Friday, November 28, 2014

Singapore - excellent in all things EXCEPT...

Yesterday, as I was walking down the road, I saw a postman working with great speed and efficiency. He stopped his motorcycle by the roadside and he moved so fast that he was almost running from house to house to deliver the letters. I have seen postmen at work in other cities in the world and they are a far cry from their Singaporean counterparts.

Now, let's look at the tools of trade - the motorcycle.


It's not a small rickety bike you'd expect to see a postman riding in. It's a spanking new state-of-the-art motorcycle specially designed for postal work.

But this is just so typical of Singapore. Everything about the country is top-notch and unbeatable. In the arena of education, Singapore is second to none. Singaporean students have clinched all the top academic awards. International Olympiads in Physis, Chemistry, Biology and Maths are all bagged by Singaporean students. And let's not forget that Singaporean students have consistently topped the World Debating Competition. At least I remember the recent one in Dundee when students from Singapore's top school Raffles Institution clinched the champion's cup in the World Debating Competition.

But there is one area where Singapore descends to the depths of disgrace and humiliation. Singapore has a most rotten English language education. In the EF English Proficiency Index, Singapore is below Malaysia in English proficiency.  Let us always bear in mind that Malaysia is not a country we should compete with because Malaysia is so different from Singapore. English is relegated to the position of a foreign language in Malaysia and Malay is the official language and the language of government.

Singapore tries to remedy this problem and it introduced more than 10 years ago the Speak Good English Movement. But I've proved beyond a shadow of doubt in this blog in well over 60 blog posts that the Speak Good English Movement is not just ineffective, it actively ruins the standard of English in Singapore.  Click here for a user-friendly page with all the links to the evidence I've gathered on the deleterious effects the Speak Good English Movement has on English proficiency in Singapore.  The Movement is so incredibly incompetent and ignorant that it often fails to grasp even the most basic of English grammatical rules.

Here are some highlights of the egregious blunders committed by the Speak Good English Movement (these are what the Movement says):

"Alan and George works as a team" is acceptable.

"He told me to go to bed after I have said my prayers" is correct while "...I had said..." is wrong.

"I'm scared of the dark" is wrong. It should be "The dark scares me".

"You are subjected to your teacher's availability for consultation" is correct.

"Whom shall I say is calling?" is more appropriate.

"You can check yourself far easier" is correct.

"Much" in "much cheaper" is redundant.

"Premises" became singular after a reader disagreed with the "experts".

"As hot as they" is incorrect. It can only be "as hot as them" because "them" is the object.

"High morality" is wrong.

"Do you know who the inventor of the camera is?" is wrong. It should be "Do you know who is the inventor of the camera?"

"Stick no bills" is Singlish.

Why the Ministry of Education does not disband this shamelessly disgraceful Speak Good English Movement is something that will have me puzzling to my grave.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Temple of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day is a foreign festival totally unheard of in Asia. It's not just Asia; it's foreign to everyone on this planet except Americans and those who pretend they're Americans.

The spirit of thanksgiving and gratitude is of course found in most cultures and religions. This morning, I stumbled upon a beautiful Buddhist temple that I didn't know existed. It's called the Temple of Thanksgiving.

The outer wall looks like the body of a dragon. This is quite a common feature in Chinese temples.







Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Speak Good English Movement - where every sentence is wrong

The Speak Good English Movement is so clueless about English grammar that I can click on any part of their website at random and I'm sure to encounter all kinds of shocking errors. I just did that this afternoon and this is the link I clicked without looking:

There are only a few sentences in that excerpt above but the Speak Good English Movement got 75% of them wrong. Let me illustrate.

The question asked is "What is the difference between 'whereby' and 'in which'?"


ERROR NO. 1: "It is the difference between two prepositions".

While in which can be referred to as "preposition + which", whereby is NOT a preposition. It's a conjunction or a relative adverb. If the Speak Good English Movement can't even get that right, they really ought to pack their bags and spare the rest of us their illiterate babbling.


ERROR NO. 2: "Prepositions are words that link words within a sentence".

That's totally wrong. It's at best a partial description of a conjunction, NOT a preposition. I understand that every child in Singapore who has gone through Primary 3 education knows this. Well, the Speak Good English Movement doesn't.


ERROR NO. 3: "You might say something like 'the rules by which you must follow' or 'the rules whereby you must follow'.

This is pathetic. Singapore's Speak Good English Movement is not even able to give an example of how the word whereby may be used in a sentence.

When follow carries the meaning of "conform to or comply with or obey advice, command or rules", it is always transitive. The Oxford English Dictionary quotes Iris Murdoch, "I...followed my rule of never speaking frankly to women in moments of emotion."

It is grammatically incorrect to say "the rules by which you must follow" or "the rules whereby you must follow". You simply say "the rules which you must follow" or "the rules you must follow". This is elementary and I would expect a child of three to have no problem with it.

If you would like to look at a list of all my articles on the errors of the Speak Good English Movement, MOE's language experts and other teachers of English, please visit my List of Grammar Terrorists.

Getting an A* in English at the PSLE



I have explained elsewhere in this blog that getting a score of 4 A's at the PSLE isn't of any value at all. A child can't go anywhere with only 4 miserable A's. He can't be enrolled into Singapore's top school. He'll miss it by at least quite a few points; that's how steep the competition at PSLE is.  Four A-stars are what a child must aspire to get.

