Value of English

In this article, I will not debate on whether our country should use the English language as the dominant medium of instruction in our schools. I am more concerned with making our countrymen understand why we Filipinos, especially the very young among us, need to learn or even master English. And this brings us to the topic of what the value and importance of learning English is.

For us Filipinos, the most obvious value of the English language is enabling millions of our countrymen — from the early 1970s until now — to secure work abroad with relatively higher salaries. This tremendously helped many families in many areas of life, even as our economy itself was buoyed up by regular inward remittances from overseas Filipinos.

What explained this surge in overseas work among Filipinos could largely be traced to the knowledge possessed by Filipinos of the English language. Employers abroad liked hiring Filipinos because there was no serious language barrier between them and the Filipinos. Both foreign employer and Filipino employee can communicate without any gap or misunderstanding.

The positive effect it had on the country — thanks to its population that knew English — is a fact, which no argument can negate. Soon after, other nations followed and sent their labor force abroad. But their citizenry did not know much English and had little formal education, and then found themselves doing menial jobs, compared to Filipinos who (then) worked in offices, with some even handling managerial posts or handling huge responsibilities.

In his inaugural speech, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. warned that we would be condemning our countrymen to menial jobs abroad if we did not sustain, even improve, their knowledge of English. I fully agree. But now is not the time to debate whether learning English, and not more of Filipino, is being anti-nationalistic or if it contributes to a half-baked education.

It is a fact that English is the lingua franca of the international community; it is also the lingua franca (or the common language, which two speakers of different native languages have adopted) of international trade, aviation, tourism, diplomacy, science and technology. Knowing this common language will enable you to participate in these fields and benefit from them.

Many books and a plethora of other knowledge materials are written in English. International or regional conferences are held in English. Commercial, construction and maritime arbitrations are often conducted in English. Not being able to obtain the benefits of these very important activities just because you have no command of English is a big loss.

Knowing English opens a treasure trove of opportunities. And not just by being able to attend the conferences and proceedings just earlier mentioned. Since much of Internet content is in English, you need only search online for jobs, connections, opportunities for personal, professional and business advancement. English is indeed the language of opportunity and connections toward other individuals.

Also, much of world literature and entertainment is in English. Novels, movies, music, videos, games and documentaries are often in English. Not being able to appreciate these due to the lack understanding of the language is indeed a big loss. Of course, translations, especially of classic literature, are sometimes available, but they cannot substitute for the material written originally in English.

Finally, it has been estimated that around 1.5 billion people speak English, and around 510 million of that are people all over the world who use English to communicate with one another on a daily basis.

Around 60 of the world’s 195 countries count English as their or part of their official languages. Would the numbers be such if the English language were not that valuable?

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