How We Learned English at a Japanese School in the Philippines

    Hello! This winter, we spent a month in the Philippines studying English.

    (Latisha teacher sends greetings to the readers of Habrahabr)

    (all the variety of the Russian-speaking part of the school at that time: from left to right Alex (a school employee and part-time student), students Zhenya, Zhenya and Roma)

    Why the Philippines?

    The idea to learn English abroad came to us a long time ago: nevertheless, in an environment where no one speaks your native language, progress should go much faster.

    For me, the criterion was a slight time difference with Europe / Moscow, since I planned to combine work with studies, well, both of us wanted English to be either the official language or widespread so that we couldn’t communicate only at school, but also on the street.

    Of course, price also played a role, because we, unfortunately, are not billionaires.

    After some searches, we narrowed down the list to the following:

    • Australia - dropped immediately due to the price of flights and accommodation and training.
    • England - first of all fell away due to the weather. We planned training in February, so it was also a means of escaping from the cold.
    • Malta - in principle, it’s normal, not far, but we thought it would be boring there - after all, a small island from which you can’t get anywhere.
    • Philippines - mild climate, sea, ocean, where you can swim and very cheap. Well, an important fact - the Philippines currency has the abbreviation PHP.

    Another fact in favor of the Philippines was our meeting with Filipinos on one of the diving safaris a year ago. Filipinos spoke English best of all on the boat, and in general, how we liked the people.
    Looking ahead, I will say that a set of individual lessons in the Philippines costs as much as group classes in Malta.

    School choice

    We immediately google two potential options:

    • learn from an expat from England one-on-one in Boracay
    • Quite large school QQ English in Cebu

    At first we tried to get to Boracay, but Erik (the teacher) was busy all month, so we started to learn more about the school in Cebu.

    Around the same time, I came across Alex's post on Vinsky's forum, in which he said that he was invited to work in this school as a curator of Russian-speaking students. Probably, communication with him led to the fact that we finished the search.

    By that time, we only knew about the Philippines that it was an island state, for a long time were a colony of Spain and spent considerable time under the occupation of Japan, and then the USA. By that time, we had visited 10 countries in Asia, and I was sure that after the Cambodian Poipet I could survive everywhere, so there was nothing to fear. But first things first.

    How to get there

    There are no direct flights to Cebu or even Manila from Moscow. It seems that there are flights to Manila from the Far East, but I did not specify.

    We found two budget options for getting to Cebu:

    • Korean Airlines - a round-trip ticket with a 6-hour guaranteed connection in Seoul at that time cost about 45,000 rubles per person (hereinafter I will indicate all prices in rubles if you need to transfer them to another currency, here is the converter: https: // )
    • Direct flight to Hong Kong, from there - a low-cost airline. We chose this option: Aeroflot and Cathay Pacific are taken to HK. Tickets for both cost from 16 to 20 thousand round-trip, depending on the season and time of order. From Hong Kong to Cebu, the Cebu Pacific low-cost airline flies. For two tickets with 1 piece of baggage, we gave away 4500HKD, which at that rate yielded about 20 thousand rubles (for two).

    When choosing, we were not even guided by the price, but by the fact that 6 hours is not a very good time for connecting: you really don’t have time to see in the city, and you sit too long at the airport.

    The route through Hong Kong gives you much more freedom: you can spend as much time in HK as you need. And yes, I think this is the best city on earth.

    When we booked a hotel in Hong Kong, I was unpleasantly surprised by the price - everything was either without seats or 3 times more expensive than on our last visit. As a result, we found a room in a hostel with a double bed and a private bathroom for 3,500 rubles per day.
    And only on the day of arrival, I realized that we arrived in the Chinese New Year. On the one hand - everything is expensive and a lot of people on the streets, on the other - we saw a magnificent salute. (Photos of fireworks for the phone for obvious reasons are not obtained).


    The main program of the school is 6 individual lessons, 2 group and evening electives on weekdays with weekends on Saturday and Sunday. I asked me to shorten the program because I expected to sit down to work right after graduation.
    As a result, I got 6 individual lessons every day, Zhenya - 6 individual and two group ones. The cost for 4 weeks of study is 39,000 and 43,000 PHP, respectively (30 and 33 thousand rubles). The price does not include meals and accommodation. Since I wanted to work in silence, we did not choose a student dormitory, but hotels. As far as I remember, living in a hostel increased the price by 20%, and complex meals at the school cost 2,000 PHP (1,500 rubles) per week.


