1. What was the most exciting part of your stay in the UK?
I consider every single experience I had in the UK very exciting. It began when I collected my student ID and attended the induction program for postgraduate students of our department – Centre for Applied Linguistics – during my first week. Then on to touring the university library and staying in the PG Hub, a place where we postgraduate students can sit back and relax after an exhausting day. It made me feel that I am back to being a full-time student again.
I lived in a flat with seven other individuals of different nationalities, cooked my own food, bought my groceries and budgeted my allowance. These provided me a different sense of independence. I also met and learned from tutors who are known in their respective areas of specialization, attended the ‘Meet the Locals’ activities organized by our department, went to the cinema once a month with my fellow Hornby scholars and some of our lovely tutors—activities that definitely made my university life even more productive and meaningful.
2. What made you decide to pursue English language teaching (ELT) in the UK? Why ELT?
Since I graduated from college, I have always been dreaming of pursuing graduate studies in another country. I did not expect that the British Council and A.S. Hornby Trust would make that dream of mine come true twelve years after my college graduation through a scholarship in a program that is very close to heart – English Language Teaching.
I had been a language and communication teacher for 12 years until the wonderful opportunity to study in the UK through the scholarship came to me in 2016. When I saw the call for scholarship application online, I did not have second thoughts on applying. I told myself that it was worth giving a try. Anyway, I would have nothing to lose but so much to gain if ever I would get the scholarship. When I got it, I felt so blessed and thankful to the Lord for the opportunity to pursue a program that is very much related to my profession as a language teacher, to study in a UK institution, and to experience the English language and culture first-hand.
3. There was a group of Hornby Scholars in the same campus with you. Can you tell us more about this and how was the experience?
The 2016 cohort of Hornby Scholars was composed of eleven ELT professionals from eleven different countries namely, Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, Iran, Nepal, Philippines, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, and Vietnam. Six of us lived in on-campus accommodations while the rest stayed in university run off-campus student houses. We came from different cultural backgrounds but despite our differences, we shared certain things in common. One of those is our commitment to improving ourselves in the field that we all love – ELT. In almost a year that we were together, we made friends with and learned from each other. Listening to their experiences as ELT professionals was definitely a great opportunity for me to get wonderful insights about the status of English language and how it is taught in their respective countries. Their ELT stories have given me a wider perspective of ELT in different contexts.
4. Were there any challenges? What advice can you give to aspiring UK students from the Philippines?
One of the challenges I faced during my first few weeks in the UK was attuning to the strong accent of some locals. Taking the listening part of IELTS was already a challenge for me because the recording had some characters who were difficult to comprehend. For me, meeting the native speakers and listening to them was even more challenging. Fortunately, most of my tutors have, in my view, comprehensible accents. After some time, I have realized that the key to participating meaningfully in any conversation is to listen very attentively to whomever is speaking, try to read their lips as they speak, ask the person to repeat what they said if I did not get it the first time, and smile if I still could not understand. Anyway, sometimes I feel that it is not that important to understand every word the person is saying for as long as I get the gist of their statement.
For Filipino students who are planning or preparing to study and live in the UK, I know that you cannot help but have doubts or fears as to whether you can actually survive and enjoy your stay in an unfamiliar place for one year or more practically alone. Do not worry. I also felt the same thing before. However, I have realized that there is really nothing to fear. If I have done it, just like all the other Filipino students who were in different parts of the UK then, you surely can do it as well. Do not be afraid to be in a strange place because after a few days, that strange place can be your second home. Do not be scared of meeting new people because after a few weeks, they can be your friends. Do not doubt yourself because, after sometime, you will realize that there is so much potential in you that can still be further developed and improved by taking risks. Lastly, do not forget to always pray and ask God’s guidance in every decision you will make and every step you will take, no matter how big or small those decisions and steps are.
5. What is your opinion of ELT in the Philippines?
ELT in the country has evolved through the years. From 1898-1946, English was used as medium of instruction (MOI) in all levels and Filipino students were taught as if they were native speakers. However, several studies indicated that the use of English only and the mechanical methods utilized in the English classrooms such as dialogue memorization and grammar drills did not contribute in increasing students’ learning outcomes.
Unfortunately, despite the results of these studies, very few changes in the ELT approach happened in the country in almost the first half of the 20th century. The shift from using English only to using both English and Filipino as media of instruction only came about in the 1970s through the Bilingual Education Policy of the government as a result of the national clamour for the wider use of Filipino in the educational system of the country. This policy was further strengthened by the provision in the 1987 Philippine Constitution recognizing Filipino and English as official languages. The policy, on the one hand, is not without scrutiny since Filipino students had had poor performance in international tests of math and science over the years, which was seen to be a consequence of the students’ low English proficiency.
