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English students flock to Philippines for low cost, sunshine

Maria Dobroskokina, left, studies English at a school on Cebu.

MANILA -- The Philippines is becoming a popular destination for the study of English. It offers good teachers, inexpensive lessons, and lots of beaches that students can enjoy when they are not in class. As more companies in Asia and elsewhere see English as vital to their globalization strategies, the island nation is likely to keep pulling in students.

     South Korean and Japanese school operators were some of the first to discover what the Philippines offers as a place of study: low costs and a high standard of English among Filipinos, thanks to the status of English as an official language. These companies opened language schools in the Philippines to accommodate their own nationals. Today, low fees for private lessons attract students from a variety of countries, including Russia and China. 

Warm environment

Maria Dobroskokina, 25, from Volgograd in southern Russia, enrolled in QQEnglish school on the island of Cebu in January. Back home, she worked for a newspaper, but she wanted to study abroad to improve her English. The U.K. and Malta are popular destinations for Russians to study abroad, but they are not cheap. A little research online led her to the school on Cebu.

     "On Cebu, the total cost, including accommodation and daily expenses, is about a half that of Malta. I was able to afford one-on-one lessons.  I feel I made big progress with my English in four months here," said Dobroskokina. The country's easy visa application  and warm weather are also a plus for Russian students.

     According to the QQEnglish, which is operated by a Japanese company, the number of non-Japanese students began to rise several years ago. In 2014, students from China, Taiwan and Russia accounted for 20% of its students. Staff from those countries help to bring in more students, along with Internet advertising and word of mouth.

Natural advantages

The Philippines began catching on as a destination for would-be English speakers more than a decade ago, when a South Korean company launched a foreign language school in the country. Since then, studying in the Philippines has become common in South Korea, where English fluency is a must for many job seekers. In Japan, too, there is concern that the English taught in the regular school curriculum is inadequate.  Now more Japanese-owned schools are sprouting up in the Philippines. The number of Japanese who studied in the country reached 30,000 in 2014, an eightfold jump in four years, according to the Philippine Department of Tourism.  

   In Japan, many universities recognize academic credits from Cebu schools, while big companies are sending employees to schools in the Philippines to hone their English skills.

   In the Philippines, high school education is almost entirely in English, and most official documents are written in that language. The country, which turns out more than 500,000 college and vocational school graduates a year, has a large pool of inexpensive, well-qualified teachers.

     An English-language course lasting several weeks costs about $800 to $1,600, including accommodation and meals, less than half the cost of a similar program in the U.S. or Europe. Living for a while in an English only environment is a cost-effective way for many students to learn the language.  

   Tokyo-based Jellyfish recently set up an English language school in Cebu, targeting Vietnamese students. Officials with the school say Vietnam's growing economy is motivating young Vietnamese to study in the U.S. and Europe. Some of these students come to the Philippines first for a crash course in English. Jellyfish expects several dozen Vietnamese to start classes at its Cebu school from around July.

   In addition to classroom learning, Cebu boasts beaches nearby. Students can enjoy their time on a popular resort island while learning at the same time. The Department of Tourism is taking advantage of Cebu's tropical setting to promote study tourism.

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