    Since I planned to work immediately after graduation, we chose the hotel taking into account the proximity to IT-park (the area where the school is located); also a significant criterion was the presence of a good wifi.

    In total, during our life in Cebu we changed 3 hotels in the city itself, plus for every weekend we went out somewhere, but more on that later.

    Hotel prices in the city start from 600 rubles per night (hereinafter the price of a double room), a good hotel will cost 1,500-3,000 rubles. On the coast (Mactan City), prices are sky-high - it's easy to find a hotel for 15,000 a day. It is worth saying that the quality of housing is much worse than the average in Southeast Asia. If in Thailand we rented a room for 600 rubles and there was hot water, cleanliness, Wi-fi and possibly even air conditioning, then everything is much worse. In general, the concept of cleanliness among locals differs from the generally accepted one.

    Trash with long black hair on the floor is the “standard” of service in any hotel.

    In general, staying at the hotel was our mistake, we had to live in a dorm - it would be cheaper, and the conditions would be better. And a fun company would always be at hand.

    About school

    80 percent of students are Japanese, with very different ages. Both teenagers and pensioners come across, although the bulk are still from 18 to 30 years old. In second place are Koreans. The remaining interest is shared by the Chinese and Taiwanese. In trace amounts there are Thais, Russians, Arabs.

    When we entered school, there were only four Russians, including Alex, who is not quite a student. Judging by the activity in social networks, now there are about 10 of them Russian. This is not 4, but still very few, and this is beneficial in learning the language.

    Before I went to school, I knew about the Japanese ... nothing. It turned out that these are people from another planet. IMHO between Russians and Chinese is much more common than between Chinese and Japanese. In a nutshell, the feeling can not be described. Probably the main thing is total politeness, a completely different look at some things and a little childish naivety. My wife, who attended group classes, especially felt the mentality. My opinion is based solely on communication during a change.

    By the way, I can not help but notice that Japanese girls look very well-groomed or something. For example - try to determine the age of the girls from the photo below (I will leave the correct answer in the comments).

    The school’s management is also Japanese, so I can only say about the processes that everything is at the highest level. From the unusual - in school toilets there is no toilet paper. According to the leadership, this was done specifically so that Japanese students do not relax and always have paper / napkins with them - this can be useful for them in public places.

    The school is located in the newest quarter of Cebu - It-park, which is very different from the rest of the city. If you do not go beyond the fence, then there may be a deceptive feeling that you are in Europe or the United States. In the neighborhood there are offices of large It-companies, the main activity of which is call-centers: almost all Filipinos speak good English, and they ask very little for their work. :) Right here - a bunch of international cafes with a kitchen for every taste, banks, currency exchangers and so on.

    (photo from google)


    The Philippines is a country of bureaucrats. As an example, in this picture, three tickets are a ferry ticket to Boracay from the airport, a ticket for using the terminal, and an environmental fee receipt. To get to the island you need to buy these tickets at three different ticket offices, and then three different people will check these tickets for you. And so in everything.

    With regard to education - with a Russian passport without a visa, you can stay in the country for up to 30 days, but if you will study, then you definitely need to apply for SSP - special study permit. This is a special piece of paper that extends the right to stay in the country (read - a student visa) and at the same time is something like a license for a school. As a rule, SSP will be already included in the cost of training. If ordered separately, then, taking into account all kinds of notaries, the price will be about 6500 php (5000 rubles).

    Also, all students are given an id-card, see photo. This card is a pass to the building, and for locals it also replaces a passport. When checking into a hotel, for example, they are asked to present an id-card, not a passport.

    In general, everything is complicated with passports - far from everyone has them. In elections, locals vote by fingerprint, and the same id acts as an internal document. On it you can even fly on local airlines.

    Studying proccess

    We arrived in the city on Sunday evening. On the first day after checking into a hotel, Alex managed to give us a sightseeing tour of the school, boast a free pool and a gym, in the evening we had a beer at Q-cafe, which, incidentally, also belongs to the Japanese. The first time I drank beer with ice, seizing its kimchi. By the way, kimchi with beer is quite edible.

