Notes on English in the Philippines

English as a Global Language

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An aerial view of Manila, capital city of the Philippines. (Eternity in an Instant/Getty Images)

"Do Filipinos speak English?"

That question showed up in an email from an American journalist writing about the aftermath of the typhoon that devastated the Philippines in 2013.

Yes, I told her, many Filipinos do speak English. In fact, it's one of the two official languages of the country (the other is Filipino, or Tagalog), and roughly two-thirds of the population have some degree of fluency in English.

That was all she needed to know for her story. But for the rest of the day, as I kept up with news about the ongoing relief efforts, the reporter's simple question stuck in my head. How little most of us know, I thought, about the spread of the English language beyond our own shores.

So, for my benefit as much as yours, I put together a few notes on Philippine English, just one of the many varieties of World English.

  • "The linguistic background and colonial history of the Philippines provides an illuminating example of the development of a new variety of English. The Philippines is made up of a population of some 72 million people who together speak some 85 Malayo-Polynesian languages and live on some 7,000 islands. . . . [I]t was a colony of Spain from 1521 until it came under American rule in 1895."
    (Andy Kirkpatrick, World Englishes. Cambridge University Press, 2007)
  • "English-medium education began in the Philippines in 1901 after the arrival of some 540 US teachers. English was made the language of education and as its use extended it became indigenized through the inclusion of vocabulary from local languages, the adaptation of English words to local needs, and modifications in pronunciation and grammar. English was also adopted for newspapers and magazines, the media, and literary writing."
    (Tom McArthur, The Oxford Guide to World English. Oxford University Press, 2002)
  • "[T]he latest results from a Social Weather Stations (2006) survey suggest that some 65 percent of the population [of the Philippines] claim the ability to understand spoken and written English, with 48 percent stating that they write English, but with only 32 percent reporting that they speak the language."
    (Ma. Lourdes S. Bautista and Kingsley Bolton, Philippine English: Linguistic and Literary Perspectives. Hong Kong University Press, 2009)
  • "The Philippines is fast becoming the world's low-cost English language teacher--with rapid increases in overseas students coming to learn English or study in English-speaking universities.

    "There might be other countries that people think about as a classic place to learn English, such as the UK, the US or Australia.

    "But there is one key reason that they are switching to the Philippines. It's much cheaper. And in the competitive market for language students, it means the Philippines is attracting people from countries such as Iran, Libya, Brazil and Russia. . . .

    "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."
    (Kate McGeown, "The Philippines: The World's Budget English Teacher." BBC News, November 11, 2012)
  • "[T]he Philippines has taken over India as a hub for call centers. Their English is better. The islands attained a score above 7 [on a scale of 1 to 10], putting them within range of a high proficiency that indicates an ability to lead business discussions and perform complex tasks."
    (Kenneth Rapoza, "Countries With the Best Business English." Forbes, April 4, 2012)
  • Many speakers in the Philippines use a dialectal mixture of English and Tagalog (or Filipino) that's called Taglish. "Taglish is the creation of educated Filipinos. . . . Mixing Tagalog and English is so widespread in Metro Manila that it is hard to say what the home language is since educated Manilans learn English as a second language in the home. In essence, Taglish has become Filipino street English."
    (Roger M. Thompson, Filipino English and Taglish: Language Switching from Multiple Perspectives. John Benjamins, 2003)

As a final note, if you'd like to help with relief efforts, please visit the website of the Philippine Red Cross. (That site, by the way, is in English.)

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Nordquist, Richard. "Notes on English in the Philippines." ThoughtCo, Jun. 16, 2015, thoughtco.com/notes-on-english-in-the-philippines-3972776. Nordquist, Richard. (2015, June 16). Notes on English in the Philippines. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/notes-on-english-in-the-philippines-3972776 Nordquist, Richard. "Notes on English in the Philippines." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/notes-on-english-in-the-philippines-3972776 (accessed December 12, 2017).