Wednesday, March 12, 2014

English Matters!

I only started on my language crusade after I stumbled upon ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN, the incredibly flawed grammar book of the Speak Good English Movement which I've written about ad nauseam in my recent posts.  Before I even knew of the existence of this horrid book which is Singapore's undisputed linguistic debacle, I hardly bothered one bit about grammar and usage. It was only after I looked at the book and its sequel, ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN 2 that I became aware of the extent of the incompetence and ignorance of Singapore's top language teachers who have the endorsement of both the Ministry of Education and the Speak Good English Movement. From my observation, Singaporeans generally speak very good English. The language experts are the ones who are clueless about the most basic rules of English grammar.

If you are interested in looking at my growing list of the errors made by Singapore's language experts and others click here. I add to that list every time I write a new blog post on the subject.

I saw in my letter box this evening a colourful pamphlet from a school called Mind Matters.
Now, I didn't exactly pay attention to the pamphlet and I merely cast an idle eye over the section "English Matters!" which is the school's English language programme. The pamphlet highlights what the school teaches to help students acquire composition skills. If you are interested, I have a zoomed up version on the left but I wouldn't bother to read it if I were you. It's still a bit of a strain on the eye.  I'll just tell you briefly what it's all about. The programme teaches students how to start off an essay with an attention-grabbing introduction. One method is for the narrator to recall an incident in the past - the use of a flashback. That's of course not of concern to us here. But what is really interesting is the example given by the school of how a student may start his story with the use of a flashback. As I have said, I was merely reading the pamphlet mindlessly but when I read the one-sentence example given, the same horror that I felt when I first read ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN seized me once again. Let me blow up that sentence:

Now, this is a sentence which is meant to start the story and its main purpose is to whet the reader's appetite for more. But Mind Matters has succeeded in that one sentence to pack more grammatical mistakes than even the writers of ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN can possibly achieve in a single sentence. There are three errors in that one sentence. The error in the tense is an error almost all language teachers in Singapore make and that is my unshakeable belief after having made countless trips to school when my kids were very young. Many English language teachers in Singapore are never sure when they should use the present tense, the past tense, the present perfective and the past perfective. For them, it's really a game of Russian roulette and as I used to tell my kids, their teachers are all universally dense on the tense. So, it will be unfair if I pick on that error. But there are still two other glaring errors.

One of them is rather obvious even to a child of eight. It should be "...the day when..." and not where.

The other error is also pretty obvious.  Any school-going kid in Singapore and anyone who speaks and writes British English can tell that the preposition in the first sub clause is wrong. Burchfield writes that even though it has a long history (since the mid-13th century) and Shakespeare used it too, "at the present time it is non-standard in the UK".  What's non-standard in the UK is non-standard in school exams in Singapore and let's not pretend we are unaware of this.

Such a construction is only acceptable in Singapore if you are singing this song and it only works if you have Randy Vanwarmer's voice.

If the youtube link doesn't work, please click here.

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