After the promulgation of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, government officials are still looking for ways to improve the quality of education in the country. The Department of Education (DepEd) institutionalized the use of mother tongues in the early years of schooling (from Kindergarten up to Grade 3) to increase Filipino learners’ literacy in 2009. This Order acknowledges the relevance of mother tongue in teaching English as a second language.
The ELT sector in the Philippines did not only evolve in terms of which language or languages to be used in the classroom. It has also undergone some phases with regard to the approaches used in language teaching. One study looked at the various memoranda of DepEd and reported that these orders reflected three ELT practices that seem to dominate in the Philippines, namely, the Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), English for Specific Purposes (ESP), and Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) approaches. CLT was introduced to Filipino English teachers in 1980s while the other two approaches (ESP and TBLT) were utilized by teachers in their English classrooms in the 1990s. CLT approach focuses more on the functions of English as a communicative tool than on its form and structure. ESP aims to equip Filipino citizens with relevant English language skills necessary for them to work overseas or in specific fields like science and technology. TBLT focuses on the three dimensions of performance: complexity, accuracy, and fluency by expecting teachers to design a certain task wherein learners are expected to rely largely on their own linguistic and non-linguistic resources to accomplish the said activity. Today, the influences and principles of these teaching approaches (especially CLT) can still be seen in DepEd’s K-12 English Curriculum Guide (2016). In fact, a study claimed that CLT is the most popular among the three and is “almost the default ELT framework in the Philippines”.
However, there were arguments that these approaches are not neutral, have assumptions that may not be applicable in the Philippine classroom contexts, and are reliant on ‘native speaker’ norms which may consequently result in Filipino learners’ feelings of intimidation, low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence. This may be one of the reasons why there are still concerns about the low proficiency of Filipino students and even graduates up to now. The current situation, therefore, suggests that there is still a wide area of knowledge gap that needs to be filled in with regard to improving the ELT sector in the Philippines. One way to fill in this gap is by promoting more classroom-based research that would address specific problems in the classrooms and identify ways on how to address them. This, I believe, can directly benefit the language learners and even teachers. Thus, I hope that aside from providing English teachers with up-to-date and relevant language teaching and learning materials, there will be enough and comprehensive pre-service and in-service teacher training programs that will cover, among other topics, the promotion of doing classroom research and its benefit in the improvement of ELT (in the basic and higher education institutions) across the country.
6. What is your aspiration for the ELT sector in the Philippines?
I am really hoping that in the future, the world will recognize the ELT sector in the Philippines as one of the best models of English language teaching. In order to achieve that, there is a need for all the stakeholders of the country’s education to work hand-in-hand in providing necessary policies, support systems, facilities, training, and teaching/learning materials in the promotion of English as an effective medium of communication and instruction.
7. How do you see yourself contributing to the local ELT sector?
While I was in the UK, I took every opportunity to learn new things that I could share with my colleagues and my beloved students when I return to the Philippines. The knowledge and skills I have gained will definitely be useful for me to better perform my role as a language teacher. Aside from that, I would also like to conduct research work that would improve the status of ELT in my classroom, and hopefully, in my institution and the community where I belong. Further, in order to reach out to other ELT professionals, I wish to organize some seminars or training workshops that would cover topics related and relevant to the needs of language teachers from the private and public institutions. If given a chance, I would also like to put up an online forum where ELT professionals from different parts of the country can share their best practices and even the challenges that they face in their classrooms. Through this, I hope that we, language teachers, can build a community that promotes sharing and collaboration not only for the betterment of the ELT profession but also for the benefit of the language learners.
8. How has the opportunity to study ELT in the UK made an impact on you so far?
One of the best things that could happen in a person’s life is to study in another country without worrying about how to pay tuition fees, accommodation, and other personal expenses. An opportunity like this may only come once in a lifetime that is why anyone who has this chance should make the most out of the experience and enjoy the whole journey. This was what I was telling myself when I first knew that I passed the A.S. Hornby Scholarship application process and could study in the United Kingdom for free.
I thank the Lord every day for the wonderful opportunity to study something that is close to my heart and related to my profession. Aside from that, I am also grateful to experience British culture and meet people from different parts of the world. All the various things I get to experience every day have absolutely widened and deepened my understanding of English language teaching, and equipped me with relevant intercultural communication skills necessary for me to be the best English language teacher that I can be.