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NinjaTurtle

"Why Singapore is so good at English"

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陳德聰

My few Singaporean friends have opined about how stupid it is to put them on such a ranking because they all speak English natively, and I am inclined to agree. English is an official language of Singapore, in case anyone missed that. Where do the UK, USA, Canada and Australia place on the list?

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Lu
Quote

The proficiency scores are based on free online tests, so the people taking them are self-selected and are not a representative sample of the country’s citizens.

Also, it's a ranking, not an absolute score. So the headline should read: Why a self-selected subset of internet users from Singapore (which, by the way, is a state where English is spoken as a native language) are better at an internet test for English than most self-selected subsets of internet users from other countries (which, by the way, mostly do not speak English as a native language).

 

A better question: why do news media pay any attention to this kind of nonsense. Surely some people are measuring some things in a way that actually results in knowledge. Why not report that?

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yueni

As a Singaporean (albeit, one who hasn't lived in the country in over a decade) I also think this is a ridiculous and stupid article. It would be the equivalent of writing "Why is Austria so good at German?" or "Why is Mexico so good at Spanish?"

 

The entire measurement system undertaken by (unsurprisingly) a company whose business is based around teaching English, is also highly unscientific, because I bet that people who had better English self-selected to take an internet test for fun and games. Not sure what valuable reporting was to be had in that article at all.

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XiaoXi
8 hours ago, 陳德聰 said:

English is an official language of Singapore, in case anyone missed that. Where do the UK, USA, Canada and Australia place on the list?

I couldn't agree more, in fact it's not only AN official language, it's the MAIN language and all classes are taught in it, so yes you may as well add on countries like UK, USA etc. I have to say though, I took a peek at the list and it was funny to see France lower than countries like South Korea and Hong Kong...!...I mean come on you're right next to England lol. The rest of the countries surrounding Britain seem to top fill up the top slots in the list.

 

Having said that, we can obviously equally laugh at the French ability of Englishmen...

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mungouk
12 hours ago, NinjaTurtle said:

Hey Mungo, are you from Singapore...?

 

 

I'm British, but have lived in SG for a couple of years.

 

As the others have said, no surprise really. Digging into the report makes for more interesting reading if you're in the business of teaching English around the world.

 

Yes, almost everyone in Singapore does their schooling in English and it's the lingua franca for everyone, even though official signs and announcements are usually in all 4 official languages (English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil).

 

Having said that, Singlish is commonplace and diction is often not that great — I struggle to understand fast, quiet speakers sometimes.  

 

 

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mungouk

Off-topic somewhat but still relevant to regional dialects, and very funny... I lived in (Southern) Scotland for 12 years but never heard Aberdeenshire (North-East) dialect spoken quite as heavily as this.  (Which I suspect is being exaggerated a bit for comic effect.)

 

I understood at most 30% of it the first time I watched it.

 

https://youtu.be/NzS3AdzZ0Nw

 

 

A couple of clues:

  • Spoiler

     

    • Fit = what
    • Telt = told
    • Futret = Ferret (a small weasel-like rodent, kept as pets but also used for hunting rabbits and rats)
    • Fitba = football (soccer)
    • Balmoral Castle = Scottish residence of the UK royal family
    • The dialect is Doric, which is actually a dialect of Scots, not necessarily of English.  From my limited knowledge, there are theories that Scots evolved from Anglo-Saxon separately to English.  For a native English speaker it's quite something to hear what's arguably a different language and to understand some of it, whereas for Norwegians/Swedes, Afrikaaners/Dutch etc having mutually-intelligible brothers and sisters from elsewhere is nothing new.
    • (Linguists: please don't shred me for mixing up dialect/topolect/"language" etc... I'm just a keen amateur :) )

     

     

 

 

 

 

 

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NinjaTurtle

Hey Mungo, thanks for sharing that report.

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mungouk
16 hours ago, NinjaTurtle said:

thanks for sharing that report.

 

Two clicks from the news "article", which was obviously just a slightly-modified press release.

 

Doesn't take much digging... :)

 

 

 

 

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Dawei3

When I travel in China and stay at Western hotels, my favorite new channel is Channel News Asia from Singapore. I like to hear  news from a non-US perspective. 

 

To my (American) ears, most of the reporters don’t have what I consider a “Singaporean” accent (based on how my Singaporean friends talk).  The reporters’  English often sounds “unaccented” and since I’m American, this would mean they are speaking US newscaster English (or something close to this). They are extremely clear and easy to understand. 

 

Mungouk and others: Have you heard Channel News Asia? Does their English sound somewhat American? Or is it that their English is a somewhat of a middleground between US and English English? 

 

(In writing the above, I’m fully aware the perception of whether someone has an accent is relative, I.e., people generally don’t see themselves  as having an accent.  I’m American, so I don’t hear my American accent). 

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陳德聰

Some people are also just less sensitive to minute differences in accents from all over, separating things into “I can understand this with relative ease” and “I cannot understand this with relative ease.” This is also behind the notorious “Taiwanese” and “Northern” accents that many Mainlanders attribute to anything that just doesn’t sound familiar.

