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Economic Importance Of The English Language English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3981 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The Filipinos first encountered the English language when British ships arrive at Manila, the capital of the Philippines, during the Battle of Manilaalthough the language flourished during the American occupation. The Philippines became an insular area of the United States when the Philippines was ceded by Spain to the United States for US$20 million dollars in the 1898 Treaty of Paris after the defeat of Spain in the Spanish-American War after being a colony of Spain for more than three centuries. The Philippines then remain an insular area of the United States until 1946 when the Philippines gained independence from the Americans. [2] 

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In 1901, a group of around five 500 American educators called “Thomasites” (derived from the USS Thomas, the transport ship that brought them to the Philippines) replaced the American soldiers who also functioned as teachers. They were sent to the Philippines to establish a new highly centralized public school system, to teach basic education and to train Filipino teachers using English as the medium of instruction. In 1902, more American teachers followed the Thomasites bringing the total count of American teachers to about 1,074 [3] .

In 1935, English was officially added as an official language alongside Spanish in the 1935 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines. [4] 38 years later, during the promulgation of the 1973 Constitution, English remained as an official language adding Filipino and dropping Spanish during the process. [5] The stature of English as an official language remains until today as stated by the 1987 Constitution. [6] 

At present, based on the census released by the Philippine government in 2005, the Philippines has 27,000 people who considers English as their first language and 42,500,000 who regard it as a second language which brings the total of English speakers in the Philippines to 45,900,000 making it the 5th largest English-speaking nation behind the United States, India, Nigeria, and the United Kingdom. [7] 

English and its Economic Importance

The Americans, during their 48-year occupation, influenced the Filipinos in a lot of ways: the American education system, the American form of government, the American Dream and the Western culture to name a few. But the most important gift that the Americans have imparted the Filipinos may have been the English language.

English is used in the Philippines by media and various educated Filipinos. English is widely used in the education field. It is considered as a major subject and is taught in the Philippines from grade one to college and is the medium of instructions in many schools. Most school textbooks for subjects such as Biology, Physics, Mathematics and others are printed in English and are rarely has Filipino versions. Also, for highly technical subjects such as nursing, medicine, computing, and calculus, English is the preferred medium for textbooks, communication, etc. Aside from education, it is also used religious affairs, print and broadcast media, and business. Movies and TV programs in English are not subtitled and are expected to be directly understood. [8] 

The most significant contribution of the English language to the Philippines though might be on the socio-economic field. Due to the Filipinos strong command of the English language, several opportunities opened for their country. These opportunities are mainly: overseas employment, the outsourcing industry, tourism, and enrollment of international students in the Philippines.

The reason for Filipinos leaving the country is simple: life is hard in the Philippines. Around 35.79 million or 40% of the 91.5 million of the population are under the Poverty Line. The situation of their country forced the Filipinos to seek greener pasture abroad. Lack of job opportunities in their country and higher salaries that exceed those given in the Philippines pushed Filipinos to go abroad in their attempt for better life. As of 2007, there are about 8 million Overseas Filipinos Workers (OFWs), who are seeking work overseas. This doesn’t include 3 million Filipinos who are now citizens of other who are now permanent residents of other countries bringing the total to 11 million, equivalent to about 12% of the total population or 30.7 percent of the country’s labor force of 35.79 million of the Philippines. [9] Annually, an approximate of 1 million Filipinos depart for work abroad through overseas employment agencies and other programs, including government sponsored ones. Since Filipinos are conversant in English, foreign employers prefer them over their counterparts. English-speaking countries, in particular, saw a rise in the number of Filipinos, mostly OFWS, in their respective countries making them as preferred places by OFWS because of the absence of a language barrier due mainly to the English competence of Filipinos. In the United States alone, there reside around 4 million Filipinos. Meanwhile, United Kingdom is considered home by around 200,000 OFWs. In December 2008, the Philippines passed China as the leading source of immigrants of Canada. Several Filipinos can also be found in Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Nigeria, Middle East, Ireland, Mexico, Iraq, Spain, Japan and etc. OFWs often work as doctors, physical therapists, accountants, IT professionals, engineers, architects, entertainers, technicians, teachers, military servicemen, seafarers, nurses, personal service workers, caregivers, domestic helpers and household maids. Remittances, in the form of money, sent by the overseas Filipino workers (commonly known as OFWs) back to the Philippines, are major factor in the country’s economy, amounting to more than US$10 billion in 2005. This makes Philippines the fourth largest recipient of foreign remittances behind India, China, and Mexico. The amount accounts for 13.5% of the Philippines’ GDP, the largest in proportion to the domestic economy among the four countries mentioned. [10] 

Meanwhile, the business process outsourcing industry is an area which has rapidly developed thanks to the Philippines having an English-speaking workforce. Business process outsourcing (BPO) is a subset of outsourcing that involves the contracting of the operations and responsibilities of specific business functions (or processes) to a third-party service provider. [11] 