Admittedly, getting 4 A-stars is not something you can sit back and hope for. One must put in some effort. But it's not difficult to achieve. When you look at all the four subjects at PSLE, the easiest A-star (or A*) that a child can secure is English. It really doesn't matter what the background of the child is. An A* for English is so achievable that I can understand the anguish some parents must feel when they see their kids getting anything less. But then, who can they blame but themselves? The reason I say this is parents are the best teachers of their own children for something as practical as language. And I have a real personal story to recount.

Some time ago, a friend rang me up and she was completely distraught. Her only child who had just started classes in P6 had done very badly in the P5 English paper. She wanted me to help "coach" her kid for "less than a year". In other words, she wanted me to be the child's tutor for the entire duration of about 9 to 10 months leading to the PSLE. Teaching kids was the last thing I wanted to do with my time and so I told her I was busy. She told me that she could see that I was fond of "wasting precious time" hitting out at bad English teachers on my blog and if I could just spare a bit of my time teaching her kid, she'd really be grateful. She told me that I had no experience teaching and my blog on language teachers lacked that special depth that only those who had been through a teaching stint could really have. Why not experience teaching firsthand and I could blog about it too? I thought for a while and I told I would give it a try.

The first thing I asked for was the boy's last exam script. I almost threw in the towel when I went through the exam paper. My exposure to pupils taking the PSLE before that was limited only to my own kids. I could see that this boy had absolutely no notion what English grammar was all about. He could not construct even a simple sentence without some glaring error. There was no way I could secure an A* for this child and teaching him would really be a waste of my time which could be more fruitfully employed slamming the "experts" from the Speak Good English Movement in my blog.

I telephoned my friend and told her the whole idea was a huge mistake. I explained in great detail what I saw in the exam script, how bad his vocabulary was, how poor his grasp of simple grammatical rules and how impossible it was for him to construct basic sentences without mistakes. I told her that she should take him to a good teacher who could teach him well. I reminded her that I had neither the training nor the experience in teaching and while it might be fun to see if my untried method could work on a child, it'd be foolish to subject her own kid to my experiment.

She told me that her kid was already attending classes at a very famous tuition centre which my kids used to go to before I pulled them out. She begged me to just give her kid a try. I told her I could not promise her anything but I would try to manage about an hour every week or fortnight with her son but if her son conducted himself in a manner which did not agree with me, I would have to terminate the arrangement. She assured me her son was not fidgety and he would be a compliant learner.

Before the first lesson, I asked my friend for all the worksheets that the boy had done both in school and at the tuition centre. I wanted to see where he stood and what his problems were. The evening before his first lesson, I ploughed through his work and it soon became clear to me what the boy's problems were.

You see, what I did the night before was no different from what an oncologist does when he goes through the x-ray report of his patient. He needs to identify the cancerous area in the patient's body. What I needed to do was to identify the problem areas that the boy had. There's always a simple reason why someone makes grammatical errors. There's always carelessness of course but a teacher must be sure to ascertain if the mistake is due to carelessness or ignorance. Perhaps he just doesn't understand the rules of grammar or he can't apply them to a sentence. What he needs is not more grammar exercises. Those are of little value. A cancer patient does not need a health tonic. He needs targeted treatment.

I had a shock of my life when I read the boy's composition or essay-writing exercises. Because he went to the same tuition centre as my own kids, he used the same chunks of unsightly monstrosity that these tuition centres all churn out for their students. Hideous vulgarisms were liberally strewn all over his essays. Although I'm not a teacher, I have years of experience with English language teachers in Singapore, mainly through my kids and also from the books and articles that they write. All English language teachers in Singapore, whether they teach in private tuition centres or our mainstream schools, are fond of giving pupils a set of trite and hackneyed expressions that 90% of PSLE candidates are sure to use at PSLE. The one stark example that I can remember is "I stood, rooted to the spot".  This is what I jokingly call the "It was a dark and stormy night" category of bad expressions.  Just think how an examiner feels if he reads 500 essays written at the PSLE and 499 of them contain the same old expressions that schools have been dishing out to their pupils for the past 10 years. Out of those 500 candidates the A* grade will most certainly go to the candidate who's written a more original essay.

The grammar section is another major component in the English paper. A good teacher must be able to identify what the child's problem areas are. But before he does that, the teacher must himself have a proper knowledge of grammar. Readers of my blog must by now know that a knowledge of grammar is not exactly what MOE's teachers have a strong point in. My personal experiences with Singapore's language teachers did not leave me assured that my kids could do without some major input on my part. And if you have been following my blog, you will know it's not just our school teachers who are afflicted with grammar problems; English "experts" from MOE and consultants to the Speak Good English Movement have shown themselves to be quite hopelessly unable to teach proper English grammar.

If you want a full list of the articles I've written in this blog on the grammar errors made by MOE, the Speak Good English Movement and other English language teachers, please click here. You will see that the list of errors include those that appear in that outrageous grammar book, English As It is Broken Parts 1 and 2 which is written by MOE's panel of English "experts" and consultants to the Speak Good English Movement. That's a grammar book that is so shockingly erroneous that I'm willing to bet that you can't flip through two pages without encountering some egregious blunder that even a child won't make.

