Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Are local school kids less able than foreign ones?

I have just been referred to this article presumably written by a school teacher in Singapore. He or she is of the view that Singaporean school kids are more reserved in class and less able to make a class presentation than foreign students who are more eloquent and have a better command of the English language.

I'm tempted to disagree with her but since I haven't got statistical data to back me up, I will simply say that I have no knowledge if her opinion is accurate.  I would have been more forceful in my disagreement if I hadn't recently chanced on clear evidence of how rotten English language teachers in Singapore could really be. I have presented examples of this in my recent blog posts and if you would like to see a list of all the examples of the kind of English Singaporean teachers and language experts write in, you may click here. This is a growing list and I will update it whenever I write a fresh post in this blog on the subject.

I really have no idea if Singaporean students are indeed more reserved and less able than their foreign counterparts in terms of language skills and public speaking. I would have thought much of it is dependent on whether a child is an introvert or an extrovert. But I will defer to the writer who is a school teacher and has no doubt a much richer experience with a far greater number of Singaporean students than I can possibly have in my entire lifetime.

I will assume that the writer's observation is correct and reliable and Singaporean students are less able to do a book review in class or to speak in front of a crowd. The writer does not specify in her article the country the foreigners came from but I am no less a keen observer and I can safely assume they are Indian nationals. Let me phrase the question succinctly so we can all home in on the real issues at hand: WHY ARE INDIAN NATIONALS MORE ABLE THAN SINGAPOREANS IN PUBLIC SPEAKING?

Anyone who visits India will notice immediately that the average educated Indian can speak very good English. He will also observe that the average Indian reads far more than a Singaporean. I remember going to a book shop in India which was no more than a ramshackle hut with a partially caved-in zinc roof and there were a few schoolboys browsing through the books. I looked at what they were reading and without exception, they were all reading Victorian novels in this tumbledown book shop. Who inspired them to read Victorian novels?

If Singapore's language experts are so absolutely rotten in their command of the English language as I have demonstrated quite ably in my recent blog posts, how can we expect our students to be inspired to write and speak as well as Indian students?  From my own personal experience, Singaporean teachers aren't at all learned in English grammar. I can recount many personal experiences with some of my kids' teachers but that will take a long time. If you click on the link above, you will see a list of some of the mistakes English language experts from the Ministry of Education make in grammar books that they have the gall to publish. If these are our English experts, what hope have students in Singapore unless we parents take charge of their language education ourselves?

I don't want to appear like a captious pedant but even the blog post written by the school teacher who is decrying the lack of English proficiency among Singaporean students isn't without any grammatical error. I immediately noticed a glaring error in the first few sentences. One would have thought anyone who was writing about other people's command of the English language would at least have taken the trouble to read through what he'd written and made sure it was flawless.

Perhaps, our students' inability to make public speeches has a lot to do with their lack of confidence in the English language. One can hardly fault them if their English language teachers are equally clueless about basic English grammar rules and what we see in Singapore is a sorry situation of the blind leading the blind.

EDITOR'S NOTE [25 February 2014 at 2:15pm]

I was rightly chided by a friend. He said that if I mentioned that someone had made a grammatical error in her text, I should point out precisely what error it was that I referred to in my blog. I should not assume anyone could tell what error there was in a passage. He admitted that he read through the article and could not spot any error in the teacher's blog post.  My friend is right and I apologise to my readers for not identifying her error.  The truth is I'm not bothered about grammar and I don't care for errors but since the writer was loudly complaining about the standard of English of Singaporean students, it's only right that I should expose her mistake.

Here is a very short excerpt of what she wrote.

The error is in the second paragraph in the sentence "And she did it so eloquently and grammatically sound." This error is pardonable in daily conversations but when it appears in the blog post of a language teacher who is declaiming against the poor standard of English of Singaporean students, it's a little hard for one to excuse her.

The mistake shows the blog writer's poor grasp of conjunctions. "And she did it so eloquently" is correct.  "And she did it so grammatically sound" is obviously wrong. The sentence should read "And she did it so eloquently and grammatically." Or "And she did it so eloquently and she was so grammatically sound". But NOT "And she did it so eloquently and grammatically sound." Anyone with an elementary knowledge of conjunctions, adverbs and adjectives should know this.

That's all I have to say. It's not in my nature to correct other people's grammar but since she's an English language teacher and she is making an observation about the state of English proficiency in Singapore, I suppose it is only fair to remind her that our poor students have a lot of reasons not to be as confident in public speaking as students from India. The burden rests squarely on our teachers' shoulders. Whether our English language teachers have discharged their duty properly is debatable.

If you are interested in a list of my blog posts on grammar terrorists (as I call them), click here. I have included this post in the list. My definition of a grammar terrorist is anyone who criticises another person's grammar or command of English when he himself is in error. The person has to be an English language teacher or the English language experts from the Ministry of Education (MOE) (most of my posts are against these experts from MOE) or someone who represents himself as an authority on the language.

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