Subject Material

English in the Philippines

Published: 08.09.2010, Updated: 03.03.2017
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Pre-reading: Do you know why English is spoken in the Philippines?

An English speaking Philipina

 

Eleonora Santos is from the Philippines. Her father had worked for many years as a guest labourer in Norway, and in 1978, when she was 18, he could eventually afford to buy tickets to reunite his family.

Eleonora Santos at a table filled with Phillipinian food. Photo.Eleonora Santos celebrating her birthday in Villa, the Philippines
Opphavsmann: Eli M. Huseby

Nora (most Filipinos have nicknames) was born in a bamboo hut in her grandmother’s backyard. Her native language was Pampango, one of the four major languages on the main island, Luzon. A few days before she was going to start Grade 1 in elementary school, Papasan (her father) hurriedly started rehearsing his daughters in the English alphabet.

Even though the Philippines gained its independence in 1946, all classes were taught in English. In the history classes they were just taught American history, and in   the geography classes they had to know all the American states by heart, leaving the impression that the Philippines were merely an American state. In Social Science they learned a little bit about the various races on the islands, including the many indigenous ethnic groups. Physiognomy - the disputed "science" of judging character from facial features - was also a part of the curriculum.The indigenous peoples were commonly seen as being inferior, speaking languages that were incomprehensible to the rest of the islands' population. Add to this the fact that they were likely to pop up at the popular fiestas as fierce beggars, and it is no wonder that they appeared scary to children.

The Americans, on the other hand, were admired. Nora remembers the first time she ever saw Americans. The family had moved to Angeles City, which hosted the most significant American air base in Asia during the Second World War and the Vietnam War. The most shocking discovery she made was the fact that the Americans ate potatoes, not rice!

Looking back, Nora thinks it was a great advantage that she knew English and was familiar with American culture. This enabled her to smoothly blend in with Norwegian teenagers, whereas her parents inevitably became outsiders. In their manual jobs in canteens, they managed with their poor English. Since they never acquired Norwegian, they were constantly homesick and decided to go back home after their retirement.

 

Comprehension

Try the multiple choice task

 

Discussion

  1. Do you think Norway in the future will become a bilingual country (two languages) where  English is recognized as an administrative language alongside Norwegian?
  2. Which advantages do people from countries like the Philippines have when they emigrate? Do they have any disadvantages?
  3. Describe the impression Filipino children often have of the indigenous peoples of the islands, and try to explain how they acquire this impression.
  4. If you think back to when you started elementary school, how would you react if all the classes were taught in English, and you were not allowed to speak Norwegian?
  5. Discuss how language and identity are related.

Writing

In many parts of the world school children, like Nora, are denied to use their native language. Write a Letter to the Editor in a local paper in an English speaking country, where you make a complaint about this and describe the damage done to your native culture.

Tasks

Practical material for