Monday, December 10, 2007

Impressions from China - I Beg Your Pardon?

...Pidgin English...

To me, the common thread in the above 3 variations of "English" is the fact that it is, for the most part, incomprehensible to foreigners.

A typical example of a telephone conversation here in Beijing:

Customer Service:

Uncertain pause...
"Uh, hello? Who's this again?"

Customer Service:

Another uncertain pause...
"Can you please repeat in Mandarin?" (spoken in Mandarin)

Not only do they tend to link every single word & every sentence together without any punctuation whatsoever, but add the Chinese accent to the mix & they might as well be speaking a foreign language altogether.

I admire the fact that many Chinese are learning English in an attempt to keep up with the rest of the world; and there are many who speak excellent English. But then there are those who are not quite up to par as far as spoken English is concerned, which leads to a lot of confusion when they attempt to do so, from the foreigners' point of view.

Similarly, many foreigners in Singapore (including family & friends of mine) who cannot understand the "English" spoken by the average man-in-the-street/waiter/salesperson in Singapore. And it saddens me to hear the repeated insistence by certain circles in Singapore that speaking Singlish should be something we should be proud of.

I don't think we should abolish Singlish. It is a unique "dialect" & instantly recognizable by fellow Singaporeans wherever you may be in the world. However, if the children of Singapore speak Singlish at the expense of knowing & speaking proper English, then it IS a problem.

MOE's introduction of teaching English to pre-school teachers is a good first step. I just hope that they are taught PROPER English, both written and spoken.


pretzel said...

Given our exposure to various foreigners/nationalities in the course of our lives... in uni (lecturers, and other overseas/exchange students).. and then working in MNCs...I think most S'poreans are pretty good at understanding spoken English in whatever mix of accents. :) Quite a unique skill, i would say. :)

Singlish is pretty useful esp. when u are in foreign land and u don't want pple to understand what u r gossiping about. :P (Only our frenly neighbors, the m'sians would be able to decipher)

No comments about the quality of English teachers... but kidz nowadays have very extensive vocab by the time they start Pri.1...

aliendoc said...

But the average Singaporean, not necessarily one who has been to uni or even polytechnic or JC, unfortunately, still cannot speak in proper, grammatically correct English with proper pronunciation. Even many managers & senior managers & politicians can't speak/write properly. E.g. how many times have you heard the word "opportunity" pronounced "op-por-chu-ni-ty"??? Or "three" as "tree", or "actually" as "ak-cher-lee"... Not to mention the horrendous grammar. I have read correspondence written by senior managers that contained so many grammatical mistakes, I was astounded. Quite sad, really...