Break image of Singaporeans being non-proficient in English

The writings of both Dr Gwee Li Sui and Ms Chang Li Lin have underplayed the proficiency many Singaporeans have in English ("PM's press secretary rebuts NYT op-ed on Singlish"; Tuesday).

That most Singaporeans retain an Asian language as a mother tongue does not in any way limit their mastery of the English language.

On the contrary, more Singaporeans are more proficient in English than in their Asian mother tongue, with some far surpassing even the so-called native speakers of English.

It is our first language in education and in the workplace, and the most common language spoken in Singapore homes ("English most common home language, bilingualism also up"; March 10).

Yet, Singaporeans wishing to pursue university education in the United States are still required to sit the Test of English as a Foreign Language (Toefl), as American universities think Singaporean students are non-proficient in English.

In many language schools operating in Singapore, to be an English language instructor, one has to be a native speaker, thereby disqualifying Singaporeans.

These practices are anachronistic legacies from an earlier era.

Every English-speaking country has its own vernacular sub-language.

Instead of arguing about the role of Singlish, Singapore should strive against discriminatory practices faced by Singaporeans in pursuit of education and work.

First, the Singapore Government should ban language schools in Singapore from discriminatory hiring practices against Singaporeans as English language instructors.

Second, the Government should work to persuade the United States authorities not to require Singapore students to submit Toefl scores when applying to study there.

Chen Junyi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2016, with the headline 'Break image of Singaporeans being non-proficient in English'. Print Edition | Subscribe