Your English is So Good! (First of All, I’m a Native Speaker…)

By Christine Del Castillo

It's the ambiguous melanin. The Spanish surnames. But most of all, the English. This, I think, is why it's so hard to track Filipinos down, especially when we're not congregating in an enclave like those in California or New Jersey. We're self-reliant because we're not speechless in this place; even recent immigrants come with a firm grasp of the English language.

Those who do are lucky. English speakers are much less common in poor and rural areas. I grew up in Metro Manila with parents who taught me both English and Filipino at home. Nevertheless, English is a co-official language of the Philippines, and many of us speak it in addition to one or more regional languages.

In this sense it's surreal—and offensive, in professional circles—when people exclaim “your English is so good!” First of all, I’m a native speaker. Secondly, the Philippines was an American colony for decades, ceded from Spain for a cool $20M back in 1898. Finally, this may mean that people have ideas about What Native Speakers Look Like, and that I don’t look like that. I won't pursue that train of thought. It’s more constructive to share the ways we remix and play with this language - the ways we make it our own.

Anong tawag doon, yung code-switching

Code-switching, or adapting your speech to build rapport with different groups, has a wide spectrum when you speak two or more languages. In Manila, that can look something like this: English with an American accent, when you’re at a call center talking to Americans at midnight. English with a Filipino accent, if you want to sound educated but approachable.


“Let’s tusok-tusok the fishballs.” Chart via Wikipedia

You might switch to Taglish, if you ran into some people from high school and that’s how they speak. You may also toggle back and forth between multiple regional languages depending on where you are. Here, for example, are some words for “love” that differ wildly from language to language: mahal, langga, gugma, boot, ayat, hirang.

We’re so punny

In the Philippines, you’ll find a proverb like “every cloud has a silver lining” transformed into its gallows humor doppelgänger, “every cloud has a silver lightning.” Whether it's intentional wit or a misheard phrase, who knows? But we’ve been known to embrace our misheard English too, with expressions like “what do you take me for, granted?”—a combination of “what do you take me for, a fool?” and the idiom “to take for granted."


“Take me into your eleven arms…”

Bilingual punning is rampant, often leaning heavily on English words said in a Filipino accent, or English words with a phonetic sound that translates to something else in Filipino.

Ako wala = A koala.

Ako wala = A koala.

We also love our acronyms. “N...P...A? Nice People Around?” quips Imelda Marcos in Jessica Hagedorn’s novel, Dogeaters.

NR, or No Reaction, is something you might call your most deadpan friend: “That’s so sad. Aren’t you sad?” “I am sad. This is my sad face.” “Wow, you’re so NR.” The Tagalog opposite of that, by the way, is KSP, "Kulang Sa Pansin,” a person acting out because they're starved for attention.

I have a Taglish favorite that I probably learned in seventh grade: HHWWPSSP. Holding Hands While Walking, Pa-Sway Sway Pa. This refers to the public displays of affection of a couple in their honeymoon phase. Picture it. Murmur “eeewww.”

Fluency and industry

Speaking and teaching English is big business in the Philippines. There’s a massive population of young people who speak fluent, lightly accented English, which is why so many American companies outsource work to Filipino call centers. The country has become the call center capital of the world, generating about $25B in revenue.

English language education is also booming. According to Jose L. Cuisia, a former ambassador to the United States, “there are more and more Koreans that are studying English in the Philippines. In 2004, there were about 5,700…The following year, it tripled to about 17,000, in 2012 it was about 24,000. So we’re seeing an increasing number of Koreans. But they’re also from other countries: Libya, Brazil, Russia.”

Can't you just take a compliment?

Yes. Thank you. But there's a shade of difference between "You speak so wonderfully!" and "You speak like a native." If one feels a bit wrong, there's always the option to start some cultural exchange. Or you can just do what my dad does, which is so beautiful in its subtlety. When someone says, “Your English is so good,” he responds, “Thank you. So is yours.”

Learn a more about Christine on our About page.

Vin Diesel* Goes to Manila: Five Things I Learned in the Philippines

by Matt Nagy

Here's a picture of me (*not Vin Diesel) with the SM Aura mall security guard carrying a rifle.

Here's a picture of me (*not Vin Diesel) with the SM Aura mall security guard carrying a rifle.

Hello there! My name is Matt, and I am married to one of the BOSFilipinos co-founders, Bianca. I’ve always lived on the east coast, sharing my modest time on this earth between New York and New England. I never really traveled before I met my wife. I was always told you can travel and explore the world with your partner-in-crime, but I never expected the chance to see and experience the Philippines.

2017 was my first time overseas (besides the Canadian side of Niagara Falls) and luckily for you all I chronicled some of my experiences while I was there. Below are the top five things I learned while I was in the Philippines:

The traffic is unreal. You will only understand this once you go there.

