Monday, August 13, 2012

Please be graciously mind your language

It all started when I saw Mr Brown's blogpost about an SMS Transit sign. Reproducing the picture here in case you're too lazy to click on the link:

Aiyoh, my eyes hurt.

I've been lamenting for the longest time that our English standards are declining. The clearest sign of this is when official channels start using bad English. I'm not talking about your neighbourhood kopitiam or your bubble tea shop. I'm referring to organisations like SBS Transit and town councils. Check out this sign, also from Mr Brown:

For Pete's sake, is it too much to ask that someone with a reasonable standard of English vet these signs before they're put up? I've seen a banner outside a CC that read "Commimunity Centre". Maybe committees hold meetings at that community centre.

Sometimes, I suspect people have gotten so used to reading superficially, amidst the barrage of information, that words have lost their meaning. In the MRT the other day, I saw this advertisement:

What does "it" refer to? Time? Money? It doesn't matter anyway cos it would still be wrong. You can keep your meeting short and sweet, you can't keep time short and sweet. I understand it's referring to the bond fund but it's not mentioned in the sentence and you can't keep a fund short and sweet either. I wonder if the advertiser just thought the tagline sounded catchy and used it without realising it didn't make any sense.

And then, there's the local media. Mediacorp is one of the worst culprits of bad English - I've lost count of the number of times I've spotted mistakes in their news commentary and ticker tape. We used to be able to rely on the Straits Times as being the pillar of good English but not anymore. I don't read the Straits Times regularly but I picked up an issue to see if I could catch them out. It took me all of 10 minutes to spot this error:

Can you see the mistake? It should be "has" after "his estate", not "have". It's a grammar rule that's taught to primary school kids. Granted, this is not a huge error but this is the national newspaper we're talking about. That's what editors and sub-editors are for.

If you want to see more grammatical errors in the Straits Times, check out this blog. Some of the errors are really unforgivable.

When I speak to corporate employers, they all sing the same refrain: the new generation of workers is unable to speak and write English competently. Forget about being able to compose fancy marketing speak, it would appear that even stringing a grammatical sentence together is a challenge for some. Some marketing agencies even tell me they've switched from hiring Singaporeans to Hong Kongers because the latter have a better grasp of English.

For shame. What's the point of boasting about our high level of distinctions in the national exams when it doesn't translate into a better grasp of English? It's our first language afterall.

Maybe the answer lies in re-examining the way English is taught in schools as well as better training for English teachers. In the meantime, perhaps posting errors on sites like Mr Brown is the way to go. I'm sure such publicity will motivate establishments to check their signs and publications more conscientiously.


Anonymous said...

About that Aberdeen MRT poster - I could never figure out what was that thing they showed in the ad - some metallic conical shape stuff. At least for their "spices" ad, it was a pot of curry; that I could relate.


Anonymous said...

THANK YOU! That 'short and sweet' advertisement annoys me every single time I use the MRT.

elles. said...

it's a good time for schools to start asking kids to take pictures of signboards and clips from ST to begin peer-editing. sure to improve the kids' english!

Quince Pan said...

I don't think The Straits Times understands the rule of proximity.

monlim said...

Quince: Yeah, we need a 12-year-old to explain it to ST :D

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