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Philippine English is not American English: What are the Differences Between Filipino English and English Spoken by Native Speakers in English-Speaking Countries?
Written by Marla Simpson   

Did you know that Filipino English is essentially a different language than American English?  According to a study published on the Ritsumeikan University website, Filipino English is systemically different from English spoken in English-speaking countries.  In Philippine English: A Case of Language Drift by Jonathan Malicsi in the Sepetember 2010 issue of Ritsumeikan Studies in Launguage and Culture, the author compared Filipino English with what the author called “International English”.  “International English” is a general term for the type of English used in print and broadcast media in English-speaking countries such as the United States, the U.K., Australia and Canada.  In the study, Malicsi examined the language of English teachers, media practitioners and leaders of society in the Philippines.  Remarkably, even Filipino college and university English instructors -- some of the best English speakers in the country – can’t identify the correct International English form on average 25% of the time in tests.  While this might not be a problem for Filipinos communicating with each other, for learners in other countries whose goal is to speak American English, or to perform well on a TOEIC test, then a 25% or greater difference in language can be quite significant.


How do the language differences between Filipino and native English affect learning?

Filipino Language Differences Can Cause Problems for Beginners

Imagine that you are traveling abroad and have just finished a nice meal with food and drinks.  Wanting to relieve yourself, you ask, “Where is the comfort room please?”  Because the listener doesn’t understand what a “comfort room” is, he will try to guess.  If the restaurant is in a hotel, he might guess that you want a “comfortable room” and direct you to the reception desk of the hotel.  Outside of a hotel, it could just cause confusion and embarrassment.

Alternatively, consider that you have just asked for directions and someone is trying to help you.  She says, ‘I’ll go ahead,” and starts walking away.  In Filipino English, “I’ll go ahead,” means goodbye.  In International English it means, “I’ll go first.  Please follow me.” or “I’ll go first.  Please meet me there.”  If you only know Filipino English, you will think the conversation is over and will leave your conversation partner waiting expectantly.

Filipino Language Differences Can Cause Problems for Test Takers

Outside of the Philippines, your English will be evaluated according to International English standards.  Each “error” in International English adds to the potential for confusion and reduces your score.  This also means that students studying with Filipino teachers may be creating a cap on their own achievement.  Even if they are able to match their teacher’s proficiency, they limit their own top score to the highest score their teacher can also achieve.  With the Philippines’ top English educators making mistakes 25% of the time or more, it’s safe to assume that lower level teachers are teaching error-ridden English far more often than that. That could have a dramatic effect on test-takers scores’.

Filipino Language and Cultural Differences Can Cause the Greatest Problems for Business People and Other Professionals

Both the language and the cultural differences between the two types of English cause problems in business and formal communication.

First, in terms of the language alone, as the task becomes more complex, the disparity between Filipino English and International English becomes more problematic.  It is far easier to understand a short sentence with one error than it is to understand a long, complex sentence with several errors.  The cumulative effect of a number of small differences in grammar, word use, idioms and pronunciation can cause real communication problems during complex tasks like negotiation, relationship building, and problem solving.

However for business people and other professionals using English in their work, the impact of the cultural differences between Filipino English and International English is even greater than the linguistic differences and is even more likely to cause a lost sale or to end a business relationship.  For example, in American business culture, we strive to project neutrality regarding age, gender, race and religious affiliations.  There are good reasons for this.  Discriminating according to these criteria is illegal in the United States.  Therefore, in formal business communication we generally avoid mentioning our own age, gender, race or religious affiliation.  In contrast, Conversations Direct’s research identified several Filipino examples of formal business communication with religious overtones.  This is just one example of a cultural difference in business communication styles.  There are many others.  Unfortunately, the result is that Filipino business communication can sometimes make a bad impression on the reader or listener.  Given the choice between several roughly equal options, International English speakers will choose better communicators most of the time.  Likewise, American English speakers often have a business advantage.  According to the Time Magazine article, Phonesourcing: Bringing Call Centers Back to the U.S., U.S.-based call handlers sold 30% more office supplies to medium-size businesses than a comparable Philippine-based team had.

Filipino English Differences are Especially Hard for East Asian Language-Speakers to Detect

Why have European and South American learners shown virtually no interest in learning English from Filipino teachers, while East Asians have flocked to cheap Filipino English schools?  One difference might be that speakers of European languages can detect the differences between Filipino English and International English more easily.  For example, when French or Spanish speakers learn about articles (“a”, “an” and “the”), they can often translate the article from their own language into English to make a correct sentence.  For European Language-speakers is simply a different word for the same linguistic concept.  For Japanese- or Korean-speakers, it’s an entirely different story.  The idea of using an article is foreign, making it difficult to identify a Filipino teacher is making a mistake.  Indeed, many of the differences between Filipino English and International English parallel the differences between other East Asian languages and English.  Therefore, they are especially difficult for East Asian language-speakers to recognize.  Sadly, this means that students who first study with Filipino teachers then switch to native English speakers will have to work even harder to learn those aspects of International English grammar that are most difficult for them to learn in the first place.

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