I do not quite know how to take a position on the quality of English language speakers here in the Philippines. One of my professors have always posed that question during and after classes. He has this observation that Filipino English speakers nowadays have better pronunciation than speakers a generation ago. So that would be Generation Xers, Yers, and the Net Gen versus the older ones. Now, are we?
I have to give it to our side of the line that we are more exposed to hearing first language speakers through media – primarily through TV, movies and radio. That is, for those who have access to media. I fortunately grew up being able to watch Sesame Street and I remember that I had a command of the English language as early as pre-school.
Whenever I go around and when I get to hear people speaking English, I do notice some peculiarities with these people. For one, it seems that there are selected places where I could here people speak good English. One of those spots would be an area near universities like the Katipunan area. For one, the University across the road (Ateneo de Manila University) is known to produce good English speakers. Not to mention that most students from the Ateneo are affluent people. I have not had the luxury of spending time around the Taft area (near De La Salle University, Ateneo’s rival university) to compare whether students from La Salle boast the same caliber as Ateneans.
The other spots where you could just hear people speak English would be areas in Makati, Libis, and Ortigas – business and commercial areas known as hubs for call centers. Now, I have to divide call center agents into two – 1) those who can really speak with a passable accent prior to joining them call centers and 2) those who got their accents during their call center training.
I have a colleague in the office who is my primary irritation whenever he speaks English. As a language scholar, I have been trained to be tolerant, and in fact I am (which just means that this guy is way extreme for me). He projects this gruesome attempt in speaking General American (and fails miserably, it just shows that he is just projecting and it is not something that comes naturally). I mean he used to work in a call center (falling under category number 2) and for some reason, he still sports that way of speaking even if we freely use Tagalog in the office. Ask him something in Tagalog and he still replies with that darned accent. Not to mention that he is the office chauvinist bastard. And he looks like a troll too so he does not have enough pogi points to have his remarks slide.
Now, I am all for everyone’s development. And I understand that call center agents need those skills in their trade. I also understand that practice makes perfect so they better speak the language every time that they can. BUT, there are just some contexts and places where such behavior is not warranted. And this is true for those under category number 2.
Countless times, I have come across these call center yuppies (the 2nd type) using their “accent” outside the contexts of work. Case in point: public utility vehicles. No one needs to sport that General American in paying the driver or asking other people to pass on your fare. There they go, sporting the accent with an accompanying smug look on their faces. Sure, chances are 60% of the people inside the jeepney do not have the same level of competence in the language (sad but true). So better drop the accent after taking or making your last sales or tech support call. It really comes of as phoney in those situations. Not only such cases irritate people like me, but it creates an atmosphere of subversion.
So the bottom line of this rambling is that, while it is a good thing that there is a growing number of Filipino English speakers who do sound good, we have to be aware in the contexts where we use. To some extent, this could be viewed as a sort of social mobilization for the young petty bourgeois who now have the shot at life just for knowing how to sound American. But as such users become indescriminate in their use and use the language as a sort of line or demarcation in between them and the common tao the language becomes a tool for repression.
And in any case, in my harsh opinion, serving as call center agents is just synonymous to being lackeys to dumb Americans who do not know the difference between CD-ROM drives and coffee holders. So do not ever project that call center accent.