Singlish impedes mastery of English

Mr Seah Yam Meng believes it is "alarmist" for me, and perhaps even the authorities, to think that Singlish would displace Standard English ("Singaporeans know right time, place for Singlish"; yesterday).

As a teacher of English, I am concerned about the threats undermining the use of Standard English in schools, of which Singlish is but one.

Our young need to be taught proper, functional English that can stand them in good stead where prospects for their employability in an increasingly globalised economy are concerned.

Despite at least 10 years of English-medium instruction in school, the majority of adult Singaporeans are hardly proficient in the use of written and spoken English.

Anecdotal evidence of this deficiency abounds at the workplace or in correspondence with service providers, in the form of fractured sentences and garbled messages which appear to be common.

I am, thus, sceptical of Mr Seah's belief that Singaporeans are "mature enough to switch between Singlish and Standard English".

English is, moreover, not the mother tongue of most Singaporeans. If households are ill equipped to support the use of Standard English, this makes it all the more imperative that schools ensure uncompromising standards of English language instruction are upheld.

If the fundamentals of English grammar and usage are not properly taught, and if Singlish continues to be heedlessly imbibed as what is deemed acceptable, we will be doing a gross disservice to generations of young Singaporeans, who will be at a distinct disadvantage once they step into the working world.

Marietta Koh (Mrs)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2016, with the headline 'Singlish impedes mastery of English'. Print Edition | Subscribe