Talk the walk

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CRISPIN R. ARANDA

“SPEAK softly and carry a big stick” was the anchor of US President Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy, described as “the exercise of intelligent forethought and of decisive action sufficiently far in advance of any likely crisis.”

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Now, 117 years after, US President Donald Trump espouses an alternative approach, “speak loudly and carry an alternative reality stick.”

In the Philippine setting, the phrase “less talk, less mistake,” or sometimes “no talk, no mistake,” has been attributed to the late former senator Genaro Magsaysay, the brother of the late President Ramon Magasaysay.

In 1986, a well-known stock brokerage, E. F. Hutton, ran a commercial that to date is considered a classic of the ad industry: “When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.”

So what is this talk of talks all about?

Reading and ‘Riting’ are two of the famous trio that represents the basic skills-oriented education program attributed to a quote from Sir William Curtis, a member of the UK parliament sometime in 1825.

The trio is composed of “Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic.”

To round up the communication process, somebody has to listen to all that’s being written, read and solved. The process, repeated and ritualized, became the anchor of education and culture.

In spreading Western culture during the US colonial administration, American soldiers spoke with their guns and cannons first before teaching English and the American way of life in 1900s. They were later replaced by two groups of teachers from the US – the first group arriving in June 1901 and the second two months later on board the USS Thomas, so that the teachers came to be referred to collectively as the Thomasites. For over a year, there were about 1,074 Thomasites stationed in the Philippines teaching the basics of education, the three Rs: “Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic.”

Until 2010, when an English proficiency test was conducted by TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), Filipinos took pride in being considered “the only English-speaking nation in Asia.”

In the proficiency test conducted that year, the Philippines scored 88 and was ranked 35th out of 163 countries worldwide: Singapore and India scored higher, at 98 and 92, respectively.

Since English has become the de facto language of global commerce and trade, generating employment and opportunities in countries with ties to the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other English-speaking nations, English proficiency is measured by a person’s scores in the speaking, reading, writing and listening tests.

While Chinese and Hindi may be the two languages with most speakers or users (both having 1.3 plus billion population in 2015) English dominates the global trading stage because the US is the only economic and military superpower in the world after its main rival, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) broke up with the end of the Cold War in 1991.

Today, the US is also the most popular destination for migrants, accepting an average of one million immigrants from all over the world annually. Canada is a distant second, with 271,847 permanent residents in 2015.

Australia’s current cap on migration is 190,000; New Zealand sets the annual cap at 45,000 to 50,000 per year for 2014/2015 and 2015/2016, according to a December 2014 report of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

UK statistics are disparate and hard to put a finger to. However, Migration Watch UK reported that at the end of 2016, the UK’s net migration figure was 248,000. Not all of them had to take the English proficiency exams, though, to be officially admitted as lawful permanent residents or immigrants in the strict sense of the term.

English as the language of migration
For Filipinos in particular, being proficient in English is the key to a successful immigrant journey. Whether the journey starts as a tourist, worker or student, or coming to the US, Canada, Australia or New Zealand directly based on family or occupation streams, English is a requirement: not just reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic but reading, writing, speaking and most importantly, listening.

An intending immigrant (temporary-student or permanent-lawful resident) must submit the accepted English exam results, the most popular of which is the IELTS (International English Language Testing Services) and the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) with the TSE (Test of Spoken English).

Canada has its own preferred set, the Canadian Language Benchmark; while Europe (including the UK) recognizes the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR).

It is worth noting that to date, despite being the country accepting more immigrants than all the other English-speaking nations combined, the US does not require English proficiency or fluency in the family-based categories.

Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and especially the UK, require the spouses or partners to demonstrate not only English competency at least but also learn the country’s values and history.

A comparable number of foreign nationals (1 million)pursue studies in the United States. The countries with the largest number of students studying at US colleges in 2016 were: China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Canada.

With President Donald Trump’s mantra of “America First,” an immigrant’s ability to speak English could be crucial in completing the immigrant journey.

Whether Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK or the US of A, an immigrant must talk the walk.

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