Monday, June 30, 2014

The Unrepentant Speak Good English Movement is Back!

Earlier this year, I published many posts in this blog concerning the shocking errors perpetuated by those who claim to be Singapore's language experts. I had chanced upon two books published by or under the auspices of the Speak Good English Movement and as I said in my blog posts, you can barely read a single page of these books without encountering something unbelievably wrong on grammar, a subject which the books purport to teach their readers.  If you are interested, here is a list of the links to all the posts in this blog that deal with the errors in these two books: CLICK HERE

In the second half of May, I was suddenly seized by a need for a beach holiday and I went away to a nudist resort where I divested myself of not just my clothes but all thoughts of home and spent my days lazing in the sun and acquiring a perfect tan while sipping coconut juice and listening to the incessant waves and squawking of seagulls.  Unbeknownst to me, the Speak Good English Movement had sprung back to life and was making waves of its own in fair Singapore.

I knew nothing about what the Movement was up to until late last night when I saw an online news article dated 28 May. There are two online articles that are of interest to me, both dated 28 May and they are found in: 


Both articles tell the same story. Singapore's Speak Good English Movement has embarked on an ambitious programme to make the learning of grammar interesting. Comedian Kumar will star in a series of videos which are designed to teach grammar in an entertaining way.  What truly sent chills down my spine was their plan to publish more grammar notebooks as if the two shamelessly flawed grammar books they currently have to their name aren't bad enough.  I will say more about their two grammar books later.

If you have read my previous blog posts (and if you have not, you can always do so by clicking on the link in the first paragraph above), you will know that I would play a game with their two grammar books. I would turn at random to a page in one of the two books and write a whole blog post on some error I was certain I would find there.  Each time I tried, there was some error so shocking that my friends were outraged that the language experts who wrote the books were not sent to the gallows.  I will deal with the two books later, complete with a photo of them.

Let me go back to the two online news articles and we'll see if perhaps the Movement has got its act together and can now be trusted to at least get their basic grammar right. Let me pick no less a personage than the Chairman of Singapore's Speak Good English Movement himself.  Naturally, I can only quote from the online newspapers what the Chairman actually said and I will have to assume that the reporting is accurate.  Let me begin with the Straits Times.

This is what the Movement's Chairman said (I'm copying and pasting directly from the online newspaper):






I will confine myself strictly to grammar and I will not comment on the obvious inelegance of that very awkward sentence since the Movement is only interested in grammar and not style.  In that one sentence, however, the Chairman has shown himself to be rather confused over a very fundamental part of basic grammar commonly called "Parts of Speech" which appears at the beginning of every grammar book. It's elementary and nobody who is familiar with the English language can be excused for getting it wrong, far less the Chairman of the Speak Good English Movement.  I need scarcely explain to my readers that the correct sentence should read "...you can check yourself far more easily..."  What we must have is an adverb and not an adjective.  Without a doubt, that sentence the Chairman of the Movement constructed is ungrammatical.  But let's not just stop there.  Let me go further. I want to convince you that you are better off reading my blog (which is free) than paying good money for the Movement's grammar notebooks.

Those of us who love the Bard and have read most of what he's written, as the whole world should, may be tempted to quote from Sonnet 109:

As easy might I from myself depart  
As from my soul, which in thy breast doth lie: 

I have not known of anyone who has the temerity to edit that sonnet to read "As easily might I from myself depart".  Burchfield declares that it is hard to say why Shakespeare's line is "acceptable, even harmonious" while any other departure would be, to quote the OED, "vulgar".  But of course it's not hard to understand why Shakespeare wrote "easy" and not "easily".  The sonnet (as is the case with most of Shakespeare's works) is written in iambic pentameter. "Easily" would destroy the flow and metrical structure completely.  Woe betide anyone who has the nerve to write "I might depart from myself as easy as..." and call on the Bard for his defence.

Let us be clear here. "Easy" is an adjective and, unless you are writing a poem and the metrical structure does not permit you to use the adverb "easily", there is really no excuse for you to ditch the adverb for the adjective. But can "easy" be used only as an adjective?  Are there exceptions?

Yes, there are exceptions where "easy" can assume the role of an adverb but these are found only in some set phrases.  Apart from these set phrases and they are often colloquialisms, "easy" must always be treated as an adjective.  I can think of a few examples of set phrases where "easy" takes on an adverbial nature:

If you are fat, you might want to tell the cook to go easy on the oil.
You might want to tell someone who is visibly agitated to take it easy.
"Easy does it" is what you might say to the movers who are carrying your piano.