The mistake most parents make is they assume that anyone certified by MOE to teach English must be qualified, equipped and competent to teach the language. I assure you that in all my experiences with English teachers in Singapore, I have yet to come across a single teacher who is competent to teach my kids English. Throughout their primary schools, I was the sole English teacher they could rely on. I discouraged my kids from turning to their teachers whenever they had a question on the language. They had to ask me.

This article is not a puff and I'm not advertising anything. I am not a professional teacher and I have no intention of making a foray into the education industry. I'm writing this post with only one purpose - to encourage parents to be their kids' English language teachers. I have no faith in Singapore's English language teachers and it doesn't matter if they are MOE's teachers or teachers from private tuition centres.

My friend's son had numerous problems with grammar. He was especially weak in tenses, concord, prepositions and phrasal verbs. He needed a great deal of help with vocabulary and proper usage. Once these problem areas were identified, it was easy to help him overcome his difficulties. With the help of examples from grammar books and from novels and poems, I was able to work with him and help him understand the pattern and orderliness behind each grammar rule. Contrary to what many people think, English grammar is very orderly and logical.

Singapore teachers are quite able to teach all the other subjects and I have no qualms leaving my kids with them without any supervision from me. But alas, they can't teach English and if parents don't bother with their kids' English language education, they shouldn't be upset if their kids do not score in their English paper that coveted A* which I'm pleased to say my friend's son obtained.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Be careful who the deceased is.

Recently, a Member of Parliament wrote a lovely letter to his daughter to assure her of his love on the eve of the day when the PSLE results were released. It's one of those heartwarming letters and it has gone viral. Unlike Singapore's captious but ignorant language experts who can't even spell "grammar" to save their lives but who are very quick to pounce on other Singaporeans even when they have made no mistake, I will make no comment on the grammatical errors in the letter. I have said many times before that appearances (which include grammar) don't matter one bit to me and as long as I can understand the substance of what is said, I'm ok with it.

But there is one small matter and I feel obliged to make just a short comment.  It's really quite insignificant and I feel bad having to bring it up but this is my personal blog and I have kids of my own and I'm naturally desirous that they do not make the same error. In fact, it was my daughter who read the letter and brought the error to my attention. She wanted to know if it was a mistake.

The sentence reads, "You asked me to take you to the wake of a schoolmate when her mother passed away last year". A wake is like a funeral. It's only for the dead. If my mother dies (heaven forbid), you do not come to my wake or my funeral. You go to hers.  I won't have a wake or a funeral unless I'm dead. Many people in Singapore are superstitious and I tend to be quite careful when I talk about death and funerals. If they are alive and kicking, they'll be livid if there is any hint, however small, that they're dead. It's for this reason that the number 4 is to be avoided like the plague. If you buy a house, don't pick one with a 4 in the address, even if it's 14 or 40. You may find it impossible to sell the house. That's because in Chinese, the number 4 is homophonous with "death".

But this is a minor error obviously made out of carelessness. This is to be distinguished from the errors made by the Speak Good English Movement which are serious errors made out of pure ignorance of the rules of grammar. There is no comparison at all and this error will not be placed in my List of Grammar Terrorists which is a list of all the shocking errors of the Speak Good English Movement, MOE's language experts and other teachers of English. 

The Speak Good English Movement blunders for the umpteenth time.

In my previous article, I castigated the Speak Good English Movement for saying on their website that "I am scared of the dark" was grammatically wrong. I showed in that article what utter nonsense they were spewing from their mouths. But I'm not yet done. In my earlier article on how pernicious the Movement is for the standard of English in Singapore, I examined the "LIST OF COMMON ENGLISH ERRORS IN EVERYDAY SITUATIONS" found on their website. In that article I dealt with the Movement's insane statement that "to put a child to sleep" could only mean euthanising him. I also stated in that blog article that there were many more errors in the Movement's list.

I will now deal with their third blunder in that list alone. Before I go on, I have to say something to put the Movement's errors in perspective. So far, all the Movement's errors that I have dealt with (and I'm talking about the dozens of articles I've written in this blog on their mistakes) are not errors they made because of carelessness. If a mistake is made in the course of one's writing and is due to carelessness, which is of course very common and quite pardonable for any writer, nobody would fault the Speak Good English Movement. Even the best writers slip up from time to time. However, the Movement's errors are errors made when they have given sufficient thought to a point of grammar. They must have thought about it or even looked up a grammar book or a dictionary before they made a bold statement that a word is incorrect or a sentence wrongly constructed. Their errors are errors that stem from their sheer ignorance of grammatical rules and proper English usage.  To put it bluntly, they are incompetent and are unfit to teach anyone the English language, far less to be the nation's English language watchdog.

According to the Speak Good English Movement, "to search for a missing document" is wrong. This is what they say in their list of common errors on their website.

What they mean is whenever the word "search" is used in a sentence, it must be followed by an object. In grammar, we call such a verb a transitive verb. To the Movement, "search" as a verb cannot be used intransitively. Hence, to them, you can search THE OFFICE for a missing document but you can't search for a missing document.

