Monday, March 26, 2018

Singapore's Good English Award in Bad English

Singapore's Speak Good English Movement (SGEM) is currently asking school students to nominate their favourite English teachers for the Movement's 'Inspiring Teacher of English Award'. You would have thought that the least the SGEM could do was to ensure that their own Nomination Form for the Award was grammatically correct. How can the SGEM assess English teachers and give an award to the best English teacher when the whole world can see that it can't even churn out a few sentences that are free of grammatical errors?

You must be wondering how anyone can make grammatical errors in a Nomination Form which has mainly empty spaces for students to fill in. You underestimate the SGEM's propensity for making grammatical errors if you think it can't possibly trip up on a Nomination Form. At the start of the Nomination Form, there is an explanatory note consisting of only five or six sentences. Short though this explanatory note may be, you can be sure that if there is room in any bit of writing for grammatical errors to be made, the Speak Good English Movement is sure to make them.

The Nomination Form can be viewed in full here on the SGEM's website

Here is the sentence from the SGEM's Nomination Form that I have screen-captured (I have deleted the other sentences that do not concern us here):

I would have excused this error and attributed it to mere carelessness if the Speak Good English Movement didn't make the same mistake on two previous occasions. This is not the first time the SGEM shows its inability to grasp the difference between 'who' and 'whom'.

In their 2008 book on grammar called ENGLISH AS IT IS BROKEN, advice is wrongly given on how to use 'who' and 'whom':

The book is written in a question-and-answer format: questions on grammar are asked by students and the general public and language 'experts' from the Ministry of Education and the Speak Good English Movement supply the answers. As I have shown in countless blog posts, almost every answer given is wrong. Here, there is a 50% chance of the 'experts' getting it right but they got it wrong.

At a formal media briefing published on the SGEM's website, its chairman Goh Eck Kheng made the same 'who/whom' mistake. Below are screenshots that I took from the SGEM's website. I have deleted the entire document except for the title of the document and the single sentence that is of interest to us:

Similarly, Goh Eck Kheng had a 50% chance of getting it right but he got it wrong by choosing 'whom' in this sentence.

This is the kind of error you would expect only children would make. I have put this to the test. Both my children got it right. A few friends I have spoken to got it right too.  The question whether 'who' or 'whom' should be used is not a problem for most educated English-speaking adults. But it's a huge problem for the Speak Good English Movement which can never get it right and I have shown 3 examples of the same mistake made by the Movement that span over the course of ten years.

When I was a boy, I had a stern teacher who would cast a baleful glare at any boy who got his 'who / whom' wrong. But it was easy for us boys to get it right. It's either one or the other and if the teacher looked upset (he had a very expressive face and when he looked displeased, he gave the impression that his entire world had collapsed), we knew we had got it wrong and we would instantly repeat the sentence using the correct word. He used to tell us that those of us who said 'whom' when 'who' was the correct word had delusions of grandeur. So the boys just stuck to 'who' all the time but when we got it wrong, he told us that those who said 'who' when 'whom' was more appropriate were unabashedly illiterate. But we were only children then and it's normal for children to grow out of the 'who / whom' confusion. By the time I was in secondary school, I don't recall hearing any boy making such a mistake.

It is this ignorance of English grammar in an organisation such as the Speak Good English Movement that I find annoying.  This is as bad as the Mathematics Society of Singapore not being able to get simple arithmetic right. But this will never happen to the Mathematics Society or any other societies in Singapore. You can be sure that the Maths Society will have for its committee real mathematicians with proper credentials. What I should like to know is who appointed the committee members of the Speak Good English Movement? I know some of the committee members personally and I know they have no qualifications whatsoever in linguistics. Nobody who has studied grammar can possibly make the kind of errors that the SGEM makes. If the committee members of the SGEM were appointed by the Ministry of Education (MOE), who in the Ministry chose the current SGEM committee members and on what criteria were they chosen? I know the Singapore government is totally transparent about all appointments and I really would like to know the basis for the appointments of the committee members of the Speak Good English Movement.

I have been saying repeatedly in this blog that we don't need a Speak Good English Movement. Even if we must have such a Movement, it is essential that those appointed to the committee should have at least a good grasp of grammar and usage. Appointing grammar ignoramuses to the committee is a huge mistake. But it's not a mistake that cannot be redressed. All the MOE has to do is to bid them farewell. MOE can always give them an Award for lowering the standard of English in Singapore. My recommendation is to disband the entire Speak Good English Movement. If Singapore has survived all these years with a Speak Good English Movement that knows no grammar and has been disseminating misinformation on grammar and usage to the public, not having such a Movement will most certainly be an improvement on the current situation.

I have the highest regard for our teachers including our English language teachers. It's appropriate to give the better teachers some recognition and awards are what some of them richly deserve. But the value of any award would be very much diminished and cheapened by the Speak Good English Movement which cannot even ensure that its short write-up in the Nomination Form for the Award is grammatically correct. Such a lapse is disgraceful, to say the least. How can our English language teachers hold their heads up when they receive the Award from the SGEM which, as I have demonstrated in this blog, is totally incapable of publishing anything without some serious grammatical errors? Any award associated with the SGEM is an embarrassment to the recipient who should, by the nature of the award, have a good knowledge of the language and that is the very opposite of what the SGEM stands for. Instead of giving these teachers the honour they deserve, we are exposing them to shame and humiliation.

I'm told most of my readers are not interested in reading a long list of SGEM's errors in my blog. They would rather see some of the SGEM's serious mistakes that are recently made. The SGEM published a book (or more appropriately, booklet) on grammar last year called Grammar Rules. In a review I wrote of the book, I concluded that 'the SGEM's new grammar book, Grammar Rules, is a hotchpotch of different sources brought together, altered and edited by a confused panel that knows nothing about English grammar.' If you want to see the reasons for my conclusion, please click here to read the first part of my review of the book.

If you want to read other blog posts on the SGEM's countless language errors, many of which are unbelievably bad even for illiterates, please click here for a list of all articles in this blog on the SGEM's errors.

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