This industry is regarded as one of the fastest growing industries in the world. BPO industry in the Philippines has grown 46% annually since 2006. This boom is led by demand for offshore call centers. Industry estimates from the Board of Investments, Business Process Association of the Philippines (BPA/P) and BPO Services Association (BSA/U) put the number of people employed by the BPO sector by end of 2008 at 435,000 (vs. 372,000 in 2007). The BPO output for 2008 was US$ 6.1B (vs. US$ 4.5B in 2007), putting the Philippines as the 3rd largest BPO destination (15%) after India (37%) and Canada (27%). It is expected to hit US$ 7.2B to 7.5B in 2009. The industry was optimistic of 18% growth in headcount 2009. Overall, Philippine BPO is forecast to earn between US $11 to 13 billion and employing 900,000 additional people in 2010.  [12] 

Tourism, an industry which has a lot of job-generating opportunities, is another area where Filipinos are finding more job opportunities for their English skills. The tourism industry plays an important role in the Philippine economy. The industry has an annual revenue of $2.25 billion dollars. In 2008, amidst the global financial crisis there were still over three million tourists who visited the country. [13] Aside from the myriad of cultures, beautiful sights to name a few, the capability of most Filipinos to converse in English is one of the reasons for the continuous inflow of tourists in the Philippines.

“Our nation is comprised of 7,107 islands with a diversity of culture that rivals the U.S.,” observes Emma Ruth Yulo, director of the Philippine Department of Tourism in New York, “but English is widely spoken throughout the Philippines, making our American visitors feel safe and welcome.” [14] 

In 2004, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the Department of Tourism (DoT), the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and the Bureau of Immigration (BI) signed a memorandum of agreement (MoA) on the “English as Second Language” Program (ESL), which aims to make the Philippines not only a tourist destination but also a destination for learning the English language.

DFA Acting Secretary Jose Brillantes said the ESL Program aims to increase tourist arrivals in the Philippines by offering to foreigners not only a tour of the Philippines but also an English proficiency program. [15] 

This memorandum must been the reason for the recent large influx of Asian students especially South Koreans that has come to the Philippines to study English. This shows that the Philippines, third largest English-speaking nation in the world and the biggest in Asia before being overtaken by` India, have become a haven for people who want quality English education at an affordable cost.

“The Philippines, following intensive efforts to promote medical tourism in the country, has now launched measures to attract Asian students to its colleges and universities. The so-called ‘education tourism’ is targeting students from China and India to join the thousands of Taiwanese and Korean students already in the Philippines for short-term courses or full college degrees. Carlito Puno, chairman of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), is leading the Philippines’ efforts at ‘education tourism.’ In June 2007, the Philippines government and the Education Ministry of China signed a memorandum that would welcome and allow Chinese students who are not able to enroll in Chinese universities to pursue their studies in the Philippines. 

The government of the Philippines claims that the country is a good option for foreign students since it offers tertiary education system and proficiency in English language that is of good quality at comparatively cheap rates. 

According to the Commission on Higher Education, by September 2007, a batch of over 1,500 Indian students is due to arrive and enroll in colleges and universities in the Philippines. Currently, over 100,000 Koreans are in the Philippines pursuing mostly English-language courses.” [16]  


Despite of the economic benefits of being an English-speaking nation, Filipinos haven’t been maximizing it and in fact, studies are showing that the Filipinos’ grasp of the English language is slipping while other Asians are fast catching up. Studies done by Reputable international organizations such as the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) shows that the English skills of Filipinos are deteriorating. In 2008, in an article written by Karl Wilson published online by The National, Filipinos scored an overall mean of 6.69 for listening, writing, reading, and speaking, a very low number based on international standards. [17] In a nationwide survey conducted on 1200 adults in March 8-14 of 2006 by Social Weather Stations or SWS, a public opinion polling body in the Philippines, showed the declining English competence of Filipinos by earlier SWS surveys done in December 1993 and September 2000 to the recent one. [18] Looking at the graph below, we can see that the English proficiency of Filipinos have been very stable from 1993-2000 and that the decline is just a recent phenomenon. The most alarming statistic was the rise in the percentage of the surveyed respondents who are incompetent in English which doubled from a measly 7% in 1993 and 2006 to 147 in 2006.


Figure Self-assessed English Competence of Filipino Adults, December 1993, September 2000 and March 2006

One of the most commonly given reason for the decline in the English proficiency was the introduction of the Filipino as the national language. When the Philippines gained independence in 1946, English was so well established that it remained an official language, along with Spanish. Then, in 1973, the constitution imposed by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos made Filipino (based on the local tongue of Manila and the surrounding provinces) an official language alongside English. In the 1970s, Filipino began to replace English as the main language of instruction in schools, in the name of nation building. Since then, advertisers have increasingly run media campaigns in Filipino to target the mass market. Also, results of National Achievement Test (NAT) from school years 2002 to 2005 showed higher ratings in Science and Math than in English suggesting that English may not be the medium of instruction for teaching these subjects. [19] 

