The Philippine English System

English is very unique in the Philippines because we use it as the language of instruction, but not the language of home. (O’Connor, 1955) Not only that, we also use English in the government during political sessions or meetings, and in law firms and during prosecution hearings and documentation, English is always the common language. This shows that English is part of our culture and rivals the importance of the other languages in the Philippines.

English Class
English Class (Photo credit: Michael Sarver)

We became an English-speaking nation through the help of our teachers whom themselves had learned English as a second language. The Thomasites arrived in the Philippines on August 21, 1901 to set up a new public school system to teach basic education, and to train Filipino teachers with English as the medium of instruction. Our Filipino teachers, during that time, were exposed and immersed with native speaking pronunciations and comprehension. (Wikipedia)

In this way, English is the symbol of the successful assimilation of Americans in our country within 50 years of their occupation. They have influenced Filipinos to accept their culture, adapt their form of Government and embrace the American dream. (

However, for many, the American dream has ended. The destruction caused  by the war has been great. O’Connor cites that most of the native English teachers and non-native English teachers died during the war. Some of them lost their professions because they did not return to their classrooms when the war came to an end. Since the spoken language is learned by imitation of native speakers of the language, the lack of native speaker models has effected certain English sounds as enunciated by English-speaking Filipinos today. It is causing destruction within the educational system, and is causing the deterioration of our English proficiency year after year. She added that many of our children are not in school until they reach 9 or 10 or 11 years old. Aside from that, the school day was shortened in order accommodate more pupils, and other languages were added, which are compulsory to learn.

She believes that the factors mentioned above are the reasons why our English is becoming exceedingly “vernacularized” in sounds, sentence structures, intonation, and even vocabulary. This is the result of not having a native-English speaking model.

I think that our nationalistic mentality towards English as a trace of American colonial influence causes pain for some Filipinos – they seek to do away with it as the medium of instruction. As a result, this has creates another challenge for Filipinos in learning the language. According to Krashens, emotion is the most important factor in helping students to be successful in learning the language. Thus, we should try to decrease the effectiveness of these problems and emotional barriers. In this way, we should slowly and gently introduce other languages to people, while still maintaining respect for their first language. I agree with Doray Espinosa, who was referring to the English language, as quoted below:

“That language is the key to understanding others. What many Filipinos miss is that English can also can 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.”

My theory is that even if we have all the resources and native speaker models needed, because students are not motivated due to the nationalistic beliefs that they live by, learning will not be successful.

The goal of my study is to return to the English norms. This is important so that standard speaking areas can be understood, studied, and accepted. Even if we have Filipino English; it is not enough to claim English to be our own because we do not have acceptable standards. It may be correct for us, but still incorrect when we take IELTS and TOEFL iBT examinations. English is our second language, but it is not our mother tongue. If we do not meet the accepted standards in English, the prestige of the Philippines as an English Speaking nation will continue to decline.

Andrew King of IDP Education’s country Director for the Philippines was disappointed in the IELTS 2008 results for Filipinos who seek to work abroad because Philippines placed second with a score of 6.69. Malaysia placed first at 6.71; Indonesia, third at 5.99; India, fourth at 5.79; and Thailand fifth at 5.71.

Lorelie Fajardo, the deputy Presidential official, admitted that there is a problem.  The majority of elementary and secondary school teachers have average proficiency scores in English – 50% for elementary teachers and 67% for secondary teachers.

Karl Wilson cited Ms. Fajardo that the government is aware of the problem, and in fact, they earmarked 1.1 billion pesos to train teachers in math, science and English skills.  Mr. King also mentioned factors that deteriorate English proficiency today. First, the quality of teachers and their grasp of English is flunking; second, English textbooks are full of errors; third, the number of English television channels on TV has dropped from 4 to 1; fourth, incorrect usage of the language on local TV newscast; fifth, technology which favors speed and levity, but poor written skills because of those chatting and SMS messaging on cell phones; sixth, snobbery – we think that someone is a snob when they speak English; finally, fewer books and overcrowding of children in the classroom.

Another reason that Ms. Ventura and Mr. Ligarte Guinto have pointed out is that we do not have clear language policies on English Language instruction. Their concern is about culture correction and punishment attached to English language education. This is also a reason children are afraid to speak in English.

I wish to focus on helping to solve these problems. I strongly believe that we can speak English better when we think more in English. Thus, we should immerse ourselves in “good speech.” O’ Connor defines good speech as the spoken language of those whose practices are worthy of respect and imitation. Like for example, it is good to emulate the professionals, news casters like CNN and BBC, who speak neutral English, or English that is understood by the whole world. We should discriminate in our choices of patterns to be imitated as models.

English is a powerful tool and an affordable skill to learn that can increase ones position, respectability and marketability. In most cases, if you have a better ability to understand and use the English language, you will have a better chance of career advancement and Filipino leadership opportunities locally, nationally and internationally. I believe that our educational system still has hope of improving despite of the challenges we face. By improving our teaching techniques, we can improve our grasp of the English language.  If so, perhaps one day, we can be proud that we have raised the prestige of our country among foreigners and the use of English can be a credit to our Filipino citizenship.  If this is indeed the case, Call Center Companies may invest more in the Philippines and Filipinos may get higher scores in international testing (IELTS or TOEFL iBT).


Freeman, Dianne L. 2000. Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching. Second Edition. Oxford University Press.

O’Connor, L. 1955. Philippine Speech Manual. Second Printing 1959. McCullongh Printing Company( Division of Philippine Education Corporation). Manila Philippines.

Baxter J. 2009-2010. Introduction to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages Reader. Cebu Graduate School of Theology.

Wilhelm Kim H.  November 2006. No Books and 150 Students? English  Teaching Forum.





One Comment Add yours

  1. maricelmar says:

    Thank you Lester for liking this post.

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