When you are visiting any new country, your language becomes part of your passport as it may or may not create an instant connection with their people. For example, if you can speak well in English and you are visiting France you will be asked to learn few words in French for sure; but if you are visiting United States your English will help you communicate easily. Similarly, in Philippines, as soon as you come out of immigration at Ninoy Aquino International airport, the first question you might hear is “Sir/Madam would you like to hire a taxi?”. These familiar words are as comforting as you realize that there will be an instant connection through the common spoken language -English.
The Philippines is the third largest English speaking country in the world. The country welcomes thousands of tourists from across the globe every day and is home to several foreign students, one might conclude its use of English language widely used across the country could be the key here!
More than 7000 islands together make up the Philippines; their people speak about 150 different languages. They have 2 national and 12 auxiliary languages; this mix is enough to confuse foreign expats. However, English being its second commonly used language completely overcomes the hurdle for tourists and foreign students to coexist with the local communities.
The original official language of the Philippines was Spanish for many centuries until the early half of the 20th century. Then, under US occupation, English was introduced into their schools; in 1935 English was added to the constitution alongside with Spanish as an official national language. In 1937 aggressive steps were taken to develop a national language based on one of the existing native languages. Tagalog was chosen as the base language and, in 1973, English became official language widely popular and accepted by Filipino people. Ever since Philippines has attracted high volume of English speaking foreign visitors for trade, business and education.
Education: Extremely similar to India, Philippines schools also teach in Filipino and English mediums. English medium schools and classroom are given all instruction in English only and is quite popular among the local communities; despite English not being spoken commonly in traditional households! As a result, most Filipinos, especially in urban areas, can speak a decent level of English. This fact is reassuring for English Speaking foreign expats, and definitely helps them settle and even penetrate in local Filipino communities. The Philippines education system is influenced by American education system. Entire curriculum is taught in English for English medium private schools.
Media: In comparison to some European countries where English media/news/TV is telecast with subtitles, Philippines is different. English is heard commonly on TV and radios!
Daily Usage: It is safe to say that any English-speaking tourist or student can easily survive travelling around the Philippines. Billboards, restaurant menus, bus/train tickets, trade billing, hospitals and stores information are most likely to be printed in English and people will be speaking in English around. Just like any other rural place in any other country the more rural you go, the more provincial the place is, you will find less use of English.
Aside from its bountiful natural resources, the other main wealth of the Philippines is perhaps its people! Despite of poverty and corruption that still pervade in the country, the current generation of Filipinos have aptly demonstrated they can surpass the achievements of their elders and raise their standards of living in the country. The Philippine youth is seen readily willing to go to a great extend to welcome foreign communities in their country for trade, business and education. Filipino youth is enthusiastic to understand, appreciate and respect other cultures if given a chance.
So, if you feel a local Filipino is not getting what you are trying to say, it is important that you smile and make it sound like an easy question, they will certainly get more comfortable speaking to you then. The key is to smile and sound friendly, and you will be surprised to see their eagerness to help out! As they say “A smile goes a long way for a Filipino.”