My wife and her friends complain constantly about the traffic in the Philippines. You can only understand how bad it really is when you are actually in the middle of traffic in Manila. The night we arrived, we were welcomed by the heavy, dense, humid, post-rain air. We gathered up our bags and hopped in the family car. We made our way into the heart of Makati, the business district. As we got further and further from the airport, I was nearly blinded by these massive electronic billboards, none like which I have ever seen. I made the mistake of changing my focus to the road in front of us. And to the left of us. And to the right. We were sandwiched in what appeared to be gridlocked traffic.  I started to learn very quickly that the traffic here is intense, but it is also an ordered chaos. So much so that we were often inches from giant tour buses and jeepneys (Filipino jeep taxis). There is a certain sigh of relief you get once you descend from the highways of Manila and make your way towards the subdivisions (gated residential areas).

My favorite Filipino meal.  © Bianca Garcia

My favorite Filipino meal.

© Bianca Garcia

Filipino Breakfast is the best.

We ate outside in the mornings, on the back porch. The cool, balmy morning breeze lifted the rich scent of soft garlic fried rice, called sinangag, from the confines of a hastily set table. The true definition of eating family style in the Philippines features multiple dishes and suitable condiments, all sharing space on a lazy susan.

I would often pair the sinangag with itlog (fried egg) and longganisa (Filipino sausage). This common breakfast combination is appropriately called longsilog (the combination of the words longganisa, sinangag, and itlog). The creamy egg yolk, folded into a warm bed of rice was perfectly complemented by the rich crunchiness of the sausage. I would wash it all down with a refreshing glass of fresh calamansi juice. Calamansi is a Filipino citrus fruit, small and round, looks like a baby lime, and very tart in flavor.

Upon completion of this carb- and protein-rich greasy delight, Bianca’s dad would come bearing fresh mangoes from a local market. Without a doubt, these are the best mangoes I have ever had. This would be another staple item to my meals while at my in-laws. It turns out that these are in fact not even very good mangoes, because they were not in season during the time we visited (January). Filipino mangoes, like most mangoes, are best in the summer. Could have fooled me. I’ll take your crappy Philippine mangoes over our “good” US mangoes any day.

Graffiti along Diliman Avenue on the way to the UP Town Center mall.  © Matt Nagy

Graffiti along Diliman Avenue on the way to the UP Town Center mall.

© Matt Nagy

The rich and the poor are neighbors.

We arrived in the Philippines at night, so the only thing I was focused on was the giant backlit billboards, the angry traffic, and when I was finally going to be able to shower after 30 hours of travel. The first full day we were in the Philippines was the day I truly understood what it’s like to live in a third world country.

We spent one afternoon in U.P. Town Center. It is a sprawling mall complex sharing a mix of indoor and outdoor stores and restaurants, in the University of the Philippines area. We ate ramen and I bought a pair of sneakers. Normal activities you might expect in a first-world country.

But on the way there, nestled in between our secluded subdivision and the mall, were these small, metal, roughly constructed shanties and storefronts, representing a metaphysical window into the impoverished life that many experience here.

Upon returning to Bianca’s home from a day of shopping and eating, I was reminded of the safety and comfort of a gated community, and the surrounding area of elegant Mediterranean-style and ultra-modern homes of their subdivision. Seeing these extremes back to back made me realize how good I have it. It's one of the most interesting parts of visiting the Philippines.

Being a minority here is like being a celebrity.

I truly understand what it’s like to be a minority now. Fortunately for me, I only experienced the positive aspects of being a minority. There were times in my trip where I could see a lot of heads turning in my direction, people looking up from their lunch to react to seeing a white guy in the same restaurant, and the noticeable pause in conversations when people caught me in the corner of their eye. This isn’t the case everywhere. There are a few communities where there is a relatively large white population, but so few and far in between that even I gawked at white people when I saw them in the mall. I will say that the best, most flattering part was when the family driver told Bianca that I look like Vin Diesel. Just to be clear, I might be a dumb-looking bald white guy, but I look nothing like Vin Diesel. Whether you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing is up to you.

With the Garcias

With the Garcias

Filipino people are some of the most welcoming people in the world.

Last, but certainly not least - despite the fact that I am a dumb-looking bald white guy, I never felt like I was the only non-Filipino in the room. At every meal, every celebration, and every other meeting in between, I felt like I have always lived in the Philippines. The way I was embraced by Bianca’s family and friends was nothing short of amazing.

I’m looking forward to going back and experiencing the warm hospitality again, seeing more of what the Philippines has to offer, and eating more longsilog. I mean lechon. I mean Jollibee.