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The deterioration of the quality of education due mainly to the equally underachieving economy of the Philippines was also regarded as a factor. Results from a study conducted by the by the Department of Education in 2004 showed that only 1 in 5 public high school teachers is proficient in the English language. According to the Department of Education, around 13,200 public school teachers in the elementary level or 13% the total were found lacking in English proficiency while of around 1,300 or 1% of the total high school teachers were not proficient in English. [20] Former Department of Education Secretary Jesli Lapuz stated that he, himself, hears stories of students complaining about teachers that lacks English competence. [21] The English inadequacy of the teachers, meanwhile, directly affects their students. About 43 percent of students finish high school and only 2 percent finish college. [22] 

The decline in the English skills of Filipinos has been widely criticized. The growing BPO industry in the country is one of the sectors that have difficulty in filling up positions due to low recruitment yield and lack of applicants fluent in English. A 2007 study by the Business Process Association of the Philippines (BPAP) and Outsource2Philippines.com showed that 46 percent of the companies surveyed found only 6 to 20 percent of applicants qualified. [23] Long-term foreign residents say that in the late 1960s it was possible to converse in English with almost any Filipino that had attended elementary school. They say it is now hard to find ordinary Filipinos under the age of 40 who can speak English confidently. [24] 

Reversing the Decline

The local government of the Philippines recognizes the decline in the nation’s English proficiency and has been initiating efforts in trying to reverse this decline.

In May 17, 2003, to address this problem of decreasing competence in English among Filipinos, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed Executive Order 210. The order recognized that there is a need to develop the aptitude, competence and proficiency of our students in the English language to maintain and improve their competitive edge in emerging and fast-growing local and international industries, particularly in the area of Information and Communications Technology [ICT]. [25] The order stated three policies: the teaching of the English as a second language starting form the first grade, the use of English the medium of instruction for English, Mathematics and Science starting from the third grade, and the use of the English language as the primary medium of instruction in all public and private institutions of learning in the secondary level, including those established as laboratory and/or experimental schools, and non-formal and vocational or technical educational institutions. [26] 

In early 2007, President Arroyo directed the Department of Education to use English as the medium of instruction in all school levels. [27] In the same year, P500 million was released by President Arroyo to the Department of Education for the implementation its English proficiency improvement program. [28] The government has also mandated remedial English classes for teachers.

A bill authored by Cebu 1st District Representative Eduardo Gullas is also intended to help in the reversal of this decline. The House Bill 5619 or “An Act to Strengthen and Enhance the Use of English as Medium of Instruction in Philippine Schools prescribes the use of English, Filipino or the regional/native language from pre-school to Grade 3 and the use of English as the teaching language in all academic subjects from grades 4 to 6, and in all levels of high school. [29] Although As of January 16, 2009, a reported 213 legislators, a number enough to pass the proposed bill into a law, have already agreed in co-authoring the bill with Gullas.

These government initiated efforts is actually working. In the same Karl Wilson article, there was a “slight improvement” in English in low-performing secondary schools in the Philippines according to the results from the National Achievement Tests of 2007 and 2008. [30] In a follow-up survey done by SWS in April 2008 by SWS improvements in the English competence in Filipinos can be seen in comparison to previous studies done in 1993, 2000, and 2006. Looking at Figure 2, we can see that the percentage of the respondents who are incompetent in English declined from 14% in 2006 to 8%, a slight indicator that the government is actually succeeding in its try to reverse the decline in the English proficiency of Filipinos.


Figure Self-assessed English Competence of Filipino Adults from December 1993 to April 2008 [31] 


This essay has attempted to show the economic importance of the English language in the Philippines by analyzing the economic benefits of an English competent country, a nationwide decline in English proficiency and the efforts of the government to reverse it.

Language has different purposes. Its primary purpose is to communicate. Through language, we can convey information and emotions while understanding others simultaneously. Language is the main means of interaction between humans merging individuals and creating human societies. Language, through intelligent usage, has also the capability to influence one’s way of thinking making it as a useful tool for provoking such as propaganda. Language though can be utilized in more ways and the Philippines shows us that a language, English, can be used for economic development.

The American occupation left the Philippines and imparted the Philippines of what will be later known as the global language, English. The Filipinos knowledge of the language was useful in their quest for better life abroad for they were preferred by foreign employers for their English skills, aside from being skilled laborers or qualified professionals at cheaper costs. Coincidentally, the Filipinos sending of remittances back to the Philippines have not only helped their family and relatives but also their country. The remittances that they send add to the foreign exchange earnings of the Philippines and account for 10% of its GDP helping the Philippines weather the recent 2008 global financial crisis.

The Filipinos have also been able maximized their proficiency in English even inside the country through the recent demand of workers in the Business Process Outsourcing Industry, tourism (both having large job-generating opportunities) and enrollment of international students in the Philippines.

These economic benefits of the English language are highly recognized by the Filipinos and especially the government. The decline in the English proficiency in Filipinos was quickly acted upon by the government, providing legislative actions although the implementation of these is something to be looked upon. The patriotism of Filipinos, evident in wanting and preserving a national language, which eventually was one of the reasons for the decline in their English proficiency is also something to be further studied.


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