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A language learning archipelago

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The Philippines is becoming a major hub for English learners in East Asia, and could help China solve its teacher-recruitment problem, says Melanie Butler.

The Philippines likes to boast it is the third largest English speaking country in the world. Alongside Tagalog, English is one of the state’s two official languages.

American English is spoken by an estimated 93 per cent of the 103 million inhabitants spread over its 7,000 islands.

It routinely ranks in the top three Asian countries for English below Singapore and more or less on a par with Malaysia.

It is also becoming a major English language study destination. The language school market is concentrated in the resort areas. The island of Cebu, best known for its white sand beaches and its deep sea diving, is the most popular destination with 18 of the 82 schools listed on the ESL base website.

By contrast, the capital, Metropolitan Manila, has just 11. Most teachers at the schools are Filipinos who have English Medium degrees, mostly undergraduate degrees. Indeed, most high school programmes are taught in English.

Native speaker teachers are few and far between and tend to work on courses for exams such as Ielts or Toefl taken by locals wishing to study or work abroad.

Some schools do offer native speakers for language travellers however.

“Although Asian countries remain the largest markets, the Icef report found students from Brazil, Libya and Russia are attracted by the warm weather, the great beaches and the cheap prices. ”

At the Clarke Institute of the Philippines in Angeles City, for example, young learners programmes are taught by a mix of native and non-native speaker teachers but work permits can be hard to come by in a country where everyone speaks English.

Koreans were the first to discover the delights of the Philippines, with a Korean agent believed to have set up a school there over a decade ago. The Japanese are the second biggest market but the greatest potential lies with the Chinese mainland.

The Chinese already have a well-established high school year abroad programme to the country: in 2011 5,000 Chinese secondary school pupils were enrolled in Butuan city alone.

There are anecdotal reports of large numbers of Chinese youngsters being sent on holiday programmes but actual numbers of students are unknown.

Overall, the actual numbers of students choosing to study English in the Philippines is hard to establish.

In 2014, 24,000 Koreans obtained a visa to study there, up from under 6,000 in 2004 while 35,00 Japanese travelled there to learn English, according to Icef Monitor.

Although Asian countries remain the largest markets, the Icef report found students from Brazil, Libya and Russia are attracted by the warm weather, the great beaches and the cheap prices.

In 2015, Russians made up ten per cent of all the students at Japanese-owned QQEnglish based in the Cebu region.

A similar number enrolled from Iran and the Middle East and 20 per cent from mainland China and Taiwan, according to Nikkei Asian Review. Russian student, Maria Dobroskokina summed up the reasons:

‘On Cebu, the total cost, including accommodation and daily expenses, is about half that of Malta’, she told the Nikkei reporter. ‘I feel I made big progress with my English in four months here.’

For QQEnglish, however, language travel is just one small part of their business. They specialise in using Filipinos to teach English online and employ 600 teachers, working in two shifts, to teach 10,000 on-line students, according to ICEF monitor.

The owners hope to grow the market to employ up to 100,000 teachers. The Chinese are also moving into the online market.

Online learning giant Hu Jiang EdTech, runs a number of teaching centres in the Philippines attracted not only by the relatively low cost and plentiful supply of teachers but also the convenient location in a similar time zone.

Native speakers may still command a premium online but the demand from China is so enormous that there are simply not enough native speakers to go round.

VIP Kids, recently valued at US$1billion according to the Financial Times, employs 20,000 online teachers to give 20 million lessons a year to its 200,000 students. Part of the answer to the Chinese lack of native speaker teachers may lie in the 100 million English speakers in the nearby Philippines.

A homestay from home

Melanie Butler explores what Malta has to offer for English language learners, and looks at the challenges ahead for the island’s homestay model

The tiny Mediterranean country of Malta, population of just 450,000, may lay claim of the original European island destination for English Language learners.

One of the earliest schools on the main island was LAL founded in 1985 by a German agency. EC, now a major international chain, was started by the present CEO’s mother in 1991.

Over 77,000 students studied in Malta in 2016 and numbers for 2017 look to be higher. As with other island destinations, it makes for a perfect study holiday.

With its Mediterranean climate and cuisine together with gorgeous beaches and plenty of historic sites, Malta boasts some of the oldest standing buildings in the world.

This makes it popular with students, over 60 per cent of whom are adults. But one unique feature is its 1,500 licensed host families all thoroughly checked by the government.

Although other countries may insist on criminal record checks for homestay providers, Malta is believed to be the only is the only English language destination which operates a licence system.

And with numbers growing, it is looking for more of them. Earlier this summer the language school association Feltom launched a campaign in collaboration with the Maltese tourist board to encourage more families to come forward, according to the Times of Malta.

Right now, we have an opportunity to take a bigger slice of the global market for English,’ Genevieve Abela from Feltom told the paper. ‘And a big part of that is immersion programmes. We stand to lose that,’ she said.

In recent years the number of licensed families has been dropping gradually and higher property prices and more working women means fewer families in the major centres have the space to accommodate a student or the time to look after them.

A new eco accommodation tax, introduced in 2017, may also be a contributing factor.The schools are now actively recruiting teachers outside the resort areas in the peaceful rural villages which are increasingly popular with older learners looking for a more immersive experience and a more traditional way of life.

‘Malta is the only English-language destination with officially licensed homestays, a unique selling point,’ Ms Abela said.

Malta also markets its popular ‘triple banking’ which means students attend courses in different shifts throughout the day. But this too depends on having appropriate accommodation, Ms Abela told the paper. ‘If we can’t provide that, we risk losing out to other competing countries.’