In the Philippines, English language courses come with poolside classrooms, field trips to the beach and instructors doubling as tour guides.
English is widely spoken in the former US colony and language proficiency schools have mushroomed across the country, catering to an expanding market of Asian and European students looking to combine English learning with tropical tourism.
French student Laura Samzun will soon be taking a test to enter a public college in Britain and is under pressure to perfect her English. She chose to take classes in the Philippines due to lower costs.
“It’s less expensive to go to the Philippines, to come back [to] France and to pay school than to stay in France [for that time],” Samzun said.
Fresh from a backpacking trip in Indonesia, she kicked-started her courses in June at the Cebu Pacific International Language School on the sunny central island of Cebu.
“I really wanted to see Asia, to travel. So I can travel and study [at] the same time. It’s a good thing,” the 22-year-old Toulouse native said.
There are some 500 schools offering language proficiency programs around the country and one-fifth are in Cebu. The island’s proximity to white sand beaches and its laid-back provincial lifestyle are a big draw for foreign students, who mostly come from big industrial cities.
The schools boast high quality education, with small student-teacher ratios that allow for more focused instruction.
In four months of English proficiency courses, Chinese nurse Flora Wang has progressed from near-zero comprehension to carrying a conversation with ease.
“Actually [it’s] really getting better. When I came here, I couldn’t speak and understand anything, but during the four months, I improved a lot,” said the 25-year old Beijing native who plans to move to the US to study healthcare.
Wang recently finished her course at Cebu Pacific International Language School (CPILS), one of the pioneers of English language education in the Philippines. CPILS accommodates around 450 students per course period, mostly from South Korea. The student population has ballooned from 60 students when the school opened 11 years ago and their pool has expanded to include enrollees from Japan, China, Taiwan and European countries like France and Russia.
Park Yoon-jae, a university student from Seoul, wants to land a job back home in a multinational company, where English is a primary requirement.
“Especially these days, [in] Korea, we have to speak English very well because almost all companies want very high level English skills,” Park said.
The intensive English course work in CPILS runs an average of four months in which students can take up to seven hours of lessons each day. A one-month course can cost around US$1,000 a month, including accommodation and food.
In Cebu, campuses are equipped with a pool and a fitness gym with some offering yoga classes and dance workshops. The beach is just a half-hour ride from the city and schools arrange island-hopping trips or diving lessons at weekends.
The success of English-proficiency schools around the country has prompted the Philippines’ tourism department to launch the English as a Second-Language (ESL) Tour Program, tapping key markets like South Korea, Japan and Russia where the demand for English-learning is high.
“This is where the Philippines can be very competitive. We have World Heritage sites, white sand beaches, you have spas, you have dining and shopping,” said Benito Bengzon, assistant secretary for international tourism promotions.