The thinking behind Singapore’s Speak Good English Movement

Speak Good English MovementThe Singapore government recently launched an ad campaign to encourage Singaporeans to speak better English.

In this Q&A interview with Mumbrella, a spokesman for the movement explains the thinking behind the campaign.

What is the key motivation for running this campaign beyond improving English skills? Is it ultimately to put Singapore in a stronger position as a global business hub (as has been suggested by some media reports)?

The key objective of the Speak Good English Movement is to encourage Singaporeans to speak Standard English that is universally understood. With this skill comes a host of benefits including the ability for Singapore to remain in a strong position as a global business hub in an increasingly challenging business environment. The economic value of having a nation of good English speakers is obvious – people who have good language proficiency are often more persuasive, better at giving presentations, conducting negotiations and being team leaders.

Beyond this is the softer benefit of being able to communicate better with others. Relationships are built upon good communication and this goes far beyond the workplace. While we want Singapore to remain competitive, we also want Singaporeans to possess a skill that will greatly contribute to their personal wellbeing.

Watch the first episode of the campaign, which broke last week.

How will you be measuring the effectiveness of the campaign? How will you be able to tell, beyond statistics from social media that show only the reach of the campaign, whether or not it is working?

The role of the Speak Good English Movement is to encourage Singaporeans to use Standard English, create awareness and provide helpful resources. However, while we can provide the opportunities to learn as well as the learning materials, it is still up to the individual to take action and make use of what the movement has to offer. There are also many other factors, including environment, influences and background, that affect one’s English proficiency. As a result, the movement concentrates on creating as much awareness of the campaign’s messages as possible using traditional and online media, guerilla marketing tactics such as flash mobs and social media platforms, which are very popular among Singaporeans. For the past few years, we’ve also been directly reaching out to the public with thousands of pocket-sized notebooks that contain a different English tip at the bottom of each page. These have been given out at our marketing events, partners’ and stakeholders’ events as well as to schools with great response.

There’s also the constant feedback about the campaign we receive from stakeholders, members of the public as well as related government agencies. These are largely anecdotal but probably the most valuable as they come from the ground or are personal experiences about the campaign.

We don’t profess to be able to reach every single Singaporean, but we are guided and encouraged by the belief that even if only a handful of people catch and apply one grammar rule in their use of English, we would have succeeded in changing a small part of someone’s language habit for the better.

Government campaigns use a variety of tactics in Singapore, from shock to humour. Why comedy for an educational campaign like this?

Comedy is enjoyable to many as humour has high entertainment value. By using comedy this year, we are showing that you can enjoy and have fun even while learning something as technical as grammar. With our new series of six videos, we hope to debunk the myth that grammar rules are boring and didactic.

Comedy also shows the importance of having a good grasp of the language in communication. You need it in order to create something that is witty and funny, yet conveys your message in an intelligent manner. When you are skillful in using the English language, you will be able to use appropriate phrases and vocabulary or even come up with puns that make your everyday conversation more interesting and leave a lasting impression on your audience.

Do you expect any negative response to the campaign locally? (I gather from some sources that the movement could be perceived as a move to curb Singlish, and might cause offence to those who see Singlish as a legitimate language in its own right, and a source of national pride which is understood by most if not all Singaporeans, where as English is not).

The movement chooses to focus all its efforts on the promotion of good English and encouraging Singaporeans to improve their standard of English, preferring not to engage in the battle of “Singlish VS English”. Being caught up in this potentially endless and emotional debate will result in an unnecessary distraction from our messaging.

There will inevitably always be detractors to any campaign as we are unable to please everyone and we definitely do we want to force everyone to accept our viewpoint. So instead, we commit ourselves to helping those who want and are willing to take the steps in improving their English.

How do you feel the campaign will be perceived by the international media and companies looking to set up a presence in Singapore?

We feel that the campaign will be positively received. English is still largely used and regarded as an international business language. With the campaign’s focus and push for Singaporeans to better their spoken and written standard of English, companies will be able to see that Singapore regards English proficiency as an important skill to have for its workforce and is committed to providing practical ways to help Singaporeans be equipped with this ability. We hope this is a reassuring situation for overseas companies looking for set up a presence in Singapore.


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