Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text:
What is convenient when traveling in the Philippines is that everyone speaks English. Fishermen and farmers, villagers and city dwellers, children and adults...
I was struck, throughout this trip, by the spontaneity with which people came to speak to me. And surprised by the good level of English of most of my interlocutors.
English, the second official language in the Philippines
English is the country's second official language, along with tagalog (language of the region of Manila) renamed filipino in a concern of national unity. English and Filipino are understood throughout the archipelago, where more than 70 other languages are spoken... The most represented is Visayan, language of the Visayas Islands, where I was.
Many Filipinos explained to me the same thing: the children learn English in school, and the classes are taught in English, hence the good general level. Filipinos are very proud of this. For expatriate candidates, speaking English is also a way to find a job more easily.
English is part of everyday life. Wall signs, road signs, government documents, religious, legal and advertising messages are mostly in English. Filipinos use English to count, especially when it comes to money. It is not uncommon in a conversation to hear suddenly emerge, in a stream of unidentifiable words, a "one thousand pesos".
The Western traveler who has already been to Indonesia or Malaysia, also recognizes the famous "selamat" polite formulas. Tagalog is part of the Malayo-Polynesian family of languages, and the Arab and Chinese merchant ships of past centuries have also left their linguistic imprint.
And then there is all the vocabulary inherited from three centuries of Spanish colonization: butter is mantikilyafor example. I once heard a girl pick up the phone and say "como estas" to his interlocutor ...
At Cebu airport, while waiting for my flight back to France, I chatted with a lady from the ground staff, a former flight attendant, at the bar facing the check-in counters.
She obviously speaks perfect English and she immediately senses my little accent frenchy when I place my order. We exchange a few words, we sympathize... I take the opportunity to talk about the language. I tell him that it amuses me to identify words of Spanish in the filipinoand that English is a real comfort when traveling in the Philippines.
She then gave me a quick history lesson, explaining that English spread with the presence of the Americans (half a century of colonization, since the Spanish-American war of 1898) and then lasted after the Second World War and the country's independence. That Spanish was still spoken not so long ago in large, wealthy families, but that only the elderly still speak it a little today. And that the general level of English in the Philippines is dropping, because teachers prefer to go to private schools where they are better paid.
The language participates in the change of scenery
For a tourist like me, being able to make people understand me and talk to them in English is undoubtedly a plus. But this "ease" has its downside.
How to say.... It takes away some of the mystery. The change of scenery is less complete. And I didn't even make the effort to learn a few words in Tagalog or Visayan, since everyone was greeting me and talking to me in English. It's a pity, isn't it?
I promised myself to come back. Take the time to better discover the country, to return to explore the fabulous seabed. Next time, I will put myself more seriously to the language.
Just learn the basic phrases, to introduce myself properly, when the inevitable litany of questions arrives, always the same. Where I come from, where I'm going, and if it's my first time in the country, and how long I'm staying, and if I'm traveling alone, etc. etc. Questions that are as much curiosity as politeness...
But it creates a slightly different relationship, often warmer, when you are able to respond in a language other than English!