Motivations to speak in English the Filipino way


Motivations are often theorised as the key in learning English, but why are they so difficult to pinpoint?

Motivations to learn English

The dreams of working abroad are the motivations of many Filipinos to learn English.
OFW, Oman photo by alfonso venzuela., licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

My Thai wife and I were contacted by the principal of a public school, where we had held two sessions of English camps, about the continuation of the said project. As an aside, we were also asked for the real reasons as to why many Filipinos are able to speak in English.

I was stunned for a while.

Sa totoo lang medyo natigilan ako. Sa mga sandaling yun hindi ako siguradong maipapaliwanag ko ang mga dahilan na naglalaro sa isipan ko.

I explained, as she must have heard from others or read about it, that several factors combined to make this sort of a phenomenon that has transformed a non-native English country to speak in English widely.

The most common reasons being cited (not in absolute terms), which I just repeated to the principal, include:

  1. Pilipino and English are the media of instruction even in public schools. Mainly English at the university level.
  2. English movies and TV series are not dubbed or subtitled in Pilipino. Some TV channels do.
  3. In primary school workbooks, an illustration of a dog is captioned simply as ‘dog’ and does not include the Filipino word ‘aso,’ the Tagalog word for dog. That was at least during my time.
  4. Our parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts and even grandparents can help children with their English home works.
  5. The American colonisation of the Philippines played the major role in spreading English. We have 8 major dialects and languages from a total of 135 (there were more). The use of English was, and still is, a convenient option for regional communication.

The principal asked, “Why not propagate Tagalog instead of English?” I answered, “Well, that’s a looooooooooong story!”

All of the listed reasons above help. I consider them the conditions for learning English, which is one side of the equation. Motivations are the second factor, but I prefer to use the word ‘rewards’.

One of these motivations, which is common to many students from various countries, is ‘to have good grades’. Having done very well makes both the student and the parents happy and proud, which also often leads to additional perks or gifts from parents.

A student wanting to join an English-speaking student group is another motivating factor; it’s a ‘sense of belonging’ type of reward.

The belief that English speaking ability can bring in better paying jobs is another motivator. This is more pronounced among university students, though.

Taking all of them out will most likely break the motivations to learn and practise English for most students, but not for many Filipinos, I believe.

Filipinos in general have one more instilled and homegrown motivation tucked away in their psyche, and that is, they want to work abroad so learning and communicating in English is a must.

Remove these motivations, especially the last one, and the number of English-speaking Filipinos should shrink to the level of the English-speaking population as that in Japan or Thailand.

In short, conditions and motivations are important. But I would put more emphasis on motivations or rewards, simply because a motivated student will create the conditions to learn and speak in English.

The principal said, “I see!”

Tama po ba ang mga paliwanag, kabayan?

 Let’s talk about English camp later. See sample English Camp.



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