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:
EDITOR (14 December 2017): The above link no longer works. Substantial changes have to be made to this article. However, you may find the same press release in the Movement's website at this link.
The article explains that 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 online news article and we'll see if perhaps the Movement has got its act together and can now be trusted to at least get their basic language 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 article what the Chairman actually said and I will have to assume that the reporting is accurate. Here's what the article reports:
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 they do not have an understanding of the meanings of words. 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?
EDITOR (14 December 2017): If you think these two books on grammar were published a long time ago and the Speak Good English Movement has now changed for the better, nothing could be further from the truth. In early 2017, the Movement published a new book called 'Grammar Rules' in which they displayed the same total ignorance of grammar. Because the book contains so many errors, I wanted to split up my criticism of it into at least 5 separate blog posts in order to cover them all but after having written 2 blog posts on their shocking errors, I became lazy but hey, I've got my own life and correcting the errors of the Speak Good English Movement requires full-time dedication. They can't seem to get their grammar right and so everything they publish needs correction. You may read my two blog posts on their new 'Grammar Rules' here: