Filipinos’ English skills need work
While most Filipinos are no stranger to the English language, many still need work when it comes to putting their thoughts on paper, based on results of the British Council’s International English Language Testing System (IELTS).
“Typically, it’s in the writing test where [Filipinos] still find themselves challenged. In a way, it’s not about the English [per se]; it’s about how people structure the answers and how they respond to the tasks being given to them,” says Nicholas Thomas, British Council Philippines director.
Cohesion—the organization of one’s ideas—and coherence—the connection of those ideas on both sentence and paragraph levels—are what Filipinos specifically struggle with, adds Ian Cortez, the council’s head of partnerships and new business, exams.
This, they discovered, by poring through actual writing exam answers of past Filipino IELTS takers.
“We found that it’s not about grammatical range and accuracy, because we [Filipinos] are fairly good learners when it comes to rules of grammar; it’s not about lexical resource, because it’s easy for us to pick up new words from what we read. It’s about coherence and cohesion in task achievement or task response,” Cortez says.
Task achievement, he further explains, is one part of the IELTS writing exam wherein one is asked, for example, to report on features of a table or graph.
One common error they found was that examinees tended to write down their answers in the form of an opinion, and not as a report.
Task response, on the other hand, requires an examinee to, say, answer to what extent they agree with the findings presented in that graph or table.
“When you answer, ‘well, these are the advantages and disadvantages,’ then obviously you’re not answering the question,” Cortez says.
Such findings are what prompted the British Council Philippines to offer writing workshops, which are available at their recently opened Learning Hub in Taguig City.
One of the most useful tips they have dished out to test takers, says Cortez, is to first make an outline of their essays before finalizing their answers.
“Most times, when people see the question, they just dive right in and write everything they know. But often, people need to take a pause and ask, okay, what’s the question again? And then just prepare what they’re going to write about in paragraph one, two and three; what their supporting statements are. More like an outline … a structure, a skeleton, and you only need three to five minutes to prepare that. By following [your outline], the examiner will see that your ideas connect to each other, from the intro to the body to the conclusion. It’s coherent and it makes sense,” says Cortez.
“We’ve done research on this, and as much as possible, we want to give people evidence-based [learning resources],” adds Thomas. “That’s the logic of our new learning hub. We put a lot of thought into it. Of course, it doesn’t reach the whole country, but Metro Manila by far is the largest market here. The idea was to offer a center that would be able to impart what we already have. We don’t want people to have to retake tests; we want to help people achieve their ambitions. So we would much rather that people take their time preparing for the test.”
Aside from the writing workshops, which is offered free to all British Council IELTS-registered test takers, the Learning Hub also offers one-day preparation workshops (for a fee of P2,200) which covers all of the test sections—listening, reading, writing and speaking. The one-day preparation workshops are open even to non-registered test takers.
IELTS pretests are also available at the Learning Hub. These simulate the actual IELTS test and give test takers an idea of what their possible scores might be. IELTS information sessions are also held to help test takers become more knowledgeable on their target countries of destination, as well as details on how to secure visas, whether for work, study or immigration.
“And we have in our library a wealth of updated books, reference materials to use,” says Cortez. “Any test taker is welcome to enjoy the resources; they just have to check the schedules online and book a slot, get a confirmation, then just visit.”
Thomas emphasizes that the resources offered at the Learning Hub are more updated and aren’t readily available in other IELTS review centers, giving test takers who use them an edge in their studies.
“The idea was not to replicate what’s already out in the market, but to have materials that aren’t available elsewhere. And we’ve got nice pictures on the wall!” Thomas says, chuckling. “It’s really like a UK cultural center, so it’s not just a place to study, it’s also a place to find out more about the UK.”
Thomas recommends that Filipinos take advantage of the Hub, and invest their time in preparing for the IELTS, so that they can do well against their desired scores on the first take.
“What often happens with IELTS is that people often rush it, they [study] too quickly. It depends on where you are now and what you want to achieve. So if you’re a 4 now and you want to get to 7, it’s not going to be a few weeks or months, but probably a year or two. But if you’re a 6.5, then it’ll be shorter,” he says.
Still, Thomas notes that Filipinos do better on the IELTS compared to most East Asian countries. On the IELTS website (ielts.org), 2017 data show that of the academic test takers whose first language is Filipino, 31 percent scored an overall band score of 7, a number higher than those who indicated English as their first language (18 percent). For the general training test, the majority of takers whose first language is Filipino fell under the overall band score of 6.5 (22 percent).
What Thomas recommends for the country is more ways to assess Filipinos’ English language proficiency, given the lack of data on the subject.
“Because of the nature of the English language here in the Philippines, there isn’t much discussion about English language assessment. It’s a niche field, whereas if you contrast that with countries with much lower English proficiency levels, there’s more interest in that area because there needs to be,” he says. “Some time in the future, you will need a standard.”
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