Singaporeans 'fare poorly in spoken English', says MP Hri Kumar Nair

While Singapore teens have been proven to do well in problem-solving, Singaporeans still fare poorly in spoken English and lack confidence in articulating their views, said Member of Parliament Hri Kumar Nair yesterday. -- ST FILE PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CH
While Singapore teens have been proven to do well in problem-solving, Singaporeans still fare poorly in spoken English and lack confidence in articulating their views, said Member of Parliament Hri Kumar Nair yesterday. -- ST FILE PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN 

They lack confidence in articulating their views, says MP

While Singapore teens have been proven to do well in problem-solving, Singaporeans still fare poorly in spoken English and lack confidence in articulating their views, said Member of Parliament Hri Kumar Nair yesterday.

Far too often, he shared on his Facebook page, he has attended meetings where Singaporeans kept silent, giving the impression they are ignorant.

So, although Singapore teens scored well in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) released on Tuesday, beating students from 43 other economies in its problem-solving test, there is still room for improvement. Singaporeans he dealt with are mostly "hardworking, knowledgeable and have a deep sense of responsibility and commitment to their work", said the Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP. "But they are often let down by their standard of spoken English and a lack of confidence to persuade or articulate their views on their feet. Many employers I know share this view," the lawyer added.

These are what he considers important aspects of education which Pisa does not test.

"However skilled you are at problem-solving and however many hours you spend at your desk, you will not likely make a strong impression in the business world if you are unable to communicate your thoughts and ideas effectively," he said.

He had attended many meetings where he had observed that "Singaporeans keep silent while others dominate the discussion, thus giving the impression that the latter are more knowledgeable or capable".

"If you say nothing, people will assume that you have nothing to contribute. That is a serious disadvantage if you are competing for a job, a promotion or a project."

Mr Erman Tan, president of the Singapore Human Resource Institute, said the importance of being outspoken is weighed differently by firms. "Some may like that you're outspoken because it means you engage more but some might think that you're not respecting your bosses or not a team player."

Singapore International Chamber of Commerce chief executive Phillip Overmyer said that while older Singaporeans may be less outspoken, younger ones are quite the opposite.

"What I'm seeing a lot... is that younger groups are much more open... They want to know what they can do to make things better. They're more outspoken and they tell you what they think," he said.

kcarolyn@sph.com.sg