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Ease of English communication and Technical ability made the Philippines the world’s “BPO [A] . If you are outsourcing a complicated programming project it is more important yet.

So lets focus on English in evaluating the Philippines and its competitors.

A pause is needed here. If you are looking for one or two programmers you can probably find them anywhere. Population becomes a key factor if you need many programmers over a long period. Especially if they are to be part of your staff. When you go out to hire more you don't want to find that they are just not available.

Philippine Outsourcing Has No Rival

On our introductory page we claimed that nobody else is even in the same league. Now it is time to back that claim up. Such a claim is already suggested by the title often given to the Philippines of “the world’s BPO Capital”. [B] This was originally earned after they overtook India two decades ago as the world’s leading center for call centers.

Here we are concerned with the outsourcing of Computer Programming.

You can always find and train call center representatives but programming skills are not that easy to find. Only a small fraction of a population has the ability and interest to write software. So a first requirement for a world leader in programming is simple – it is the population they can draw upon.

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English Speaking Population

A healthy population will take your search only so far. But we need to be able to speak to them!

As any American who has struggled to understand Indian English [F] will tell you, the quality of the English has to be considered. An organization called English First (EF) [see box] Ranks the countries in the world by the quality of their English The Philippines is 20th most proficient out of 120 countries.

What about the countries who rank #1 to #19

Almost all are European countries with a small English Speaking population and, more important perhaps, high programmer salaries. An exception, and the only other Asian country to score high with English First, is Singapore. But with a population of 5.6 million it would likely be difficult to assemble a sizable team of talented programmers. Also Singapore, with a cost of living 5 times higher than the Philippines would not be a good choice for outsourcing companies looking for lower cost.

This brings us to the heavy-weights with enormous populations and a high percentage of English speakers. They are listed below together with their English First ratings.

  • Country
    English Speakers
    EF Rank
    EF Rating
  • Philippines
    113,000,000 [L]
    20
    High
  • Nigeria
    121,544,394 [D]
    27
    High
  • India
    129,000,000 [E]
    60
    Moderate
  • Bangladesh
    19,838,772 [M]
    60
    Moderate
  • Pakistan
    108,000,000 [M]
    64
    Low

Philippines vs India

India ties Bangladesh at #60, just ahead of Pakistan at #64. The proficiency ratings are an average over the English speaking population and you would expect half the population to be above the average and half below. India, Bangladesh and Pakistan are clustered around the dividing point between “Moderate” and “Low Proficiency”.

It follows that half these populations are likely in the low category, a large number are Moderate and a relatively few are HIGH Proficiency.

This is a stark contrast to the Philippines where the average is High Proficiency and where you would expect many at very high. In fact some studies say 14% of Filipinos speak English as their first language.

Nigeria is making efforts in this market. They may emerge as a significant competitor for the Philippines in future years. They are held back now by government regulatory issues and inadequate infrastructure.

The largest ranking of countries by English Proficiency is English First (EF). The ranking is based on test data from over 2 million adults. [H]. a rank of 20 means 20th of all the non-native English speaking countries. So Categories based on the scores are defined as follows:

Very High Proficiency: EF EPI score 600+

  • Use nuanced and appropriate language in social situations
  • Read advanced texts with ease
  • Negotiate a contract with a native English speaker

High Proficiency: EF EPI score 550 - 599

  • Make a presentation at work
  • Understand TV shows
  • Read a newspaper

Moderate Proficiency: EF EPI score 500 - 549

  • Participate in meetings in one’s area of expertise
  • Understand song lyrics
  • Write professional emails on familiar subjects

Low Proficiency: EF EPI score 450 - 499

  • Navigate an English-speaking country as a tourist
  • Engage in small talk with colleagues
  • Understand simple emails from colleagues