S1E7: Standard English vs Singlish: Is the lingual tug-of-war over?

  • 4 Jul 2024

The kind of English we speak in Singapore has long been a discussion point. 

Synopsis: The Usual Place host Natasha Ann Zachariah explores contemporary societal choices and youth perspectives.

Throwback to 1999 when then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong urged Singaporeans to start using standard English instead of Singlish. These days though, we fiercely defend our use of Singlish and embrace the Singaporean accent, even as we continue to advocate for a strong standard English foundation.

How did we get here and what changed in our quest to speak good English? 

I pose this question to recent university graduate Audrey Wan, 22, whose group’s final-year project inspired this episode. Along with Bernadette Toh and Erin Liam, university students from the Nanyang Technological University’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, their final-year project was titled Eye on English.

I wanted to find out what they had found through the interviews they did with various groups and individuals such as a linguistic researcher, teachers, students, a former chief of government communications and a representative for the Speak Good English Movement.

Joining Audrey and myself on the show are actress, host and voiceover artist Caitanya Tan, 37, who makes videos on social media teaching her audience how to correctly pronounce some words, and content creator Nicole Chen, 26, who is fiercely proud of her Singaporean accent and Singlish. 

Highlights (click/tap above):

1:53 Why three university students decided to survey Singapore’s standard of English

8:11 Singlish, embraced

13:30 Once upon a time, using Singlish was frowned upon

15:30 The power of code-switching

26:40 Why is it difficult to teach Singlish

30:10 What happens to those who cannot code-switch?

37:55 Is Singapore's brand of English here to stay?

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Host: Natasha Zachariah (natashaz@sph.com.sg)

Edited by producers: Teo Tong Kai, Eden Soh and Zachary Lim

Executive producers: Ernest Luis and Lynda Hong

Filmed by: Joel Chng and Marc Justin De Souza, ST Video

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