In the 21st Century, how important is it to be able to read, write and speak English in Singapore?

This is an English composition written by a student doing Cambridge O’ levels in 2014.

Standard: GCE O’levels.

In the 21st Century, there has been a vast technological advancement compared to the 20th Century, especially with the development of the internet as a tool for social networking with English as lingua franca. English is a tool in Singapore to communicate effectively with people, locally and internationally. English has two main functions in Singapore’s community: To communicate internationally, and to unify the three main ethnic groups of Singapore.

Singapore is made up of three main ethnicities, Malays, Indians and Chinese, with their own distinct cultural heritage and language. Under the directives of the Singapore Government, English is a compulsory subject for education and represents a disadvantage to those that do not incorporate English into their linguistic abilities to complete their education, as well as to secure a job in an English speaking business environment that Singapore adopted. However, if Singaporeans communicates only in English, this will lead to a loss of culture from the ethnic groups and our ability to engage with our neighbouring countries in South East Asia.

The government of Singapore has a bilingual approach to our education system, with English as its compulsory medium of communication. This approach is effected from kindergarten onwards, with English taught to ages four and above. Learning English for the three ethnic groups is based on equality and where no advantages are built in for these groups. It requires all three groups to adopt a new neutral language of English, and puts every group in equal standing and fairness. With English as the main economic language in Singapore, it is imperative for these ethnic groups to master English to gain economic viability. Securing a job and access to a career in Singapore is one of the main reasons for acquiring English as a language.

Singapore is a business hub with multinational companies (MNC) setting up its branches here. Their lingua franca: English. With the United Kingdom and United States of America being strong driving forces economically, English has become a common language that is used throughout the world. With MNC’s setting up in Singapore, it also becomes an economic question that Singaporeans have to answer. To attract more businesses to Singapore, we have to create an environment that can support and service these businesses. If their mode of communication is English, it is only wise and economically beneficial that we converse in that same language. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Of course, being solely dependent on English has its disadvantages, mainly, a loss of culture and our ability to communicate with non-English speaking people or countries.

Singapore’s three main ethnic groups presents a rich and diverse heritage which makes Singapore unique in presenting a harmonious and thriving society to visitors of Singapore. The inability to converse in their own mother tongue will eventually dilute their heritage and lose their ability to experience their own culture, alienating themselves from their own historical background. It is a case of adopting an English language and its culture, and losing their own. Diversity brings pride to its occupants, interests from others and a curiosity to be discovered and shared. With 21st Century cosmopolitan cities looking more alike, similar architectures, built up areas, services and facilities, tourists will be looking at unique countries to spend their savings on as they would be more likely to be attracted to historically and culturally different landscapes than their own.

We will also lose our ability to engage our neighbouring countries, mainly Malaysia and Indonesia. Their predominant use of Bahasa is similar to the mother tongue our Malay community uses, which is an advantage as it lowers any friction from misunderstandings and miscommunications if we were to use English with them, and needing a translation to bridge that language gap. To converse with them in their Bahasa is a sign of respect to them, and our efforts to maintain cordial relations with them will not go unnoticed.

The 21st Century brings with it fresh challenges and a more dynamic world than ever before. We cannot predict what happens next, nor what information or skill set will be needed to survive the near future. English lets us relieve some of these apprehensions. As it is an internationally accepted language, knowing how to read, write and speak it allows us to be adaptable to change. With readily available literature and media in English, it helps us to learn new skills, acquire new information and news easily. Fleet footedness is the key to survival. Since the spine of learning is the English language, then blossom we will with English to grow upon.

For more on our English lessons, call Yuet Ling +65 82226327

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