But everyone knows that's nonsense. Any good dictionary will tell you that "search" is also an intransitive verb. The Oxford English Dictionary places the intransitive use of "search" as its first definition. The examples provided by the dictionary are:

Hugh will be searching for the truth. 
His lax brown eyes scanned the conveyor belt carefully, searching for a black duffel bag. 
He mounted once more and began to trot among the trees, searching for the source of the noise.
The Cambridge Dictionary gives another example for the proper use of the verb "search":

I've been searching all day, but I can't find my ring anywhere.
I can pick examples from a dozen other dictionaries but I don't have to do that. All right-thinking, English-speaking people in Singapore and everywhere else on this planet know that it's perfectly correct to use "search" in this way. It's fine if the Speak Good English Movement just sits back and does nothing for Singapore. But they are causing immense harm by teaching Singapore students rules which  they have invented themselves and which conflict with the established rules of Standard English.

Who appointed the committee members of the Speak Good English Movement and on what criteria? It's not too late to undo the mistake - simply dissolve the Movement. Singaporeans are much better off without an organisation that seems hopelessly unable to get its English right.

If you would like to look at a list of all my articles on the errors of the Speak Good English Movement, MOE's language experts and other teachers of English, please visit my List of Grammar Terrorists.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Are you scared of teachers who can ruin you?

I recall hearing a child with a cherubic face telling his parents, "I'm scared of the dark". He was about 5 years old and his parents wanted to take him on one of the rides in Disney and unlike other kids his age, he didn't seem thrilled. But let's look at what he said:
I'm scared of the dark.
That's a common enough sentence anywhere in the world where English is spoken. But the Speak Good English Movement will have you believe that such a sentence is WRONG. That is what they say in their newly compiled list of common errors called  "LIST OF COMMON ENGLISH ERRORS IN EVERYDAY SITUATIONS" which appears on their recently revamped website.

In my previous post, I showed that the Movement was wrong to say that the first item in their "list of common errors" was an error. I went on to assert that the Movement made numerous other errors in that list alone. I have, in this article, picked the most glaring mistake on the part of the Movement. It's such a common word used in such a common way that even a bonobo with an advanced brain disease must know that there is nothing wrong with it and yet Singapore's Speak Good English Movement declares it to be a common English error.

This is what they say on their website:

I am sure I will go to my grave wondering what possessed the Speak Good English Movement to utter such nonsense. I always try to see if I can unearth the reason for a teacher's error especially when the error is wildly lunatic as this undoubtedly is. Everyone in Singapore, from a toddler to the scholarly genius in our top university, must surely know that "scared" when used in the sentence "I am scared of the dark" is perfectly correct. How on earth can anyone make such a ludicrous mistake and say that it is wrong?

To the Movement, "as the dark scares me" is acceptable but not "I am scared of the dark". They accept as correct "I am afraid of the dark". Obviously, the Speak Good English Movement of Singapore is only familiar with the word "scare" used as a verb. Because of their unbelievably poor grasp of the English language and their astonishingly limited vocabulary, they are unaware that the word "scared" is also an adjective and has been so since the late 16th century.

On the proper use of "scared" as an adjective, the Cambridge Dictionary gives this example which is almost identical to the sentence the Movement declares to be wrong:
He's scared of spiders / snakes / the dark.
This error by the Speak Good English Movement is quite unpardonable mainly because "scared" is such a simple word and its use as an adjective is so common that even children in kindergarten are familiar with it.

But making outrageous mistakes and flouting very simple grammatical rules are not uncommon for the Speak Good English Movement. They hold the view that "Alan and George works as a team" is acceptable. If you want to read about this mistake of theirs, please click here. Although I wrote in the article that the mistake was made by MOE's panel of language experts, the Speak Good English  Movement was very much involved as a collaborator on the grammar book in which the mistake appears and usually, these language experts wear two hats - they are language teachers in MOE's employ and they act also as consultants to the Movement.

If you would like to look at a list of all my articles on the errors of the Speak Good English Movement, MOE's language experts and other teachers of English, please visit my List of Grammar Terrorists.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

IT'S OFFICIAL - SINGAPORE HAS LOST TO MALAYSIA

In a land where appearing on the top of world charts is something devoutly to be wished for, it must come as a blow to us when year after year, we are trounced by a country as incompetent as Malaysia.  But this year is no exception. We still occupy a place below Malaysia on the world chart.

I first discovered this when I read this article in the South China Morning Post which complains about how Hong Kong's English proficiency has for the first time sunk below that of some cities in mainland China as seen in the EF English Proficiency Index. After complaining bitterly about the decline of the standard of English in Hong Kong, the article drops this bombshell:
Malaysia was the top-ranking Asian country in 12th place.
Now, surely Malaysia can't possibly be the top-ranking Asian country? Has the writer forgotten Singapore?  Ever eager to go directly to the source, I looked up the internet for the actual EF English Proficiency Index and yes, Malaysia ranks higher than Singapore in English proficiency.

As you can see, Malaysia occupies the 12th position and Singapore the 13th under "High Proficiency".

Malaysia has a total score of 59.72 and Singapore comes close at its heels with a score of 59.58. Mind you, this index is only for countries in which English is not the first language. Singapore's position below Malaysia, however small the margin may be, is a disgrace. This is because English is very much Singapore's primary language; all the other countries in the index do not have English as their main language.