    The next day we had an entrance test. They conduct it on TOEIC questionnaires, only in an abridged version.

    During my life I studied English several times: first at school, then at university, then at some courses, at others, etc. It all ended with the level of upper intermediates. When I passed the entrance test, my level turned out to be a high beginer, which is three steps lower than what I had in Russia. To say that I was surprised is to say nothing. Well, okay, I just accepted the fact that the Russian system for assessing the level of English is different from the global one. Although I probably knew this before, just feeling it on my own skin is somewhat offensive.

    The Japanese, incidentally, have even worse: they have a different writing system, a different phonetics, grammar. Some came to school without even knowing the alphabet, by the way, and many left without significant progress.

    The test took a very long time, so on the first day we were not taught. In the evening there was an acquaintance, cakes and various activities. This was not much different from meeting in a pioneer camp, that's just all in English and people around are mostly Asian. By the way, closer to the end of the first week, I finally got used to the type and perceived all students and teachers as “their own”.

    In the evening they issued a schedule. My classes began at eight in the morning and lasted until three in the afternoon with an hour-long lunch break. The class itself lasts 50 minutes, after which 10 minutes is given for a break. It seemed to me more convenient than the usual school schedule: nothing needs to be considered: if the hour has changed, then it's time for a lesson.

    I had 6 classes. I will not list the names, since this is not interesting, I can only say that every emphasis was on spoken language. Yes, one lesson was about reading and another was about listening, but still most of the time you have to either listen to the teacher or talk.

    All teachers are local, but this should not be feared: unlike most other Asian countries, they do not have a clear accent. Rather, there is, but it does not at all look like an Indian, for example. A couple of times I even asked to reproduce Filipino English in order to understand exactly how the accent sounds and how not to pick it up. The main thing that I noticed was a partial replacement of the sound “f” with “p”, that is, they can pronounce “pilipino” instead of “filipino”.

    As for the teachers, I’ll separately note that I didn’t like everything, but it’s more personal than professional. If the teacher does not like him at all, then the school gives the right to change him, but not more than once a week. I did not use this right, so I won’t tell you the details.
    The classic lesson is structured as follows:

    - Hi, Rio!
    - Hi, Eugene! How are you?
    ... chatter about different things for 10 minutes
    ... chatter on the topic of the lesson: listening to audio recordings of media, analysis of texts, assignments, that's all
    ... chatter about the cultural features of Russia for 5-10 minutes
    - Bye, Rio! Have a nice day!
    - Bye, my friend! Have a nice day too!

    Zhenya had two more group classes, then I write down from her words.
    Group classes are not as useful as individual ones: after all, the group turns out to be different in level, plus the Japanese have a very strong emphasis. As a result, more effort is spent on understanding the Japanese than on learning the language. There were a couple of cool stories, for example:

    - Is it true that you have totalitarianism as in North Korea?
    - o_0?
    - Do not be afraid, no one is following us, here you can tell the truth!


    - We sort the garbage into nine types, put it in different containers according to the days of the week, then it is taken out and processed. What are you doing with the garbage?
    - We throw it all together, then it is taken out to special landfills. Apparently, it is stored there forever.
    - o_0?

    The teachers of Europe and Russia are very interested in topics, so at every convenient opportunity they try to ask some question or draw a parallel with local traditions. Sometimes it turns out funny:

    For example, once in a lesson I showed photos of Yakuts as proof that Russia is big and not all “Russians” look like me or my wife. By the way, about my wife: about four times we had a dialogue like this:

    - May I ask you a personal question?
    - Of course.
    - You have the same first and last names, are you married?
    - Yes!
    - And what, according to Russian traditions, does a wife take not only her husband’s surname, but also her name? We have only a surname!
    ... A 5-minute explanation that sometimes coincidences occur, and in Russia, and indeed in the world, there are several names that can be given at birth to both men and women.

    Another interesting thing: Asians (not just Filipinos) do not eat rabbits. When I replied that we sometimes cook a rabbit at home, the reaction was as if we were eating human babies.

