All along we thought that we Filipinos enjoyed a clear advantage over
our neighbors in Southeast Asia or even in the Middle East when it came to our ability to communicate in English.
After all, we were a colony of the United States from the turn of the 20th century up to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1941 and we were heavily influenced by American culture, particularly Hollywood movies, after independence in 1946. Since then, many Filipinos had wanted to migrate to the land of our former colonizer in search of the proverbial greener pastures.
Now, it turns out, our English proficiency skills are even lower than those of 1230other countries that only lately have seriously tried to learn how to speak English, now considered the universal language in business.
We take pride in our ability to understand and speak English—that's one advantage we though we have over other nationalities in the global labor market—but a recent study shatters this myth.
A two-year study by Hopkins International Partners has concluded that the English proficiency level of college graduates in the Philippines is lower than the proficiency target set for high school students in Thailand and the competency requirement for taxi drivers in Dubai.
According to the study, the average English proficiency score of a Filipino college graduate is 631.4, based on the metrics of the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) P. In comparison, cab drivers in Dubai, United Arab Emirates have a TOEIC proficiency score of 650 while business process outsourcing agents have a score of 850.
In the Common European Framework of Reference of Languages, where A1 represented basic users and C2 meant proficient users, the level of Filipino college graduates is at B1, lower than the B2 target for Thai high school graduates.
What this highlights is the need for government, business and academe to sit together and work out ways to improve communication skills in and out of the formal education system, especially since we deploy hundreds of thousands of OFWs every year to distant shores, many with only rudimentary knowledge of English. That may be enough for everyday communication at work, but hardly adequate for career advancement and higher pay.