Go back to structured way of teaching English

There has been much discourse on the use of Singlish and standard English in Singapore ("English to help us connect to the world"; June 22).

It has also been observed that the old-school learners of English speak and write better than many learners today. The old-school learners' mastery of the language is laudable, given that many did not come from English-speaking homes.

This has much to do with how they learnt or were taught the language.

Teachers adopted a structured, rules-based approach which emphasised grammar and idiomatic expressions. Besides spelling and dictation, students also read the classics.

Despite limited resources, learners made the most of what they had, such as by listening to radio broadcasts, reading the newspapers, which were often shared among various households, and pooling their money to hire a tutor.

Many students tried to create an environment for play to enhance their learning. A late start in learning English did not impede their learning of mathematics, the sciences and the humanities.

But the structured approach was chucked. A communicative approach was adopted in the hope that students would pick up English through the natural way - use it enough and one will get it.

Although we hear more students speaking the language, or a smattering of it, spelling, grammar and pronunciation have not kept up. The students cannot code-switch, as many cannot tell the difference between standard English and Singlish. In fact, many think that the latter is "cool".

The advent of new media, texting and blogging further distracts them from proper English.

Many students seem to have mastered examination skills instead. By the time they enter university, where the emphasis is no longer about language mastery but training for a vocation, they miss another chance to shore up their wanting standards.

So why have we not reverted to the time-tested structured teaching of yore?

Perhaps a rethink of the teaching of English is needed.

Meanwhile, parents should refrain from adulterating their children's grasp of the language by using Singlish at home.

Lee Teck Chuan