I was doing research for an article when I stumbled upon a job posting from a company in the Philippines saying they are “looking for native English speakers.” I didn’t know what to do, really—to laugh or get angry. I laughed first because of the absurdity of the job ad and got angry because prospective job applicants were out before they can even apply.
Because guess what? Filipinos are not native English speakers, at least the majority of them.
First of all, let’s settle it once and for all by defining what makes a native speaker. Cambridge Dictionary says it’s “someone who has spoken a particular language since they were a baby, rather than having learned it as a child or adult.” It’s someone who grew up learning a particular language at home, in our case it’s English. It’s their language at infancy, and the language their parents taught them. It’s the language they use when thinking and talking in everyday life (outside of work and in the Philippine setting only).
While there are Filipinos who grew up learning English as their native tongue, majority of them did not. Hence, the Philippines is not a native English-speaking country.
But there’s more to the story than meets the eye.
Multilingualism in the Philippines
The Philippines is a multilingual country, boasting over 170 languages. Speaking two or three languages is the norm. In the capital Metro Manila, Tagalog/Filipino is the first language of most of its inhabitants. But if you venture into the provinces, regional languages like Bisaya and Tagalog/Filipino may be both spoken at home. Some only speak their regional language and not the national language. In rare cases, a regional language, Tagalog/Filipino, and English are being spoken as well. Sometimes, only Tagalog/Filipino and English are the preferred languages.
As you have noticed, it’s quite complicated in the Philippines’ case. Can one have more than one native language? And if English is one of them, do they qualify as a native English speaker? This Stack Exchange forum says so, but I’ll take it with a grain of salt.
If you ask the majority, though, they say no. This absurdity can be easily dispelled when a Filipino applies for jobs or to schools where English is the primary language. Unfortunately, the Philippines is not among the list of countries which are considered native English-speaking countries. And if you want a list, here it is. Thus, Filipinos have to take an English proficiency test like IELTS or TOEFL to prove they have a good command of the language. For a Filipino who grew up with English as their primary language, it’s quite a problem proving they are indeed a native speaker.
English as a Second Language
Don’t get me wrong. Filipinos may be very good at using the English language, but they are still not considered native English speakers. In fact, majority consider English as their second language. While some can really pass like a native speaker, the reality is most of them do not.
So, stop looking for native English speakers from the Philippines unless you’re limiting your talent search to American expats or around 3%* of the Filipino population.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if one is a native speaker or not as long as they can do the job.
• Best guess