Since independence, Singapore has adopted English as our language of use for business and government. As a result, we have gained a competitive edge as English is the lingua franca on the Internet and in a globalised world.
We have attained a level of proficiency in English among our young and the general public. However, it would be wrong to assume that this competency is a given, if standards are not adhered to.
As linguists have pointed out, the language environment in Singapore is complex, due to the use of multiple and very different languages.
The Ministry of Education's experience in schools is that the use of Singlish will confuse students and hinder their progress in developing competency in the English language. If children hear Singlish, they will learn Singlish.
Students immersed in Singlish encounter many difficulties in learning and speaking standard English. Furthermore, non-standard usage in speech often transfers to writing. While some students who are proficient in English can switch between standard English and Singlish, this is not true for all students. It is therefore educationally sound to teach standard English.
The Speak Good English Movement promotes standard English. People who speak good English should continue to do so, to serve as role models and help our young learn standard English.
Singaporeans, especially our young, must be able to communicate in English with clarity and impact, not just with fellow Singaporeans but with English speakers all over the world. This is especially important because we are a small nation, and cannot expect others to understand Singlish.
While Singlish may be a fascinating academic topic for linguists to write papers about, Singapore has no interest in becoming a curious zoo specimen to be dissected and described by scholars. Singaporeans' overriding interest is to master a useful language which will maximise our competitive advantage, and that means concentrating on standard English rather than Singlish.
Liew Choon Boon
Director, Arts & Heritage Development Division
Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts
Ho Peng (Ms)
Curriculum Planning and Development
Ministry of Education
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 12, 2008.