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The Philippines and ESL (English as Second Language)

No matter how perplexing it may seem to many native English-speaking countries, the Philippines holds an ace as a major ESL or English as Second Language destination.

This country has the chance to become a major ESL destination...... if it does it the right way.....

Thanks to the 50 years of American colonization, the English language has become a permanent way of life in the Philippines. The language has become the de facto tool for communication in education, news, and official documents and conversations.

The Filipinos also has the uncanny ability to mimic accents that would almost be indistinguishable from native English speakers.

The English language has also become the global lingua franca towards effective communications and business deals. It does not matter if there are more people who speak Mandarin or Russian. It is still English that is the common denominator when two people want to understand each other.

Learning the English language has also evolved into a convenient excuse to travel to other countries. So you have hordes of people coming from newly rich countries traveling to western destinations to "learn English."

This is where the Philippines can conveniently position itself as an ESL destination. Its education system based on the English language is already widespread and has attained a permanency in the way of education in the academe. Plus, there are a lot of potential English instructors available to be made part of the labor pool.

The main differentiator of the Philippines is the cost of getting the language education compared to other destinations like the U.S., U.K or Australia. Unlike the typical tourist who stays between 3 - 7 days, a serious ESL student/tourist can stay between 1 - 3 months (or even longer) to really learn the language. Thus, cost is a real motivation to consider the Philippines as a preferred destination. Of course, there are subliminal images of great beaches, scenery, food, golf, spa, scuba diving, and resorts that one can visit while he is trapped in this country.

If the Philippine tourism industry can actually play it right, ESL has a HUGE potential for the country, basically because of the often-proven theory of supply-and-demand.

There is a huge global market that has a keen interest on ESL. South Korea, for example, has been sending more than 100,000 ESL students to the Philippines annually. Yet, the number of suppliers are very, very few globally. And almost all of them are in the developed countries that have no choice but to offer their services at a very high cost.

Aside from India, I don't know of any other Asian destination that has a good local supply of ESL manpower. But then again, the Philippines has a very good edge over India as Filipinos are able to speak a more "neutral" English that has no heavy or easily recognizable regional slur or accent.

Of course, there are a number of valid reasons that can contradict the ESL viability in the Philippines such as the pronounced regional accent and relatively weak grammar of the greater population. Teaching English, though cannot be done by just about any Filipino, but by qualified instructors who undergo the usual skills training. This easily negates the "skill" concern.

Given the market size and the very limited number of competing destinations, ESL for the Philippines could actually be much, much bigger than other tourism sectors such as medical tourism and even scuba diving. Many other destinations are either at par or even ahead of the Philippines in product, skills, infrastructure development, and marketing when it comes to these other sectors. This is a very simple fact.

But the tourism industry in this country has been quite slow in grabbing this golden opportunity! It has only been a reactive agent in answering the minimum needs of this market segment. This trend is clearly seen by the number of ESL establishments that are largely focused on the Korean market. There are other nationalities that are waiting for the chance to learn English and have a grand vacation at the same time.

There is still that great opportunity to fully develop this sector. If really developed there is a good chance that the growing trend of Filipinos going abroad to teach English could be stopped or significantly slowed down. The continuing outbound trend will diminish the potential economic impacts of ESL to the entire country and it also perpetuates the steady outflow of Filipino teachers and their separation from their families.

Another reality check is that this edge will only be valid for I-don't-know-how-many-more-years! Other countries are developing their pools of English speakers that they will later have no need for minimally-developed ESL destinations.

This eventuality could be avoided if the Philippines could develop enough competency and marketability to the global market.

Unless the Philippines develops a highly organized and professional ESL industry with adequate facilities and operators, it will totally miss the boat, no - the cruise ship of ESL market


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