Sunday, February 10, 2008

Is Singapore spoken English that BAD?

I find this song really appropriate for this incident.

It all started with the episode of Kang Xi Lai Le (康熙來了) on 28th Jan 2008. The episode was supposed to be about celebrities with bad English and how they deal with encounters with foreigners etc. However halfway through the show, they started talking about how Singapore English sounds weird to them and started mocking and making fun the English pronunciation of Singaporeans (they started 'imitating' how Singaporeans speak and made a joke out of it).
Watch the video here

The press blew the incident out of proportion by publishing an article on it.
taken from the Newspaper, 5 Feb 2008 (credit to Felicia aka CE fanZ!! @ AF forum)

ENGLISH, as spoken by Singaporeans, is "weird". At least, that's what some TAIWAN CELEBRITIES think. And they wasted no time in making their opinions known on a variety programme in Taiwan.

In the 28 Jan epsiodes of the popular variety show Mr Con and Ms Csi aka Kang Xi lai le, the hosts and guests were seen making fun of the way Singaporeans speak English.

ARROY SHEN, former member of COMICBOYZ, describe Singapore's English as " weird" because Singaporeans intone the second syllable of word upwards instead of downwards.

He said that he was taught to shorten " thank you" to " thank". Only problem was, it sounded more like " dance" when he said it.

ARROY also demonstrated how Singaporeans pronounce "SORRY" while he was on a recent two month visit to Singapore.

He repeated " sorry" exaggeratedly, to much laughter from the show's hosts, Tsai Kang Yong and SELINA REN...

He then showed how Singaporean pronounce " tissue paper", and this was again meet with roaring laughter from the hosts and other guests.

- one host then laughingly likened the Singaporean accents to the way THAI people speak English.

Xu Wei, an English teacher who was also a guest on the same episode describe an encounter with an immigration officer on a trip to Singapore.

She say in mandarin: I was wearing a loose fitting dress and the officer ask me " pegnan? pregnant? It than dawned on me that he mean if I was pregnant.

Another guest Ma Guo Xian also made fun of how Singaporeans refer to older people as uncle and aunties.

They are always "uncle" and " aunties" - just don't understand what they mean," he said.

After this episodes was shown in Taiwan, a segment of it was posted on youtube.

After this article was published on the Newpaper, more Sinpaporeans got to know of the incident and it stirred up a heated discussion on forums as well as youtube. Just look at the total number of comments left there. There are 1558 comments and 44,474 views at the moment, but I think there'll be more and more comments streaming in.

Stand up for Singapore~ Do the best you can~

Mockery/Comments mentioned in the video

1) Arroy: Thank You= Thanks
Is there anything wrong with that?
Sound like Dance?
Well, maybe it does sound abit like dance if you slang it the American way.
But in SG we pronounce it the British way and 'Dance' will sound like dah-nce instead of dense.
But if you pronounce it properly, there's the TH sound in THanks, so it won't sound like dance.

Sorry> Sorry? (with a higher tone on the end syllabus)

Its not wrong to say sorry? As it’s another way to say pardon?

So what’s the problem?

2) Girl in red- Hurry Up
I've never hear Singaporeans pronounce Hurry Up as "Her-ry ahhhh~~~~" And to add on, the girl in red said something that sounded like One da di Two da di. I don't think any Singaporeans will understand what she said when they hear it the first time round. So how is it considered to be Singaporean English when Singaporeans don't even understand her?

3) Uncle Auntie guy

what’s the problem which he was highlighting?
- we stressed too much on the end syllabus? eg Anklllleeeee, Antiiiiii instead of Ankle, Anti?
- its weird to call others uncle, auntie?

If its the tone and pronunciation, then he don't have the right to laugh at us because he's also wrong in his pronunciation. We don't pronounce Uncle, Auntie as Ankle, Anti. Haha. Even a 5 year old child knows how to pronounce Uncle, Auntie.

Is there anything wrong in addressing others as Uncle and Auntie? That's just our way of addressing others.

4) Pregnant English Teacher
Pregnant> Pegnen?
I think she's either trying to say that our pronunciation is not accurate or that we shouldn't say it in a tone with that question mark behind (pregnant??)
If she's saying that the pronunciation of the immigrant officer is not accurate, therefore she couldn't understand him, then maybe her standard of English is not very good as well. Even Cai Kang Yong(the MC) could understand that she was saying "pregnant".

If the problem lies in the 'fact' that we shouldn't raise the tone and make it sound like there's a ? behind, than I think its not very valid. The immigration officer was obviously trying to ask her a question and if he had asked the question in the 'correct' American tone which she demonstrated, then doesn't it mean that the officer was declaring her to be pregnant (instead of it being a question)?