This is precisely what I have been blogging about for years until I'm beginning to sound like a broken record. I have just counted all my blog posts in which I brought up the egregious language blunders made by Singapore's Speak Good English Movement, MOE's language experts and other language teachers in Singapore including the Sub-Dean of the School of Arts and Social Sciences in SIM University and I have written more than 50 articles in my blog on this! If you are interested in a list of all of them, I have summarised them on one page - click here. I add on to this list each time I post a fresh article on this topic. I have covered not just the mistakes of Singapore's English language experts but I have also examined in a fun and lighthearted way mistakes made in school anthems in Singapore.

But all this has fallen on deaf ears. The Speak Good English Movement has shown itself to be totally clueless about English grammar and proper English usage. But that's not all. Despite its ignorance and incompetence, it has gone on to write a grammar book in two volumes or at least this grammar book was written in collaboration with it. I have shown in my blog posts that this grammar book is so incredibly flawed that you can't go through two pages without spotting a few outrageous grammatical errors in them. I have explained how this book together with the language advice given by the Movement to students is extremely ruinous to the standard of English of students and of course the overall English proficiency of the entire nation.

The Movement is not a harmless clown that is only good for a laugh. I started out looking at the Speak Good English Movement in that way. I made fun of their errors which are great dinner conversation starters. But I soon began to see how school students are misled by the Movement’s experts. Students would innocently ask the "experts" questions on grammar and the experts would tell them to replace their correct sentences with the experts' grammatically erroneous ones. I have given many examples of this in the link above. It was only when it became evident to me that this harm done to students was not an isolated incident but the Movement's consistent course of action that I knew the Movement could not be looked upon as innocuous. Contrary to its objectives, the Speak Good English Movement has a most pernicious impact on the standard of English in Singapore.

Before I go on, let me say from the outset that the people behind the Movement are honest and sincere and they truly desire the best for Singapore. My only complaint and this is something I have stated repeatedly in my blog is the Movement's language experts - they are undoubtedly not suited to the job. That they are they ignorant of basic grammar rules is bad enough but that is not all; they have even been shown to cook up their own grammar rules that fly in the face of the rules of standard English. And because they are not well-read, they are unable to see that there are many creative ways that English sentences can be constructed and they are very quick to denounce any sentence structure or English usage that they, in their limited knowledge and deficient reading, are not familiar with. Apart from lowering the standard of English in Singapore, the Movement's actions also have the inimical effect of stifling whatever linguistic creativity a student has.

For many months, the website of the Speak Good English Movement was "under construction" which was fine. As long as the Movement lies dormant, no harm is done to students in Singapore. But recently, they came back online. I thought they would have got their act together, removed all the hideous errors and revamped the entire website. But as I reported in this blog post when I first discovered they had come back to life, nothing has changed. Just go to their website and you will see that they display the same poor grasp of even the simplest rules of English grammar. Let's take their "List of Common English Errors in Everyday Situations" and let's start from the very beginning:

This is the kind of trash the Speak Good English Movement is famous for dishing out. This irritating problem that the Movement has is commonly seen in English language teachers who aren't sure of the language they are teaching. Unlike many other languages, English is the only language in the world that allows for a million different ways to express the same thought. It is also a language that stumps many learners because each word or phrase can have a wide range of diverse meanings. This gives it a flexibility not found in other languages and it is the ideal language for poetry and other literary forms. It is for this reason that Goethe once remarked that Byron's "Don Juan" was written in a "cultured comic language" and only the English language could produce it. I'm tempted to give a few examples from "Don Juan" itself but I've always been told, sometimes sternly, to get to the point and so I shall.

Put to sleep means precisely that: to cause someone to sleep. This meaning is as old as the first humming of a primitive lullaby to a Saxon baby even before Beowulf was written. If you google the baby websites in all English-speaking countries from Canada to New Zealand, you will find that "putting a child to sleep" is a perfectly acceptable expression today and nobody on the safe side of the walls of Woodbridge Mental Hospital will confuse that with euthanising a child.

But for a long time, death has been something most people avoid mentioning. In English, the image of sleep is frequently used to signify death. But this does not mean that the word "sleep" takes on a new meaning and can ONLY mean death. Sleep can be used euphemistically to mean death but it's wrong to say that it can no longer be used to mean mere slumber.

So, when does sleep mean sleep and when does it mean death? As with all things, it depends on the context. The following exercise will be good for the Speak Good English Movement. It will help them to exercise their brains so that they can learn to discern what words really mean from the context.  These are examples from the King James Bible which was written 400 years ago:


He built Eloth, and restored it to Judah, after that the king slept with his fathers. (2 Chr 26:2) 
I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me. (Ps 3:5)

But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. (Mt 13:25)

And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose. (Mt 27:52)

Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. (Mt 28:13)

But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. (1 Cor 15:20) 
Woe betide the Speak Good English Movement if they dare suggest that you should not say "sleep" when you mean slumber because it can be used euphemistically to mean death.

There are examples galore from various dictionaries of someone being put to sleep and it has nothing to do with killing him. Here's one:
Bunny and Sue were given a good dinner and put to sleep that afternoon, for they were tired, sleepy and hungry.
You can search the entire length and breadth of this planet but only Singapore's Speak Good English Movement will say that whoever it was that put Bunny and Sue to sleep was deserving of the death penalty.

