Project 7: 500,000? : History of English in the Philippines

English Class
English Class (Photo credit: Jesse Gardner)


Can anyone tell me what this number is about?

International research and surveys such as one done by IBM show that Philippines’ Universities are producing not less than 500,000 English speaking graduates each year which is very important for the continuously growing BPO industry in the country. ( )

In addition, The Philippines remain as the 5th Largest English Speaking country in the World.

Yes, we can speak English, but what about our proficiency? Even though we watch too many English films, read textbooks in English and even teach in English, that doesn’t mean that our English proficiency is good. Andrew King of IDP Education‘s and country Director for the Philippines was disappointed in the IELTS of 2008 when we placed second with a score of 6.69. In addition, Lorelie Fajardo, the deputy Presidential spokesman, admitted that there’s a problem. The majority of elementary and secondary school teachers have average proficiency scores in English of 50% for elementary teachers and 67% for secondary teachers.

I wonder why? Why does our English end up deteriorating? I can’t understand it . I know that there are a lot of factors contributing to it.

It has been said, if we want to know and understand what’s happening now and discover the future, we should study the past. The Philippines was one of the States of the United States of America from 1898 to 1940, and its official language and language of instruction s English. So, what happened?

First of all, it started with our leaders. Apolinario Mabini, who is a nationalist, refused to kneel down to Americans and instead they moved him to exile to Guam. From there, he was influenced with a vision of freedom. Not only him, but most of our revolutionary leaders studied and lived in exile in English -Speaking Hongkong under Great Britain. They had acquired the educational concept using English as the medium of instruction.

To make the long story short, Chaplain W.D Mckinnon organized the first teaching force from the soldier volunteers of the occupying army. Then, the Public Elementary system was established by the Department of Education under the second Philippine commission by the organic act of 1901 prescribing English be taught and used as the medium of instruction for all schools. After that, President William Mckinley changed the policy through the secretary of war, Elihn Root, so that local languages were to be used for education as a medium of instruction together with English as the principal foreign language. However, two years later, they returned to the norms of using English as a medium of instruction.

Later on, Thomasites who are native English speakers from US came at the end of 1901 – First they were 500, then 1000, and then reached 2000. American teachers came by the end of Francis Burton Harrison’s Administration in 1921.

After 20 years of the initial contigents, 9% are Filipinos, Filipino teachers. Filipinos learned English from Filipinos which is now called Philippine English.

In 1918, after 10 years, census shows 47.3% of the population learned English and could also read and write in English.

Amazing right? As you can see, American occupation had spread English the language within a 41 year span of time compared with 333 years of Spanish occupation, resulting in only 2% speaking in Spanish.

However, things changed after the destruction that came caused by the wrath of war. Most of the native English teachers and non-native English teachers died during the war. (O’Connor) 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 by native speakers of the language, the lack of native speaker models has affected certain sounds as enunciated by English-speaking Filipinos today. Our English now is becoming vernacularized. The destruction of war was the start of the deterioration of our English proficiency.

After a long history in which Philippine English has had no native English speakers model, I have realized that the problem is not really the failure to correct our educational system, it is our Filipino attitude. There are a lot of Filipinos who are acrolects, who can speak nearly like native speakers. On one hand, for many, the American dream has ended. For some Filipinos, this history is very painful. Their nationalistic mentality towards English as a trace of American colonial influence is the reason why they are unsuccessful in learning the language. Our Filipino attitude has made the English proficiency of the Filipinos decreased and vernacularized because we seek to do away with it and stop learning English.

As I end my speech, let’s remember what Doray Espinosa has said that English is the key to understanding ourselves. English after all, does not belong to America. If we only accept it with grace, and use it with wisdom, it can be belong to the rest of the world. And I hope one day after we change our mentality we are not only producing 500,000 English speakers each year, but we are producing year after year 500,000 proficient and confident English Filipino speakers.


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