Their imitation of Singaporeans were not even done properly in the first place and they don’t even sound the least like a Singaporean. IF they wanted to imitate Singaporeans, why don’t they do a better job? If they had done it better, I think that most Singaporeans would not have responded so strongly.

Besides that, they their 'jokes' were NOT funny at all.

Different countries have different slang. For example the Americans have the American slang,
Australians have their own aussie slang and British has their own slang as well. So even though we’ll all speaking English, there are different slang, so it may sound different. When we don't speak that particular slang, does that mean that our English is incorrect/ weird? Yes, maybe foreigners may not get use to listening to colloquial English in the beginning, but people will understand and get use to it.
Does that mean that just because Singaporeans don't slang like an American so our English is incorrect and laughable? The English standard of the people on the show is not that GREAT either, so why do they sound like they are really familiar with English but just can't understand Singaporeans because Singaporeans speak bad English? Besides that, who are they to judge our English when Singaporeans are much more proficient in English then Taiwanese? Most of the Taiwanese can't even complete a complete sentence in English while in Singapore; English is our first language and main mode of communication among the various races.

That’s the way I felt after reading the article and watching the video.

I’ve also read the comments left at Youtube and also at some other forums and its really entertaining reading the comments left by fellow Singaporeans (especially in Youtube). Some of the comments are really amusing and hilarious.

Its good to see Singaporeans standing up and reacting to the incident instead of just having a heck-care attitude in respond to the incident. Our fellow Singaporeans had bombarded the blog of Aaroy and also the English teacher to demand an apology from them and to voice out their unhappiness.

Arroy's blog– should be the most attacked area (712 comments so far)

Ruby(Xu Wei), the English teacher’s blog -there WAS about 10 pages of comments left by Singaporeans so far, but she deleted all those comments left by Singaporeans

Doris Lai (Wei Ru)- girl in red- around 4 pages of comments so far!m3irDb.fEQ7yu6ArxqBj_ZHnmg--/guestbook?page=1

SHE's blog- the comments are all sealed, so not sure how many Singaporeans left messages for Selina there.

Actually, I think we should watch the whole episode of the programme first
before making any comments.

The part 1 of the Full episode can be found here. I think there are links to the other parts there.

After watching the full episode, and re-watching the video of the incident, I think that they didn’t really mean to mock/laugh at Singaporeans. From the start, they were laughing at their own English (especially Arroy who admitted that his English was really lousy and he was trying to make people laugh with his lousy English).

The part where they mentioned Singaporean was also not on purpose. I’ll analyse what happened then.

First, Arroy spoke in English, talking about one size and saying Sorry, and Thanks (he wasn’t trying to imitate Singaporeans here. There’s how he usually speak. He also didn’t mention Singapore here)

The guests laughed at his English pronunciation.

Selina: Are you saying dance?

Arroy: My friend told me that the short form for Thank You is Thanks. He also added that his friend 自以为他在教我英文, meaning that in his opinion, that's incorrect. (there's still no mention of Singapore up to this point)

Cai Kang Yong commented on his way of saying sorry.

Arroy said "Sorry" again.

Wei Ru said "好像有那种泰国腔哦"he sound like he has Thai accent.

Selina said " 是新加坡腔"Is Singapore accent.

Arroy said " 对,腔很怪。。。" Right, the accent is weird. (I have a weird accent when speaking English.) [he was not saying that the Singapore accent is weird here. I think he was referring to his own accent]

Arroy: I worked in Singapore for 2 months, 所以才会这种英文 (thats why my English is like that)

[Cai Kang Yong laughed]

Selina: 所以变成这种英文 That's why your English is like that

Arroy: Right, they taught me something else too. [demonstrated how he said tissue paper]

The others repeated and said Tissue paper with the American slang.

Someone asked(sounds like its Wei Ru): 这是哪一国的口音? Which country's slang is this?

Arroy answered: Singapore

A guy commented(should be the Uncle, Auntie guy): 新家坡发音都很奇怪 Singapore's accent is very weird( I don't think he meant it in a bad way. He was just saying it's different)

Selina:对,就往上扬的 Right, they raise the tone on the last syllable.

Arroy: demonstrated how he said tissue paper again.

girl in red(Wei Ru): “Her-ry ahhhh~~~~ "

The uncle, auntie guy said "对,就是新加坡,我都听不懂他们讲什么."
Right, it's Singapore. I don't understand them. [it was quite noisy here cause they were all trying to give their comments]

While she was saying that, someone said( I think was Selina): 这是泰国的吗?
Is this Thai accent?