 

As for Channel Asia News, the broadcasters have most of the hallmarks of Singaporean accented English which I would have expected you to hear as more British than American. But there is a distinct rhythm and a sort of “not-quite-British” flavour that usually points to Singaporean English or at least what I sometimes have called “Asian international (school) English” which is what you get when you acquire English in an atmosphere with a billion different accents going on.

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mungouk

I don't watch TV, but I hear Singaporean radio regularly in taxis.  For the English channels, to my ear, most of the presenters speak with a US accent, and some with a more British-sounding accent.  They speak mostly regular English, with no traces of Singlish. 

 

And yes @Dawei3 they do often sound like a mix between US and British, for example a generally US accent but then pronouncing "masters" or "fast" as if in English received pronunciation (which nobody speaks in the UK any more except for the royal family/aristocracy, certain right-wing politicians, and fictional villains). 

 

I've never come across anyone here who speaks like that (US or UK accent) "in real life" — ordinary folk speak with a Singaporean accent... whatever that means, given the ethnic mix we have here.

 

Australian accents are also out there, often in the radio ads (we have Harvey Norman here!) but to me they sound like Australians doing voice-overs rather than locals.  Impossible to tell for sure on the radio of course.  Western Australia (i.e. Perth) is a very popular study destination for Singaporeans... it's only just over 5 hours away by plane.

 

I'm not sure on which channel, but I occasionally hear pronunciation tips which I presume are from the Speak Good English campaign.  For example, how to say "three" properly without it sounding like "tree". 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dawei3

Thanks for the responses. I should note I do hear twinges of Singaporean and Bitish English (and this varies by reporter). However, I’m mostly surprised at the complete ease in which I can understand what they say.   

 

As Munguok noted about never having met someone who speaks like that: The linguist McWhorter points out that while many have a vague sense that “standard” language comes from a specific geographic location, it’s really just whatever is chosen as standard at that time. Newscasters generally speak “standard” English, but this varies by country, region, and time. What is standard today can be different in 50 years. 

 

E.g., 普通话 is loosely based on 北京mandarin, but how natives of 北京 speak varies widely (cab drivers seem to add 儿 to almost every other word 哈哈)

 

 

 

 

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NinjaTurtle

I thought some people might be interested in hearing Singlish: (At least I think this video is Singlish.)
Listen to the girl at 1:16!

 

11 Types of Students in an Exam
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LUVthHdu9w

 

13 hours ago, Dawei3 said:

普通话 is loosely based on 北京mandarin,

 

For most major languages, the 'standard' form of the language is based on the dialect of the country capital. So 'Standard Mandarin' is based on Beijing dialect, Standard Japanese is based on Tokyo dialect, etc. (How many dialects does Beijing have? I believe Shanghai has four.)

 

There is also something in British English called "Received Pronunciation" which is a whole different topic.

 

 

 

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Flickserve
36 minutes ago, NinjaTurtle said:

I thought some people might be interested in hearing Singlish: (At least I think this video is Singlish.)

 

It's easier to understand than that Scottish one posted earlier. 

 

The singlish in this Singaporean video is not  very singlish. I would regard it as just an accent. 

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mungouk
On 11/1/2018 at 1:19 AM, 陳德聰 said:

English is an official language of Singapore,

 

It's also an official language of Hong Kong, India, Nepal and probably many others in the list which don't have English as the main language.  All of these are way, way down the ranking. Most Indians have their schooling in "English medium" as well, so I'm very surprised as to where India ended up.

 

Leaving aside the methodology, which (in the report) admits it's limited to English learners rather than the population at large, I think the interesting part is how this changes over time.  If we were to see a leap in Chinese citizens learning English for example, that would be something worth noting.

 

 

 

 

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mungouk
14 hours ago, Flickserve said:

The singlish in this Singaporean video is not  very singlish. I would regard it as just an accent. 

 

Same here.  I could only stand to watch up to 3 mins but the only Singlish aspect I noticed was people emphasising the last syllable in a sentence.

 

I didn't hear a single "lah", "lor", "walao", "can", "also can", "cannot" etc. 

 

Maybe because these people were acting for a video; not really like everyday speech, lah. 

 

 

 

 

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NinjaTurtle

Was Singapore ever in the British Empire?

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mungouk
1 hour ago, NinjaTurtle said:

Was Singapore ever in the British Empire?

 

Time to do some basic homework.

 

 

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歐博思
On 11/1/2018 at 10:23 AM, mungouk said:

Off-topic somewhat but still relevant to regional dialects, and very funny... I lived in (Southern) Scotland for 12 years but never heard Aberdeenshire (North-East) dialect spoken quite as heavily as this.  (Which I suspect is being exaggerated a bit for comic effect.)

 

I understood at most 30% of it the first time I watched it.

 

https://youtu.be/NzS3AdzZ0Nw

 

He was speaking Scots, wasn't he?

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