    The main advantage of studying, and indeed living in an “environment” is that the active vocabulary is growing very quickly and the language barrier is breaking. Even if they don’t understand you, you don’t want, but pick up synonyms or explain something on the fingers.
    A classic example - in the Philippines, all drinks are served with ice, so if you want regular black tea, you should definitely call it hot tea, otherwise they will bring some lipton from the bottle, where there will be more ice than the drink. So, we did not understand the word hot stubbornly. IMHO the thing is a strong blow to about, which must be pronounced completely wrong. But in Russian schools do not teach phonetics. :(
    A way out was found almost at the end of the trip. Since we did not learn how to pronounce hot correctly, we acted according to the following algorithm:

    - Would you like to drink something?
    - Two cups of hot tea, please.
    - Pardon?
    - Hot tea. “Eich-ou-ti” tea plz. // Here we need to gesticulate, trying to draw the word hot

    To close the topic of education, I will say that in a month we have grown to the level of intermediates, that is, we have risen two levels. This is considered great progress, apparently due to the fact that the Japanese language is much more difficult. Of the minuses - immersion in the environment was not as complete with us as if we were living in a hostel. Well, according to subjective feelings, the level of language has grown significantly.


    In general, I had the following idea: from eight to three in the afternoon I study with a break for lunch, then from three in the afternoon until midnight - I work with one hour break for rest. It happened like that, though sometimes without a break, sometimes I was knocked out a little earlier, and sometimes I had to linger. To say that I was tired is to say nothing. Perhaps this is the experience that I do not want to repeat. All the same, it is very difficult to maintain such a pace for a month.

    // I’m talking specifically about the combination of work and study: it is very difficult to engage in active activities from 6 am to midnight every day for a month.

    I make a living by programming, so it was not so difficult for me to agree on remote work.
    As for the process - until the end of Zhenya's classes, I worked directly from school: on its territory there are normal public places with soft pillows and a library, where it is always quiet. Then we went to the hotel, where I continued. The Internet is everywhere of acceptable quality: about 1-2Mbs down and 0.5-1 up. What upset were the giant pings: to America about 250-300 ms, to Russia - 500-1000. This is unpleasant, but bearable.
    I did not use mobile Internet, because Wi-Fi was everywhere.

    On the Internet, not a single resource is blocked, Facebook is loaded, torrents are downloaded.

    The medicine

    We never travel without insurance, but somehow we did not pay much attention to the quality of the insurance company, and indeed, the Philippines have never asked for medical help abroad. In the Philippines - had to. I will not go into details, I can only say that Alfastrakhovanie and its international operator cannot provide the proper level of service: all their help came down to sms with the address of a public hospital and a promise to reimburse expenses in Russia if we pay on the spot by cache. I don’t want to be in Cebu public hospital for the second time: take a Soviet clinic, mix mud and tropical diseases into it - voila, the hospital is ready.
    Fortunately, by that time we already had many acquaintances among the locals, and they advised a good paid hospital. According to them, he was terribly expensive, in fact, the initial appointment cost us 600 rubles. At the same time, the staff was qualified and friendly. An interesting difference from polyclinics in Russia is that each doctor in Cebu has his own personal secretary, his own card file, etc. In fact, every doctor is self-sufficient.

    From tropical infections, only dengue can be caught here, and even that should be very “lucky." Malaria is officially not present almost anywhere (on the island of Cebu - certainly not). But to bring some kind of “dirty hands” infection is as simple as possible: confirmation - yes, read it on the same Vinsky forum.
    In general, large cities are very dirty. At the same time, antiseptic gels are not particularly common. In principle, if you wash your hands often and do not eat on the street, then nothing should happen.

    By the word "dirty" - I mean it is dirty. In Bangkok, I could sit on the curb, eat chicken skewers or pad thai, bought on the street and drink his whiskey with cola, cooked right there, without crossing the inner threshold of disgust. It was much dirtier in Cebu.


    To my taste, the local food is not very good. But it is for my taste and I do not impose it.

    This is the second country in my life in which I could not eat local cuisine. Local people do not eat fruit (although they live in the tropics) and seafood (although here it is, the ocean, at hand). All meat is usually imported freeze. A favorite cooking method is deep-frying, in which the oil has never changed. From meat, they prefer pork. One of the national dishes is deep-fried pork fat. Another national dish is balut. I will not put a picture, google yourself.

    By the way, locals have a positive correlation between income and weight. If you are rich, you will be at least well-fed, and if your family is rich in several generations, then you will grow normal growth.