There is another euphemistic expression for "to euthanise". It's "to put down",  Here again is an example I borrow from a dictionary:
Rex was in so much pain, they had to put him down.
The meaning of "to euthanise" is unmistakeable. But as with all English expressions, there are a multitude of meanings to any expression and "to put down" has more than a dozen other meanings. Here's another dictionary example:
I had just put Mary down when you rang. So now she's crying again.
Unless one were a raving lunatic who ought to be strapped in a strong straitjacket and thrown into a locked padded cell, one would not think that the speaker in that sentence had just killed her baby girl.

What about a "double whammy" example that's sure to terrify the Speak Good English Movement? Since "to put down" and "to put to sleep" can both mean to euthanise, the Speak Good English Movement would probably be all the more alarmed if we say we "put a baby down to sleep". Of course a vet who's putting a suffering dog down to sleep is euthanising it but these dictionary examples clearly make no reference to euthanasia at all:
I wasn't scared at first about becoming a mum, but as the months went on I started to worry about things like bathing her and putting her down to sleep properly. 
Katie put Julie down to sleep and then went over to the dining room table so that she could do her homework and still be able to watch the kids.
The idiocy of the Speak Good English Movement has just inspired me to come up with an episode for the old comedy, "Mind Your Language".
Mr Singh picks up a young child who shouts furiously, "Put me down!" Mr Singh reaches for his religious dagger that he always carries with him in the comedy but before he can do anything further, Mr Brown, in a stern voice, tells him to put away the dagger. 
"Thousand apologies," says Mr Singh as he shakes his head. "You were telling us just the other day in class that to put something down is to kill it. This boy has just asked me to put him down."
It may be hilarious in a comedy like "Mind Your Language" but it's not amusing in the least when Singapore's Speak Good English Movement shows itself to be just as clueless about English usage as the fictional foreigner who's learning to speak English in the comedy.

And I have only dealt with the first item in their list of "Common English Mistakes in Everyday Situations". That list is a minefield of many other glaring errors which I may, if I have the time, expose in this blog. I've only gone through a bit more of this new website of the Speak Good English Movement and I assure you I have encountered errors too numerous for me to blog about. Why can't the government do the decent thing and disband this Movement? I cannot overemphasise the fact that the people in the Movement are all lovely people but isn't it obvious by now that they are not suited to the job? Apart from Malaysia, which other non-English speaking country has to beat us on the English Proficiency Index before the government finally realises that it's high time we put this embarrassing Movement permanently to sleep? Yes, and I do mean end it for good.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Folks, they're back!!!

Remember Singapore's infamous Speak Good English Movement which published a book on English as it is broken by them? For a while, their website was under construction but they're now back with their spanking new website.

I've just glanced through the site and I'm pleased to say that they haven't changed one bit. They're still as entertaining as ever in their ignorance of the English language. And they still go round butchering the language of Shakespeare and Milton. I haven't the time to go through the site more carefully but in the short time that I spent there, I was able to pick up quite a few laughable chunks of bad grammar that only they can come up with.

On 4 March this year, I published this post in which I showed that the English "experts" from the Speak Good English Movement could not even answer a simple question on grammar. Someone had asked if he should say "subject to" or "subjected to" and the "experts" were so clueless of English grammar that they confused both the active and passive voices which is why I facetiously titled my article MOE's Language Experts Need Voice Training.

One would have thought they would by now have got their act together and made amends for their disgraceful ignorance of such a basic point of English grammar and so when I saw on their website the heading "SUBJECT TO AVAILABLITY OR SUBJECTED TO AVAILABILITY", I clicked it and this is what flashed on my screen -


Anyone would have thought that after I had exposed their dumb mistake and their failure to understand this very simple point of the language, they would have taken the trouble to amend their answer. Well, they did write a totally different answer this time but they still got it all wrong.

If a primary school kid were to tell me that "subject" in this context was an adverb, I would call his parents and suggest that they got him a more responsible English teacher. English experts from the Speak Good English Movement who make such a glaring error ought to be sent to jail for the remainder of their lives with no hope of a remission. Mind you, this is not a careless mistake. The experts did not write "adverb" by mistake because they proceeded to define an adverb as "one that describe (sic) verbs, adjectives, or even adverbs". They really think it's an adverb.

And if you want to use "subject" as a verb, "You are subjected to your teacher's availability for consultation" is fine, according to the experts from the Speak Good English Movement. Even a castrated bull would know better than to moo aloud such a hideous piece of abominable monstrosity.

Obviously, to this very day, they haven't a clue what "subject" means. Will the Speak Good English Movement amend this webpage of theirs one more time and get it right for once?

Before I forget my manners, welcome back, SGEM! I'm sure I'll find your website hugely entertaining.

For a full list of grammar errors made by MOE, the Speak Good English Movement and other English language teachers, please click here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What's in a name?

I'm afraid I'll have to pick on Ludwig Tan again but I assure you, this is not deliberate. It so happens his blog contains many boo-boos which are quite hilarious and since I like to have in my blog articles that are funny, it's great to be able to pick little nuggets from his blog which are already amusing by themselves. His blog is a useful resource for comedians who have run out of humorous anecdotes.

This is what Ludwig Tan posts in his blog:
When I first read the above, I was puzzled. Surely everyone knows that with proper nouns (Cafe Lobby is an example of a proper noun), you can always have a variation of the order and examples abound all over the English-speaking world? I decided to put it to the test.

