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Monday, August 17, 2009

English still 1st language in Singapore.

With Singapore's push to massively populate strategically for the future, more and more friends from the mainland have arrived on the sunny island set in the sea. With China's growing biceps of cultural and ecomonic capital, Singapore's had to adapt and align a future shone by the Chinese sun. So, all things Chinese have become rather important in the island state.

But. Here's a timely reminder by Singapore's founding father that new residents ought to learn English. It's quite far from the truth on the ground though. Spent a few weeks home in Singapore and witnessed for myself what was previously hearsay and anecdote - Chinese shop assistants insisting on talking to my Malay and Indian friends in Mandarin. Despite my friends repeatedly speaking in English.

I've had a personal experience ordering ice cream at Swensons, and the server from the mainland had no idea what the words 'ice cream' meant. It'll take some time, but I do reckon Singapore's social harmony could do a boost with foreign talent/workers who make the effort to harmonize and integrate, and speak the common tongue of the peoples of Singapore. Harmony is the key, not imposition.


English still 1st language
It will be decisive for career advancement for all, says MM Lee
By Clarissa Oon & Goh Chin Lian
Source - Straits Times Online 17 August 2009

ENGLISH will remain Singapore's master language even as the country nurtures more bilingual talents who can do business with China, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said on Thursday. 'The command of English is a decisive factor for the career path and promotion prospects of all Singaporeans.

'For Chinese Singaporeans and those who want to study Chinese, Mandarin will be an added economic advantage with a thriving economy in China for many years to come,' he said.

Even new residents from China know they will not go far without an adequate grasp of English, he added. 'And they are pushing their children to master English, otherwise they will be disadvantaged in getting places in our good schools and universities, and in getting scholarships and eventually jobs.'

However, he drew the line at making it a requirement for permanent residents and new citizens to be fluent in English. 'We cannot make (the requirements for residency) so onerous that they will not come, for example, by requiring permanent residents or new citizens to be fluent in English, which even some existing citizens are not.'

His remarks at a constituency dinner follow a recent debate in The Straits Times Forum pages on whether Mandarin is slowly replacing English as the language on the streets, and its consequences for Singapore's multiracial society.

One ST reader, Ms Amy Loh, wrote how Geylang has evolved from a racially mixed, multilingual area into an enclave for new residents from China, with a growing prevalence of Chinese-only shop signs.

Another letter writer, Mr Samuel Owen, said it is becoming increasingly difficult to order in English in some Chinese restaurants and shops because many workers from China cannot speak English. While agreeing that Mandarin proficiency was important to Singapore society, Mr Owen urged the Government to strike a balance between that and English as a lingua franca.

MM Lee called on Singaporeans to give the new arrivals from China some time to adapt to life here. 'It is not easy to adjust to a different society, multiracial, multilingual, multi-religious, with different customs and ways of life,' he said.

People also need to be circumspect about the Government encouraging Singaporeans to speak more Mandarin and take scholarships to study in China's top universities

Said MM Lee: 'Do not be misled by the emphasis on Chinese language and culture... It does not mean we are displacing English as our working and common language, our first language.'