Ever since the country formally opened up its ports to foreign countries almost 150 years ago, Japanese have been looking to Europe and America to acquire international skills and knowledge, including the English language. Although the preference to “go west” apparently remains deep-seated, some Japanese youths have begun looking to the south, namely the Philippines, to acquire and improve their English skills. English is widely spoken there, with 93.5% of the population using it for business and education.
According to Asahi (6/21), the South Koreans were the first to realize more than 10 years ago that the Southeast Asian country is an ideal location to learn English on account of its geographic proximity and low prices. A week-long course costs only around 60,000 yen, including tuition and meal expenses. The Philippine Department of Tourism has been keen to bring in foreign students through ESL tour programs, with its Secretary Ramon Jimenez saying: “The Philippines will become a kind of hub for English training for the rest of Asia.” The number of English schools targeting Koreans and Japanese has soared. Almost 100,000 Korean and 20,000 Japanese students visited the nation last year on various ESL tour programs arranged by about 500 English schools. NHK (3/13/2013) reported that the corresponding figures for Japanese in 2010, 2011, and 2012 were 5,000, 10,000, and 18,000, respectively.
A typical ESL tour package usually runs one to three months and includes a city tour, beach trip, or island-hopping tour, in addition to English lessons. A spokesperson for a Japanese-run English school operator who also learned English in the Philippines said: “Although English is not the mother tongue of Filipinos, they are able to master it better than any other non-native English speakers. This means that they must be able to teach English in the most effective way to Japanese, who are probably the worst English learners in the world.”
Nikkei (6/25) wrote that more Japanese companies are looking to the Philippines to cash in on affordable lessons provided by local language school operators. Sending employees to the Southeast Asian country to study English costs half or one-third of language programs in the U.S. or Europe. Giving employees an opportunity to get accustomed to local business practices there is also an asset for Japanese corporations since the importance of the Asian market is rapidly growing. Accounting firm Ernst & Young Japan launched a program last year for accountants and HR staffers to participate in a four-week crash course in English in Manila, and some 150 workers will attend it this year. One of the nation’s top financial institutions, Mizuho Bank, also plans to send some 30 managers to language schools in Manila and Cebu annually, with its spokesperson saying: “It’s great that employees are given one-on-one English lessons for eight to ten hours per day. The quality of teachers in the Philippines is better than in Malaysia or any other country in Asia.”
Program participants have reportedly said after the training that they feel more at ease having conversations with foreigners. An NHK reporter speculated: “Japanese tend to feel awkward when speaking to Caucasians. But because Filipinos are outgoing and warm-hearted, Japanese probably feel less nervous having conversations with them.” Moreover, traveling to the Philippines isn’t the only way to learn English from Filipino teachers. More than 250 Japanese firms subscribe to an online, one-on-one English conversation program taught by teachers in the Philippines arranged by a Tokyo-based English school. A 25-minute lesson only costs a few hundred yen.