Good spoken English gives us edge in global economy

A patron reading a book at Jurong Regional Library on Nov 11, 2016.
A patron reading a book at Jurong Regional Library on Nov 11, 2016. PHOTO: ST FILE

I couldn't agree more with Mr Ken Ong (It may be time for a Speak Proper English campaign, July 2) and Mr Yap Hock Chye (Learning good spoken English has to start in pre-school, July 3) on the need to drastically improve our standards of spoken English.

One has only to look at the recent passenger feedback survey on Singapore Airlines' loss of its No. 1 spot to Qatar Airways. The need for a better, more intelligible standard of English appears more than once!

While we constantly strive for international standards in all areas, this is not being applied to our spoken English.

Perhaps China understood the value of good English in connecting with the rest of the world, when it set up more than 20,000 English teaching camps before it hosted the Beijing Olympics in 2008. This has resulted in many mainlanders having a more than acceptable standard of spoken English.

Some roadblocks need to be first removed.

First, we need to rid ourselves of the notion that Singlish is an acceptable alternative. It is a form that is understood only among Singaporeans and within the confines of this country, and we should see it for what it is - a familiar patois that helps us connect socially with one another. As more of us work and interact internationally, Singlish will be a detriment.

Second, as a nation that consistently punches above its weight, how do we make our presence felt and persuade others to our ideas, if we are not clearly understood?

Third, there seems to be a misperception, especially among the young, that speaking good English is equivalent to discarding our Asian roots and putting on a style to ape the West.

Let's face it - English is the world's most used international language.

In the early 1970s, Mr Lee Kuan Yew initiated a policy to bring native speakers into our schools to set good standards of English. Perhaps it is time to reconsider this policy, especially, as has been suggested, in early education, where the foundation is set.

Unfortunately, we are now in a catch-up situation.

So a Speak Proper English campaign would need to be sustainable to effect change.

We face possible social stratification down the road as the stronger English speakers access better-paying jobs. In not developing good spoken English language skills, we are only disadvantaging ourselves in the global economy.

Myrna Thomas

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2019, with the headline 'Good spoken English gives us edge in global economy'. Print Edition | Subscribe