A Writer’s Corner: English – A Global Language

Get it right.

This was the tagline of the Speak Good English Movement for 2010 and again this year.

Why a movement to speak good English?

This movement is a nationwide endeavour aimed at encouraging Singaporeans to speak grammatically correct English that is internationally understood. The movement, launched in 2000 by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, aims to instill the importance of speaking Standard English among Singaporeans. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Standard English as “that which is well established by usage in the formal and informal speech and writing of the educated, and that is widely recognised as acceptable wherever English is spoken and understood”. Historically, the English language has had a place in the hearts of Singaporeans from the time the island was claimed by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles for the British East India Company in 1819.


What’s up for 2011?


The movement’s focus is to encourage Singaporeans to widen the use of Standard English – to use it more often, and in more places.

Initiatives so far:

  • STOMP prints an Everyday English Worksheet for readers which determines their level of English proficiency and helps improve their speaking skills.
  • STOMP features “English as it is broken” an excellent tool for improving one’s English-speaking skills. (Kudos to mypaper for being an exemplary reading material for Singaporeans.)
  • Speak Good English stickers and banners now appear in several food outlets and establishments.
  • Youth portal Youth.Sg revealed that the movement also tapped local musicians. Through performances at schools, students were made aware of the importance of good English in advancing in both their studies and future careers.

Write correctly
The movement also addresses English in written communication. One of the 22 partners of the movement for 2010 was the National University of Singapore (NUS).


Promotion of Standard English (PROSE)

PROSE, which started in 1999, is targeted at the NUS community of students, faculty and staff. The university has been conducting workshops and competitions aimed at improving the English skills of teachers and students.

Be a partner

The Speak Good English Movement believes in establishing mutually beneficial relationships with organisations that are committed to promoting the use of English in their day-to-day activities.

One common mistake I have observed is in the use of titles in written communication.

In writing a letter intended for two or more male recipients, the correct title or salutation should be Messrs. (abbreviated plural form of Mister). For two or more female recipients, it should be Mss. or Mses. (abbreviated plural forms of Miss).

Let us see what the Oxford dictionary says:

Mr n. (pl. Messrs) 1 title of a man without a higher title (Mr Jones). 2 title prefixed to a designation of office, etc. (Mr President; Mr Speaker). [abbreviation of *mister]

Mrs n. (pl. same) title of a married woman without a higher title (Mrs Jones). [abbreviation of *mistress]

Ms n. title of a married or unmarried woman without a higher title. [combination of *Mrs, *miss2]

Read, Read, Read

Like editing, writing is a skill that anybody can learn and develop. The key is reading. I can gladly say that my love of reading has played a great part in my work as a media practitioner.

Nitty-gritty

Simple advice: Keep a dictionary handy. Install an e-dictionary or dictionary and thesaurus widgets on your personal computers. PCs have built-in dictionaries and thesauruses. Why not use them? For more tips on grammar and good English usage, Practical English Usage by Michael Swan is a good reference.