    With food, we were saved by a large shopping center located nearby, which had international cafes and a good grocery supermarket. Here we noticed a connection between income level and weight: mostly well-fed Filipinos entered the European supermarket.
    We ate European, Thai, Japanese cuisine, but we tried to stay away from the Filipino.
    Interesting: at McDonald's and KFC, almost all dishes are served with rice and the chicken is much more fried. Prices are significantly lower than in Moscow.

    It-park is also full of international cuisine, that is, it is difficult to stay hungry here. Without problems, you can find dishes familiar to us: pizza, soups, sushi, salads.

    There are donuts with divine taste.

    Local realities

    Below I list a few facts about the Philippines and Filipinos.

    Total religiosity

    Filipinos are Catholics. Catholicism is practically a state religion. For example, divorces are prohibited in the country, because this is not a charitable deed. Abortions (in my opinion also prohibited) and protection they consider murder, so the average age of motherhood is very low. We met women who became mothers at 13. Magellan, who opened the Philippines to Europeans, is a national hero, because it was he who brought Christianity to the islands. Lapu-Lapu - the killer of Magellan (pictured :) is also considered a hero, because he laid the foundation for the liberation movement.


    Despite the previous paragraph, there are a lot of gay men on the islands. Among the teachers, there are also several people.
    I do not know how to continue this paragraph. Their presence did not give me any inconvenience.


    Probably, this item applies only to large cities. 90% of the city is slums. Even in a prosperous It-park, you can meet children sleeping in boxes in the morning right at the offices. Closer to nine, they disappear somewhere, but the next morning they reappear. According to teachers, children are actively selling drugs, because according to local laws, they are not criminally liable at all until a certain age.
    Most likely this applies only to megacities such as Cebu and Manila - after all, large cities attract different people.
    When boarding, taxi drivers block all doors to prevent theft. Taxis, by the way, go by the counter and are very cheap. Landing - 40 pesos (30 rubles), then every 300 meters - 10 pesos. You can drive the whole city for 300 php (250 rubles)


    You can read the history of the appearance on the Internet, and I just attach a picture. They are cool.

    There are practically no public recreation areas in the city

    In the city, you can walk on foot only at It-park and Ayala Shopping Center. In general, this is the city of the winning car (preferably with air conditioning and a good air filtration system).

    By the way, there are no sidewalks either.

    Well developed public transport

    This pleasantly surprised us. Intercity buses are very decent. Conventionally, it can be divided into two categories: with and without air conditioning. The fare is approximately the same. Air-conditioned buses are really cold. Filipinos, like other residents of warm countries, like to make it colder if possible. Old buses open windows, so it’s also not hot.
    In the city it is better to take a taxi, it’s very cheap, but you can take a jeep, there the fare generally costs a penny: 8 pesos (5 rubles), if I'm not mistaken.


    Not all the time to sit in a dusty city. During the life in the Philippines, we had three days off. Since the description of the rest is somewhat beyond the format of the Habrahabr, I will simply list the events and attach the pictures:

    1. Snorkeling with whale sharks. Yes, yes, Cousteau saw in his life 2 whale sharks, and I saw 4 in half an hour.

    2. Very beautiful waterfall in the jungle:

    3. Chocolate Hills:

    4. Tarsiers (the smallest monkeys in the world):

    5. Boracay (about which you can write a separate article):

    All in all, it was a very interesting experience. I can say with confidence that, firstly, I liked everything, and secondly (the most important thing in learning), the level of English has grown significantly. I regret a little that we did not live in a hostel, in which case immersion in the environment would be more complete. Well, the international kollektkiv is very cool. I now have Japanese, Chinese and Arabs as friends in social networks.

    ps. I thought for a long time to spread the article or not: after all, it does not quite correspond to the subject of the Habr, but when I read a similar article about studying in South Africa, I realized what to write. It turns out the topic of education abroad is in great demand.
    ppsQQ English pays me nothing for this article, I do not set the goal of advertising them, but simply share my experience. If you are interested, Alex has a Russian-speaking group in one well-known social network, it is very easy to find.

    ppps. Forgot to write conclusions.
    1. It is very cheap and convenient, there are no problems with visas, as in the "alternative" countries
    2. Language level is growing very fast
    3. The main feature of the school is one-on-one classes, so the problem "I'm stronger than the group" is not here
    4. Combine work and study is not worth it, well, if you are not a robot

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