Speaker’s Corner

Immediately after a survey discovers that 88.7% of Singaporeans do not know what it’s like to sign a petition, someone decides to start one—online.A Malaysian engineering scholar at Nanyang Technological University decided that he’d had quite enough of the heavily accented English used by some of his lecturers and tutors. So he launched an online petition for some action to be taken about the situation. So far, he has found a dozen supporters.Let’s put aside the fact that this petitioner is not a Singaporean. After all, even if he is, he could be one among the 11.3% of Singaporeans who do know what it’s like to sign a petition.Let’s instead focus on the reason for his petition.His position is this: I cannot understand you, therefore you must change the way you speak. (Mind you, at least a dozen other people think likewise.)This reminds us of the old-time Western traveler who, upon encountering some local who knows only his own native tongue, deals with his communication problem by saying ever more loudly: “I want to go to the airport!” “I WANT TO GO TO THE AIRPORT!” He makes no effort to learn the local language.Of course, modern businessmen no longer make this mistake. Those who wish to do business in Japan will learn Japanese. Those who want to do business in France will learn French. Likewise for Chinese, German, Malay, Mongolian, Thai and Zulu. Or at least basic taxi directions and profanities.In the same way, those who wish to be taught by NTU lecturers and tutors should make the effort to unravel the way these people speak. It is, after all, only a heavily accented version of English, not an entirely different language altogether.As for the foreigner who wishes to do business in Singapore, he would be well advised to speak some Singlish.Unless, of course, he’s lecturing at NTU.