LETTER: MURALI SHARMA
SOON, the Speak Good English campaign will be upon us. The fact that we have this campaign yearly speaks volumes for the determination, vision and hope that its organisers hold for future generations.
It is astounding that in Singapore, where we are surrounded with materials in English, many are still struggling with the language. From accent to pronunciation and grammar to vocabulary, the basics seem to have eluded a large number.
In a country where the English language envelopes our very existence in administration, street signs, television, radio, magazines, newspapers, etc, it is amazing how many have fallen by the wayside. So how can we improve?
Like all good things, good English should start at a young age, in the home. However, we are a polyglot society, with each race having its own ancestral language constructions. All these influences shape the English that we speak, and no two languages can coexist perfectly.
The first step in this battle has to be taken by parents, not schools or tutors. Children will learn naturally daily, but parents must be the first conduit of good language habits. Parents need to gear up to be purveyors of quality English.
How does this fit in with our aim of being a bilingual society? One way is for each parent to talk to their children in one language, that is, English or another, although this is easier said than done. Sometimes both parents speak only the same language. The ball is now in the parents’ court.
It is therefore preferable that more parents take the task of language proficiency seriously. Many spend thousands of dollars at the gym, on computer and other upgrading courses but do not upgrade themselves in language proficiency.
A palpable influence is the television. Everyone watches it and children, even adults, may take it as the yardstick of good spoken language. Presenters and those interviewed should speak good English, and subtitling should be in correct English.
Schools are an important stage in this development. You know how children go by the teachers’ pronouncements even when the parent is right. So teachers should be as near perfect as can be achieved.
Teachers need to be constantly upgraded and rewarded for their proficiency, and that should count toward promotion. Very young children learn orally, listening and reproducing. Perhaps there can be much more oral work in Primary 1 and 2.
National Service affords another stage in life, apart from schools, when we have a captive audience. Full-time NSmen can be taught one language, either English or another, in which they are weak. It will serve to upgrade their proficiency and contribute to greater national cohesion.
I hope that with a concerted effort, we can improve the standard of English in the country.