Teach students to recognise American English: Lee Kuan Yew

Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew urges Singaporeans to improve their English. (AFP file photo)Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew urges Singaporeans to improve their English. (AFP file photo)

One of the challenges ahead for Singapore is to decide whether to adopt British English or American English, said Singapore's former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on Tuesday afternoon.

As he urged Singaporeans to do better in English and to help every child attain higher standards, Lee noted that the nation, which currently uses British English, will be increasingly exposed to American English.

"The increasing dominance of the American media means that increasingly our people, teachers and students will be hearing the American version, whether it is 'potatoes' or 'tomatoes'. They will be the dominant force through sheer numbers and the dominance of their economy," Lee was quoted as saying by Channel NewsAsia.

"I believe we will be exposed more and more to American English and so it might be as well to accept it as inevitable and to teach our students to recognise and maybe, to even speak American English," he said at the launch of the English Language Institute of Singapore.

To ensure high standards of English competency in Singapore, Lee noted home backgrounds play an important role in developing good English language skill.

There is also the need to expose a child to good English from the time he steps into kindergarten while teachers, who do not teach English, must use good English and be the best role models for children, he said.

"Our schools must provide a rich language environment. There must be a strong reading culture where children can access and enjoy good books," said Lee as he further called for a "culture of oracy".

Lee stressed that the Singapore education system has built a good English language foundation for students here.

He also pointed out that English, as Singapore's "lingua franca", has benefitted Singapore economically since independence in 1965.

If the Republic had not chosen English as a working language, the nation would have been left behind, he stated.

Choosing to have English as the working language ensured equality in all races as it allowed them to learn, communicate and work with each other, while the policy of bilingualism allowed people to study their mother tongues, said Lee.

He added, "We are the only country in the region that uses English as our working language, the main medium of instruction in our schools.

"This has given our young a strong advantage of growing up in a multi-cultural multi-lingual society, all speaking the international language of commerce and trade, English, and their mother tongues, Chinese, Malay, Tamil and others as their second language."

Singapore has also been able to attract foreign talent because of its English language policy as it makes working and living in Singapore easier.

"There is an intense worldwide competition for talent, especially for English-speaking skilled professionals, managers and executives. Our English-speaking environment is one reason why Singapore has managed to attract a number of these talented individuals to complement our own talent pool," said Lee.

"They find it easy to work and live in Singapore, and remain plugged into the global economy. Singapore is a popular educational choice for many young Asians who want to learn English, and they get a quality education. This has kept our city vibrant," he said.

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