I buy my nasi lemak every morning at a Malay stall which is manned by a woman and her son who's about 14 or 15. I called the boy over one morning and I asked him what he thought of this. Of course in Malay, it's quite common to have the word order in reverse. But I asked him if he thought it was possible to have a place name in that order in English. I gave him the example of Cafe Lobby. Now, this boy does not have much education. He dropped out of primary school and he works full-time in his mother's stall. But he's a bright boy and after racking his brains for two minutes, he replied in the affirmative. And he took me completely by surprise when he broke into a song, "Welcome to the Hotel California," he sang as he danced a little. At first I didn't connect the song to my question and I asked myself why this young boy was singing an old song of my generation. And then it hit me and I almost stood up to ask him if he would like to be the Vice-Dean of the School of Arts and Social Sciences in SIM University. "Hotel California" is an example of the word order that Ludwig Tan has declared to be a grammatical transgression! Wow! This primary school dropout certainly can teach Ludwig Tan a thing or two.

My point is everyone except Ludwig Tan knows this. One of his readers makes this comment at the bottom of his blog post and as I have shown elsewhere in this blog, his readers who are presumably his students usually know much more than he:


Of course we have numerous examples in England, America, Australia and elsewhere on this planet where English is spoken but why does Ludwig pick on a small Singaporean enterprise? And to call it a grammatical transgression is simply ridiculous.

There exists in Singapore a group of English teachers who are very quick to condemn everything Singaporean as wrong but they regard as unquestioningly correct anything that hails from Mother England. This may explain why when Ludwig wrote his piece against this honest Singapore cafe, he did not once consider names such as Tate Modern, Park Royal in London or even the title of that hymn book which I'm quite familiar with as a former altar boy and which originates from England,  Hymns Ancient & Modern. If Kallang River had been named River Kallang, these Anglophiles who have a shaky foundation of the English language would have been up in arms but for them, River Thames is quite a different kettle of fish altogether and is deserving of their adoration.

Really, I would have thought anyone who calls himself Ludwig Tan would be the last person to quibble about a name!


For a full list of grammar errors made by MOE, the Speak Good English Movement and other English language teachers, please click here.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Why I exposed Ludwig Tan's errors Part 2

Before reading this, you may want to look at Why I Exposed Ludwig Tan's Errors Part 1

When I first started criticising Ludwig Tan's outrageous errors in English, I was careful to blot out his name and to protect his identity. But I soon realised that he did not accord the same courtesy to the people he excoriated for errors that are sometimes due to carelessness. What is even more unacceptable is he sometimes incorrectly insists that a sentence is wrong or a word is wrongly used and you can see instances of this in my previous blog posts, the links of which can be found in Why I Exposed Ludwig Tan's Errors Part 1.

But as I have shown in the earlier posts in this blog, Ludwig Tan's language errors are far more serious and less pardonable. All his mistakes that I have highlighted in this blog are not mistakes that he makes after writing at great length. If you look at his blog, Ludwig Tan does not write at great length at all. It's quite common for one to slip up when writing paragraph after paragraph of text. Ludwig's mistakes are not careless mistakes. They are mistakes he makes when he sets out to correct someone else's language. He usually picks on journalists who may have to get an article out at short notice. And Ludwig can be very scathing in his criticism of the writer. The mistakes Ludwig Tan makes are mistakes that aren't due to carelessness or haste. He has all the time in the world to write his blog and he's picking on someone else's supposed error. He must have given some thought to the matter. His mistakes stem from his ignorance of the rules of grammar. He may insist that someone is wrong because he has flouted some non-existent grammatical rule. He sometimes makes up his own grammar rules that fly in the face of standard English and it can be pretty hilarious. And he applies these self-concocted grammatical rules on an extract of a writer's article and says it's wrong. Do go through my previous blog posts (all the links can be found in Why I Exposed Ludwig Tan's Errors Part 1) if you want some amusement.

There is also the arrogance that irritates me. Here's a sample of how he blasts a Straits Times journalist who is admittedly a little garbled in one or two sentences and who makes the careless mistake of treating "phenomena" as singular. After producing an excerpt of the article, complete with the author's name, Ludwig writes this.

Can you believe this? This is the kind of criticism that Ludwig dishes out to the hapless journalist. And this comes from an English teacher who, as I have shown in my previous blog posts, makes egregious blunders in even the most basic points of grammar. Yet he is very quick to pounce on a journalist for the smallest oversight. Elsewhere in his blog, you can see him peppering his comments with words like illiterate and semi-literate. The very heading of his blog drips with obnoxious scorn on anyone less learned than what he imagines himself to be:
A blog dedicated to English grammar, usage and phonetics/phonology, and errors by proficient users (because they teach us more than typos and badly written signs by the semi-literate)
I would have expected more humility in this former polytechnic student. It would be fine if he knew his grammar but as you can see from my previous posts, his blog is a treasure trove of hilarious errors made by the blogger himself. In my book, nobody can be more annoying than a supercilious ignoramus.

Ludwig Tan is a captious critic who always watches like a hawk for grammatical errors. But a good critic must have enough knowledge of the subject matter of his criticism. It won't do for a critic to slam a writer for something that is not even an error but which the critic wrongly imagines is erroneous. As I have shown in my previous blog posts, this is precisely what Ludwig Tan has done repeatedly.

