English Language in Singapore has gone a long way since our independence and this can be attributed to three main components of increased business opportunity, parent’s desire for their children to be job competitive and the government’s push to be glocal.
English Language in Singapore
Thinking glocal is how we can be successful in a nation that takes pride in being the centre of the world. We are the avenues between the East and West, and our geopolitically advantageous positioning has put our small island onto centre stage of the international market by providing professional, competitive, stylish and efficient flow of air/sea traffic, a robust financial market, plus a hardworking and talented workforce that has adopted the English Language as their lingua franca.
The English Language, with 1 500 million speakers, of whom only 375 million are native (statistica.com), are the highest adopted language in the world. This is seconded by Chinese Language with 1 100 million speakers but are predominantly native speakers of 982 million. With the rest of the languages tailing far behind these two.
The dominance of these two languages means that commanding a mastery in either of the language lets you talk to 1 in every 5 or 6 persons living on earth. In Singapore, the Chinese population that learns Chinese as their second language (and English as a First Language) in school drives these statistics to 1 in every 2.7 person on earth. And that is a lot of people that bilingual English/Chinese speaking Singaporeans can converse with. Coverage is key to a successful business plan and if a business entity can serve a wider network, that unhinges latent opportunities and make connections with markets that would have been otherwise foregone.
This is an advantage that keeps us relevant. The ability to communicate with almost half of the world means we can do business with any country, help anyone in times of need, but more importantly, be a friend with everybody. It is where we become truly global, not only by going out and making friends, but to be a welcoming host and the world comes to you.
Inculcating English into Singaporeans started with our education systems 50 years ago. Compulsory English examination passes to advance, with every subject in school taught in English (minus ethnic languages) means mastery would be advantageous in learning fast and an ability to grasp complex technical concepts. That universities are lectured in English as well, attainment of a degree, a professional career and ultimately, survival, hinges on the proficiency of English.
But that is a 20th century strategy: language assimilation.
Latest generations of 21st century English-speaking Singaporeans pass on their English to their children as if the equivalent, a native speaker. English-educated Singaporeans now speak, read, write English as their first language and their children don’t need to learn “A” for Apples in Primary 1 like 40 years ago.
Our children is born into an English speaking household and vernacular to English. We have evolved and our children have become as native an English user as any other.
Our diverse ethnicity and international positioning keeps English relevant to our lives. Over generations, the English Languge has proven to be a viable marriage into our culture, keeping our traditions whilst adopting Western cultures and views that helps rather than deter. The ability to communicate with most of the world keeps us competitive and economically viable.
“The Limits of my language is The Limits of my World”-Ludwig Wittgenstein
It makes us globally active, engaging, dynamic and yet keeps us intimately connected with our immediate neighbors. Making friends where it would have been near impossible in our multi-cultural nation. Thinking glocal helps when our nation support such diverse ethnic groups where finding a common language would mean learning 4-5 languages just to talk to our neighbours. English breaks down barriers and carries our thoughts. To understand, first, we need to convey in a common language.
So where next for English in Singapore? We will continue evolving. Our primary education system for English Language just got tweaked this year after 4 years of research into what we need to improve in our education. There is a push to change from the government sector to include creative aspects into our system.
There is also a sudden increase in international awareness that Singapore is a global city, thanks to Marina Bay Sands and the yearly Formula 1 events. One can’t be hospitable unless one communicates and understands hospitality.
And what about English as an art form? Literature, poetry and sonnets. It is the existence of English as an art form, for the sake of art itself and nothing else that a society starts to fully appreciate the English Language. Appreciate the emotional powers and its beauty instead of just English being a tool of commerce or conversation. Appreciate that culturally, attainment of English as art means that we perhaps have arrived rather than be bystanders looking into a prestigious country club.
Thinking glocal helps when our nations’ resources is human resource. Keeping a common framework of English provides the bridge to our conversations and a strong spine to support our communication infrastructure. It is our bread, butter, main course, wine and sweet pastries. It provides for everything, and then some.