to delve into various languages, such as French, German, Korean, and there's been a remarkable resurgence of interest in the Spanish language, all accessible at their fingertips.

Bilingual Education

In the Philippines, Filipino and English are the official languages as outlined in its1987 Constitution. It is a policy to use both languages as a medium of instruction from all school levels. The country aims to achieve competence in both Filipino and English at the national level.

English is the language of most businesses and the government in the Philippines. Today, it is spoken by around 70 million people in the country alone, making it one of the largest English-speaking populations in the world. The proficiency of English in the Philippines is often praised by foreigners, with many Filipinos being hired in the Business Process Outsourcing industry and English teachers abroad.

Proficiency by the numbers: Walls Fortified

With the English language becoming the lingua-franca or the common language or mode of communication that enables people to understand one another regardless of their cultural and ethnic backgrounds. It is the native language of many countries around the world and is being used in dealing with economic and political trades.

The Philippines kept up with the competition and through the years have gained a position as one of the best speakers of the English language.

In 2022, the Philippines rose up to rank 22 in the world and 2nd in Asia for English Proficiency by the English Proficiency Index -Education First from #27 in  2020. The Country may have fallen off the top 20, from where it was in 2016 and 2017, respectively, it held its “High Proficiency” status with a rating of 578. Maintaining a high score from the average of 500 and 502 within the world and Asia, respectively.

According to EF, those with a high proficiency score can accomplish the following task: 
- Make a presentation at work
- Comprehend TV shows 
- Read newspapers

Additionally, in a study conducted by the Social Weather Station in the Philippines on March 2023, almost half of Filipino adults nationwide are competent with the English language.

Neutral Accent: Key to Globalization

The main goal of communication is understanding, not to sound fancy by copying somebody else’s accent. But if the Filipinos want to mimic somebody’s way of producing vowel and consonant sounds and diphthongs, they can easily do it. What works in favor of the Filipinos in terms of learning English is that they are no strangers to the language given its vast history. This is also one reason the Philippines was dubbed the BPO/Call Center capital of the world. They can be clearly understood by both native and non-native English speakers.

Advantages of a Neutral Accent

1. It’s easier to understand. – It means one is able to decipher sounds and meanings better without having to confuse certain words.
2. Easier to adapt. – Adapting to the different accents can be complicated if you have a single accent. However, if you have a neutral English, it’ll be easier for you to adapt to their English.
3. Neutral English is easier to learn. – Neutral English doesn’t force certain pronunciations and takes the current pronunciation it has and makes it work until you can take on different accents.
4. Easier for you to understand people – Other people who have strong accents will struggle at times with conversations due to their accents. But with a neutral English, it’ll be easier to understand especially if you’re on the receiving end.
5. Neutral English is a universal English – English’s universality is based on the lack of the accent or what we call the neutral accent. Testing your English anywhere with your neutral accent will make it easier for any English-speaking local to understand you.

Certainly, the Filipino English accent is both welcoming and easily understood. Philippine English has evolved into a valid native variation of the English language. It serves as the primary language employed by Filipinos in influential fields like science and technology, the legal system, legislative processes, administrative functions, higher education, academic discussions, and similar areas.

FUN FACT: In 2019, a travel page named the Filipino English accent as the “Sexiest accent in Asia” and the 21st in the entire world. It was gentle and soft, the accents you’ll hear when in the Philippines are simply lovely.

Multilingual Education: Door to more opportunities

Apart from the diverse dialects and languages spoken in the country plus the Bilingual Education made into a policy, Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) is in place to make sure the young learners develop a strong  foundation in their native language before transitioning to Filipino and English.

Why is this important? Research suggests that students who are proficient in multiple languages tend to have enhanced problem-solving skills, greater cultural awareness, and improved memory and multitasking abilities.

In conclusion, multilingual education in the Philippines is a crucial step towards harnessing the nation's linguistic diversity as a resource for growth and development. It empowers students to navigate a globalized world while preserving their cultural identities, fostering inclusivity, and ultimately opening doors to a wide array of opportunities.

Looking Ahead

With the bounty of history behind the Filipino’s English competency and the continuous development of the government partnered with the rise of the digital economy the Philippines is most likely going to keep its status in the world for its High Proficiency in the English language. With more doors now opening up internationally and ease of access to technology, we may see the Philippines raising up English a notch higher for its new and upcoming generations.

Stay connected with us as we go in depth into the Philippines competency in technology and infrastructure and its continuous effort to catch up with the ever changing and speedy development of the digital world.

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SWS (2023) Social Weather Station. Available at: https://www.sws.org.ph/swsmain/artcldisppage/?artcsyscode=ART-20230816034841. (September 2023)

Philstar.com (2020) 2020 English Proficiency Index: Philippines out of world's Top 20 but is No.2 in Asia. Available at: https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2020/11/19/2058021/2020-english-proficiency-index-philippines-out-worlds-top-20-no2-asia. Accessed: September, 2023

EF EPI. (2022) The world’s largest ranking of countries and regions by English skills Available at: https://www.ef.com/wwen/epi/. Accessed: September, 2023

Cervantes, F. (2023) Philippine News Agency. Available at: https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1207936. Accessed: September, 2023

Nario, J (2023). Language Trainers. Available at: https://www.languagetrainers.ca/blog/the-languages-of-the-philippines/. Accessed: September, 2023

Department of Education (1987). DO 52, S. 1987 – THE 1987 POLICY ON BILINGUAL EDUCATION. Available at: https://www.deped.gov.ph/1987/05/21/do-52-s-1987-the-1987-policy-on-bilingual-education/. Accessed: September, 2023

Ligaya (2023). M.A.D Ligaya. Available at: https://madligaya.com/works-in-english/essays/about_the_philippines/_the-filipinos-and-the-english-language/. Accessed: September, 2023

MB Online (2019). Manila Bulletin. Available at: https://mb.com.ph/2019/05/01/filipino-accent-ranks-1st-sexiest-in-asia-21st-in-world-survey/. Accessed: September, 2023

BSC Education (no date). The Importance of the English Language. Available at: https://www.british-study.com/en/importance-of-english-language#:~:text=English%20is%20the%20official%20language,from%20all%20over%20the%20world . Accessed: September, 2023