If I want to write an article on blunders made by a Singapore teacher of English, I just have to visit his blog to fish out all kinds of monstrosities. This Sub-Dean of the School of Arts and Social Sciences at SIM University and Consultant to the Speak Good English Movement is simply unbelievable. Here's another laughable mistake I've just found in his blog. This time, one of his readers spots his mistake and exposes him in her comments at the bottom of the post.

A perfectly harmless newspaper article about Singaporeans who have emigrated to other countries and are lost to Singapore. No ambiguity at all. The meaning of the newspaper headlines "Lost to Singapore?" is not something that will be lost on a reasonably educated English speaker in Singapore but it's obviously lost on Ludwig Tan. This is what he writes:


Just see how this ignorant teacher slams the  ST editors. "Perhaps they didn't know the difference between lost (adjective) and loss (noun)," he haughtily writes.

But his readers who are presumably students aren't as clueless as he.  One of them, Jun, demonstrates that she has a good general grasp of the English language.  

NOTE: Ludwig Tan refers to himself in his blog as "the Grammar Terrorist", presumably from the way he butchers English grammar.

What Ludwig says here is something I want my readers to bear in mind so they can contrast it with what he says later when he's cornered and has no choice but to wriggle his way out:
I'm convinced 'lost to Singapore' can only have one meaning, ie the people have been lost, and the recipient is Singapore (hence the preposition 'to')." 
This is typical of many Singapore teachers of English. I've written about this before. They do not understand that English words often have more than one meaning. This is just the kind of teacher we can do without in Singapore. Because they insist an English phrase can only have one meaning, they essentially stifle creativity in their students. As I have said many times before in this blog, the beauty of the English language lies in the many varied ways that a thought can be expressed. What many Singapore teachers do is to nip in the bud any creativity that a student might have with words. This is truly sad and unfortunate and really, the MOE should do something about this. Just appoint me the Acting Education Minister for just one day (without remuneration; I'm not in this for the money!!!) with the power to sack teachers and I'll rage through the whole of our fair island like a cleansing fire.

Jun has given Ludwig a perfectly good sentence, "The book is lost to us". But Ludwig clearly hasn't got that general feel of what's right or wrong in English which every proficient English speaker should have. He insists the sentence "doesn't sound quite right"! And he goes on to say something which is totally untrue. He says, "Oxford dictionary doesn't list this as a possibility either." This is a dreadful falsehood.

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary gives this as the first definition of lost to:
that has passed from the possession of, that has been taken from
The Longman Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs gives the definition of lost to as "to be no longer possessed by" and for an illustration, "The fortune was lost to the family before the war".

Even though Ludwig has a poor grasp of the meanings of English words and he's unable to tell from examples given to him that he's wrong, surely he should have looked up a good dictionary before making incorrect pronouncements on the English language?

Undeterred, Jun replies, citing an online dictionary. Now that he's cornered, what can Ludwig Tan do?


He does what most English teachers do when they are caught in a bind. Blame it all on the context. Observe how Ludwig Tan now shifts his position from being convinced that "lost to" could only have one meaning to "there isn't any preliminary material". 
 

Do you see the dishonesty of his answer? He's saying there isn't any preliminary material for him to work on. But that's the whole idea behind newspaper headlines - brevity is essential. What may not be clear to those who are not at home with the English language is perfectly comprehensible to those of us who are reasonably proficient in the English language. When confronted with the words "Lost to Singapore", Ludwig said, "I'm convinced 'lost to Singapore' can only have one meaning, ie the people have been lost, and the recipient is Singapore (hence the preposition 'to')." What he says about there not being any preliminary material is rubbish. It was clear even to him that the words referred to the people. He said so himself. What he got wrong was the MEANING of the words. He thought "lost to " had ONLY ONE meaning. He said so himself!

He does what many language teachers in Singapore love to do when they are shown to be wrong. He says "maybe it's just me", no doubt hoping that his students will think he's just being a strict grammarian and not that he didn't know the other meaning of "lost to".

Jun very humorously comes back with a retort, "Yeah, I think it's just you." She goes on to say that she understood perfectly what was meant when she first saw it and she goes on to explain to her clueless teacher that headlines have to be short and snazzy. I'd like to think Jun is Ludwig Tan's spirited student. Her replies are quite uncharacteristic of what I've seen written by the other readers or students who do not tell him he's wrong even when it's perfectly clear that he is.


Ludwig then employs another trick up the typical Singapore teacher's sleeve.  He tells the story of how "a friend" who didn't spot the problem subsequently agreed with him when Ludwig explained it to him. He adds, "Maybe I need to see a shrink." If only Jun had enough courage to make just one cheeky reply but the exchange ends there.


Ludwig's shocking inability to understand something as commonplace as "lost to" is so incredibly comical that it's just what we might see in a television comedy and I'm reminded of a Blackadder episode. Richard III is at dinner with all the noblemen on the eve of the Battle of Bosworth Field when he hollers across the long table to his son, Blackadder, "Fight you with us on the morrow?" Blackadder, afflicted with the same lack of comprehension we see in Ludwig Tan, looks visibly shaken as he replies haltingly, "Goodness no! I'll be fighting with the enemy".

All this may be good for a laugh but if our English language teachers have a problem with such a simple English phrase, we are really in trouble.