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Pinoys’ English proficiency recovers

May 16, 2008 1:19am
MANILA, Philippines - Most Filipinos believe they have improved in terms of English proficiency but challenges remain, a new survey showed.

The study, commissioned by the American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines (AmCham) and the Makati Business Club (MBC), was conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) earlier this year.

The Self-Assessed English Competence and Personal Usage of the English Language survey showed improvements compared to previous studies done in 1993, 2000, and 2006.

"A decline in competence was found in previous rounds from 1993 to 2006 but substantial recovery has occurred in 2008. We hope it’s a real improvement and not just the awareness of how important English is that boosted it," SWS President Mahar Mangahas said.

The results showed that thinking in English was the most difficult for Filipinos, followed by speaking and understanding spoken English. The scores for speaking and thinking in English, in fact, were far from previous highs.

In terms of understanding spoken English, 76% of the respondents replied in the affirmative, compared to 65% in 2006, 77% in 2000 and 74% in 1993.

Asked if they read English, 75% said yes, up from 65% in 2006. The score was 76% in 2000 and 73% in 1993.

For writing, 61% said they could do it in English, a substantial gain from 2006’s 48%. It marked a return to the 61% in 2000 and was also better than the 59% recorded in 1993.

The speaking English score, at 46%, was an improvement from 2006’s 32% but remained below the 54% in 2000 and 55% in 1993.

In terms of thinking in English, the latest score was 38%, a gain from 2006’s 27% but below 2000’s 44% and 1993’s 42%.

Only 8% said they were not competent in any way in terms of the English language, better than the 14% in 2006 and the 7% for both 2000 and 1993.

Another survey needed

Former Department of Education Secretary Edilberto de Jesus said a separate study should be conducted to test actual English competency.

"While it’s good news, it’s also surprising. It’s quite a turnaround in just two years. While we see the results as an improvement, it’s also incumbent to ask what happened in the last two years," he said in an interview.

"We hope the results accurately reflect the real situation."

Improved self-assessed English competence could be traced to government and private sector initiatives to enhancing basic education, MBC President and Philippine Business for Education Chairman Ramon del Rosario, Jr. said.

"It could also be market-driven since people are always talking about the lack of English proficiency in the country. Market demand for English proficiency will continue to be strong and English proficiency will continue to be an important strength of the Philippines ," he said.

He stressed that both the government and private sector should not be complacent, as strong English skills will continue to be one of the country’s growth drivers.

Problems remain

"The problem of English proficiency is reflective of the problems of basic education as whole. There are also problems in Mathematics and Science, not only English. We should address this all at the same time," he said.

AmCham President Rick Santos said English proficiency was considered a significant plus when applying for jobs in emerging industries such as tourism and business process outsourcing.

He said the Philippines should continue to improve competencies in speaking, reading and writing in English to take advantage of global economic opportunities.

The 2008 assessment survey, conducted from March 30 to April 2, questioned 1,200 adults.

The SWS said 13% of the respondents were from Metro Manila, 44% from Luzon, 20% from the Visayas, and 23% from Mindanao. - BusinessWorld