Thursday, October 29, 2009

College Apps

Early Decision, Early Action, Early Response, Regular Decision, Rolling Decision...

These are terms which we have had to learn as we travel down the sometimes confusing road of college applications with our older son. Even my American-educated husband is occasionally confounded by the new terms & processes that we have to go through in order to try to secure a place in college.

Common Apps, Supplements, "Reach" schools, "Good Fit" schools, "Safety" schools...

One additional challenge are the essays/personal statements that my son has to write to "sell" himself to the various colleges he is applying to. For those of us who enjoy writing, it's not so big of a deal. For him, who finds writing essays a bore & a tedious task, it's like pulling teeth. I am sometimes tempted to write the bl*** essay for him but he needs to do it on his own. But I have to say, the end products of his efforts are commendable. We'll see what the outcome is come mid-December, when the early decision & early response results are released (*fingers crossed*).

In the meantime, he still needs to continue working on the essays for "regular decision" schools.


Monday, October 26, 2009


*Singapore's version of pidgin English which, for the most part, can only be understood by native Singaporeans

This letter was published in last week's ST Forum:

Don't use culture as an excuse for Singlish

RECENTLY, there was a programme on television which discussed the standing of Singlish in view of the recent debate on using correct spoken English. One participant held the view that it was the country's culture which should not be eradicated - it was the flavour of Singapore.

If it is a cultural characteristic pertinent to Singapore, it must be at least more than 100 years old - which it is not.

When our forefathers came to Singapore from their homelands to find a better life, they had no education, or very little of it. Then, English was the lingua franca under the rule of the British. The immigrants were creative and resilient and learnt a few words of English to survive in an alien land. Their dialects were of no use except among themselves.

So, to survive, they had to use some English. From this was born pidgin English shorn of its grammar and sentence sequence.

The situation today is different - vastly different - and the need of our forefathers does not exist any more. Why then is there this tendency to cling to broken or fractured English?

Why must we take mistakes in semantics and elevate them into a culture? Is it because it is too much trouble to master correct usage of the English language and, like water, it is easier to flow down than up?

In the TV programme, Japan was cited as a country that did not speak English and did well, with translators at meetings. I have had business meetings in Japan, with Japanese CEOs who spoke impeccable English (without translators). And the same in China too, where the country's young are being groomed in correct English to make inroads into the English-speaking world.

If one can speak correct English, without translators, the one-on-one relationship gives an edge and develops a much stronger sense of rapport with the individual spoken to.

Our children must be given this edge and not be forced to rely on translators to decode their Singlish for the English- speaking world.

The choice has to be made now.

This is an oft repeated argument, & I wholeheartedly support the author of this letter. I always see the die-hards who argue that Singlish should not be put down, that those of us who speak proper English are trying to show off blah blah blah.

The point of the matter is, many Singaporeans think that they speak English when they actually speak Singlish. It is advertised that Singapore is an English speaking country. But the reality is when foreigners visit Singapore & talk to the average man in the street, they find it very difficult to comprehend what he is talking about.

Recently, a friend of mine whose daughter just graduated from an International school in Beijing & is now attending a university in the UK, told me that her daughter noticed that many Singaporean students there tend to clique together. And when they speak, it is difficult for the British people to understand them. That is the sad state of affairs now, with regards to spoken English among Singaporeans, even the most highly educated ones.

Another friend of mine in Beijing, whose son attends immersion classes in Singapore during summer breaks, told me that her son has to switch to speaking in Singlish during his stints in the Singaporean school (an elite school, no less), otherwise he is ostracized & made fun of for trying to speak like a foreigner!!! A fine example of xenophobia in Singapore, which, unfortunately, is not that uncommon these days.

Singlish should be treated as a dialect of its own. And learning PROPER English is a must for Singaporeans, if they want to be understood by others. Keep Singlish, by all means. But know when to use it, & when not to. Otherwise we will all sound like we are speaking gibberish when we speak pretend English (i.e. Singlish)

Friday, October 09, 2009

Happy 40th, Sesame Street!

I grew up watching Sesame Street. Every Saturday & Sunday afternoon without fail, I would be glued to the TV set watching Big Bird, Bert & Ernie, Gordon, Oscar the grouch, Kermit (pre-Miss Piggy days), Grover, the Count & Mr Snuffalopicus, laughing & learning along with the hundreds of thousands of kids around the world.

I knew all the words of all the songs, and would sing along with the muppets & their human friends Gordon, Mr Hooper, Maria etc etc.

This November marks the 40th season of this educational program.

Happy Birthday Sesame Street! And may you have many more!