09 December 2010

Falling Standards (?)

I am currently at the English in South East Asia (ESEA) conference in Macau, and there are plenty of good papers and lots of interesting people to talk to.

One paper I attended yesterday was by Isabel Martin from the Philippines, and she mentioned the widespread perception of falling standards of English in her country. But are standards really falling? What evidence is there?

The belief that standards of English are deteriorating seems to occur throughout the world, but there seems little evidence for it. For existence, there is a common belief in Singapore that English is getting worse, but is it really? Fifty years ago, English was only learned by a small elite, and maybe they achieved high standards. Nowadays, English is learned by everybody in Singapore, and it makes no sense to compare the standards of the whole population with those of a small elite many years ago.

And what about the Philippines? While it is certaily true that lots of people use Taglish (the mixture of Tagalog and English) and this presumably has a substantial effect on the English that is found there, at the same time there is lots of pressure to learn excellent English, partly because of the opportunities for those with good English of getting well-paid jobs in the call-centre industry. It is hard for me to believe that standards there really are falling.