I am sure there are other such set phrases but what the Chairman of the Speak Good English Movement said above is not one of them.

Now, let's skip to the other online article which is from the Singapore government website. Once again, someone no less important than the Chairman of the Speak Good English Movement himself is quoted directly in this excerpt.

Mr Goh Eck Kheng, Chairman of the Speak Good English Movement says, “We are committed to encouraging Singaporeans to speak Standard English that is used all over the world. Just as we respect the authenticity of other languages, we need to respect grammar rules for the structure it gives to English.”

I was stumped when I first read it. What on earth does the Movement's Chairman mean by "the authenticity of other languages"? Why authenticity?  In linguistics, "authentic language" is simply real language used in real situations as opposed to language designed or contrived for the purpose of teaching grammar and vocabulary.  But it's obvious he's not referring to that.  Every known language has this authenticity in the linguistic sense. It's not something worth mentioning and if it's really the authenticity in languages that he's talking about, he would have said "authenticity in other languages". But even if he had said that, it wouldn't have made sense - what exactly is it that we are respecting? It doesn't at all accord with the overall intent of his speech.

What is more likely is the Chairman was confused over the real meaning of the word "authenticity".  Authenticity does not mean beauty or expressiveness or clarity. Or did the Chairman mean "authority" which although shares the first four letters with "authenticity" does not have any connection with it in meaning? The English language has a vocabulary wide enough to accommodate all these different meanings and nuances. Authenticity, in non-technical usage, can only have two meanings:

1.  Something is authentic if it is real or genuine and of undisputed origin. If you question the authenticity of a manuscript that is purported to have been written by Shakespeare, you are saying that the manuscript is not genuine and it wasn't written by Shakespeare.

2.  "Authentic" can also mean reliable or trustworthy e.g. "He gave an authentic account of the road accident".  Hence, there is authenticity in his testimony.

I have no doubt that the Speak Good English Movement consists of highly honourable people with the best of intentions. They have put in hours of hard work to help the people of Singapore speak and write better English. But I'm an honest man and I will speak plainly. I have in more than 20 blog posts shown quite conclusively that they are not really equipped or qualified to take on such an onerous task. They are clueless about correct grammar and we can't have a situation of the blind leading the blind. People in Singapore generally have an excellent command of the English language. Most of us are far more knowledgeable in grammar and usage than those in the Speak Good English Movement and if the Movement's two grammar books are anything to go by, we certainly will fare far better without the erroneous grammar tips and flawed language guidelines that they have so far come up with.

Let me now say a few words about the two disgraceful books that I have referred to repeatedly in this post.


English As It Is Broken and English As It Is Broken 2 are books written, supported or promoted by the Speak Good English Movement, the Ministry of Education, the National Library Board and the Straits Times. From what I can see, these two books are looked upon as the crowning glory of the Movement's achievements.  However, as I have shown in my previous blog posts, the English language "experts" who wrote these two books are so ignorant of basic English grammar that almost every page is riddled with shocking errors on grammar.  In some instances, students who wrote in to ask the panel of "experts" a point of grammar are taught to write ungrammatical sentences and what is really appalling to me is the fact that these students would have been better off not seeking their advice in the first place.  I've given a few examples in my earlier blog posts where students started out perfectly correct grammatically but the experts tell them they are wrong and give them rules of their own making which flout official grammar rules accepted by all grammarians. For the convenience of my readers I have listed in a single page all the links to my posts that deal with the grammatical blunders in these two books. Please click here.

It was not without some disquiet when I read last night that the Speak Good English Movement would be publishing "grammar notebooks".  Are they enlisting the help of the same "experts" who wrote their two erroneous books? Shouldn't the Ministry of Education look into this?

2 comments:

  1. Have you considered writing to the Minister for Education?

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    1. No, I don't think the Education Minister would bother about these things. You have read my other blog posts. Obviously nobody in the Ministry bothers to even read what the Movement has come up with. For example, the two books that have been around in Sg for the past 9 or 10 years. They have undergone more than a dozen reprints. Obviously nobody in the Ministry has bothered to read even a page of it. As I have demonstrated, all it takes is for the reader to read ANY page in both books and he is sure to be appalled at how clueless the "experts" are on basic English grammar.

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