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Philippines: A Friendly Country for English Speakers

Author: Christopher Jackson

The Philippines has a long relationship with the English language that began at the turn of the 20th century with the American occupation of the country following the Spanish-American War and the subsequent Philippine-American War. More than 100 years later, the Philippines is officially a bilingual nation under the country's constitution, which distinguishes Filipino as the national language and both Filipino and English as official languages for communication and instruction. Filipino is a standardized form of the Tagalog language, just one of more than 150 recognized languages and dialects spoken in homes across the Philippines.

The status of English in the Philippines is unique among countries in Southeast Asia. Aside from the small city-state of Singapore, the Philippines is the only country in the region to mandate a fully bilingual public education for all children beginning in grade school. Under official policy, both Filipino and English are taught as language subjects in public schools, with English being the sole language used in science, mathematics and technology courses. This policy was introduced in 1987 following ratification of the country's new constitution. Its effects have made the Philippines an attractive destination for retirees and tourists hailing from English-speaking countries around the world.

The Prevalence of English in the Philippines

Although its official status has been in place for nearly 30 years, English has yet to reach into all corners of the country. It has, however, made substantial gains in the population. According to the 2000 Census of Population and Housing conducted by the Philippine National Statistics Office, the most recent of national language statistics, 63.7% of Filipinos over the age of 5 reported an ability to speak English. In comparison, 96.4% of Filipinos reported speaking Tagalog.

English prevalence in many of the more developed administrative regions of the Philippines, especially those covering the northern island of Luzon, was even higher, rising above 70%. In the case of metropolitan Manila, the capital of the Philippines, English-speaking ability was reported by nearly 82% of residents. On the other hand, relatively undeveloped rural areas of the country generally showed worse results, due largely to inadequate educational infrastructure. The Philippines has not yet reached developed-country status after all.

While updated figures are not available, reports suggest that practical English skills have become even more prevalent among the population during the last 15 years. Recent years have seen a substantial portion of the country's road signs converted into English, while many government documents are available only in English. Numerous locally produced English-language TV and radio stations are broadcast across the country, while dozens of daily national and local newspapers are distributed across the Philippines. English-language business signage is also more common than ever before. While Filipino and other languages and dialects are still primary languages for many Filipinos, the importance of the English language in the country continues to increase.

The Benefits for English-Speaking Visitors

English-language policy in the Philippines in recent decades has resulted in many fundamental changes in Filipino society. These changes have made the country more attractive to visitors from English-speaking countries. In fact, tourism in the Philippines is booming. In the years from 2004 to 2014, the annual number of foreign tourists visiting the Philippines more than doubled from 2.3 million to over 4.8 million. In 2014, four of the top 10 nationalities visiting the Philippines were from English-speaking countries: the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. The U.S. has ranked behind South Korea as the second-biggest of tourist arrivals to the Philippines for years, and the numbers continue to grow.

The Philippines is also growing as a retirement destination for English speakers. Although no official Filipino government statistics are available, International Living magazine ranks the Philippines among the fastest growing and most welcoming places to retire in the world. In its 2015 study of international retirement destinations, the magazine praises the Philippines' relatively low cost of living, its quality health-care system and its widespread use of English.

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