Sunday 19 September 2010

Readers: Not all native English speakers make good English teachers

I have received a few e-mails about last week’s column where I suggested that Singaporeans should stop teaching English to ourselves.

One reader suggested that Americans also need to stop teaching English to themselves. The reason? “The way Americans misspell ‘color’ annoys me to no end.”

Ah yes, the evils of Americanised English – as opposed to “Americanized” English with a “z” (pronounced “zed”, not “zee”).

Being formerly part of the British Empire, we Singaporeans shouldn’t stand for such Yank deviance. Otherwise, Her Majesty may not let us join the Commonwealth Games.

But even though Americans don’t speak the Queen’s English, I’ve never heard of a Speak Good English Movement in the US.

(There is a “Speak English! This is America!” movement, but that’s a whole different can of worms.)

So the Americans can teach themselves English all they want – they don’t have Phua Chu Kang.

Other readers pointed out that native English speakers don’t necessarily make better English teachers because of their accents.

Of course, I didn’t mean we should pick just any native English speaker off the street.

But I believe a qualified, trained English teacher who’s a native English speaker (hopefully, with not too strong an accent) would be more effective in correcting our English than one who’s Singaporean.

Then someone else pointed out that there are Singaporeans who can speak English as fluently as any native English speaker.

I don’t doubt that. Too bad there aren’t enough of them to obviate the Speak Good English Movement and fill our teaching ranks.

Another reader, a local secondary school English teacher, thought that I was putting the blame “solely on the school”. I wasn’t.

He wrote: “The poor usage of language among our younger generation nowadays reflect not just the shortcomings of schools and teachers, but also the decline of family, dissolution of community and growth of diversity.”

I’m surprised he didn’t include local sitcoms on the list.

“Decline of family”? “Dissolution of community”? Perhaps bad English is the least of our problems.

I’m no language snob - I’ve written for PCK after all. The Speak Good English Movement wasn’t my idea, although PCK might have prompted it 11 years ago.

All I’m saying is that if we are really serious about improving our standard of English, then teachers play a critical role - even more so than sticky notes.

But being products of the same environment that created PCK, are our Singaporean teachers up to it?

- Published in The New Paper, 19 September 2010

Read The Features of Singapore English Pronunciation:
Implications for Teachers