Wei Ru was still demonstrating :"One da di Two da di” [pointing to her watch action](she was trying to say one thirty, two thirty)( in my opinion, she was doing an imitation of the Thai accent and not Singapore accent as she mentioned in the front part of the episode that she had gone to Thailand and had a small incident there as she couldn’t speak English well )

Uncle Auntie guy: "他们叫什么Ankle, Anti, 他们就ankle anti"
They address the elders as uncle, auntie.

Arroy:"Uncle, aunttttiiiieeeeeee"

Some others echoed him.

Cai Kang Yong questioned: 这不是。。。。 这不是菲律宾或马来西亚吗?是新加坡?
Isn't this.... Isn't this Philippines or Malaysian accent? Are you sure its Singapore accent?

someone said " 对阿,好像哦."
yes, it sound like (the accent sound like Philippines/Malaysian accent)

Selina:一样,那都是。。。 新马那一代。
Its the same... The area around Singapore and Malaysia.

English teacher :"我去新加坡有一次通过海关,我也听不懂他们讲的英文。因为那一天我穿那种宽松的衣服,然后背包斜背那我过去的时候他就跟我讲"Pegnen? Pegnen? [laughed and said]我真的听不懂他讲什么。"
Once I was at the Singapore custom and I couldn't understand their English. I wore loose clothings and carried a sling bag around that day and when I went over,he said to me" Pegnen? Pegnen? [laughed and said] I really couldn't understand what he said.

Cai Kang Yong : "他说你怀孕吗?" Was he was asking you whether you were pregnant?

English teacher: "对,他说我是不是 Pregnant(with the American accent) 是不是怀孕。我说 no 可是刚开始他讲就是(那个)Pregnant, 我真的听不懂。
Yes, he was asking me whether I was PREGnant (with the American accent). I answered No, but I really didn't understand him in the beginning.

( end of clip)

So that’s how the incident happened.

First, Arroy didn’t intentionally bring Singapore into the picture when he was saying the Sorry and Thanks.

I think Arroy was trying to make people laugh (at his lousy English) when he said Sorry?

Wei Ru(girl in red) was doing a Thai accent and not a Singapore accent. (she commented that Arroy sounded Thai)

In my opinion, the uncle and auntie guy was just trying to point out that Singaporeans have a unique way of addressing the elders. ( I don’t that he meant anything bad here. Its just that he find it Different. Maybe its his wrong choice of the word “qi guai” that made it sound like we’re weird)

The pregnant woman was referring to Singaporeans in particular and it seems like she was trying to say that our spoken English is incomprehensible or that our slang is hard to understand. (the way she said it was like we’re wrong because we didn’t do the correct American slang like we ought to)

Aaron and the English teacher left an apology on their blogs

News report of their apology on AF forum: Taiwan celebrity apologises on blog for rude comments - Sorry, my English isn't good either

The English teacher’s apology (she didn’t create an entry on her blog to apologise for it. Its only a response to a comment left on her blog.) Edit: She deleted all the comments left by Singaporeans including her response to the angry Singaporean)

I think that the celebrities and MC didn’t have the intention to criticise or mock Singaporean’s English in general. To me, I think the only offensive thing was the pregnant incident mentioned by the English teacher and that casual comment made by Selina. (so that's why your English is like that)

In her apology, the English teacher said that she only brought up that incident to highlight her lack of listening ability. But it doesn’t seem that way in the show judging by her tone and the way she told the incident. It’s like she was trying to correct something that is incorrect. Furthermore, after watching the whole episode, we’ll know that the role of the English teacher was to correct the English of the guests or to provide the right sentences/phrases to use during the circumstances described by them. If you watched the whole episode, you’ll know that she mentioned a racist ‘joke’ on national TV and said it as if it was a personal encounter at first. And she also mentioned the incident she had in the American’s custom where those who didn’t know how to speak English had to line up in a line and stripe down to their undergarment for a check while those who could speak English was being put in another line and they didn’t have to go through the strip check.

The first story is obvious a joke and all of us know it. But the 2nd story sounds real and personal, but I don’t think it’s really her personal encounter. So the pregnant incident could be just a story cooked up by her ( I realised that her stories all happened in the airport)

So I think that this incident is not really Aaroy’s faulty (so please don’t bombard his blog with those strong hurting comments anymore) Furthermore, he had already apologised for it. He mentioned in his apology that he admitted that he was too straightforward and was too over in his jokes. I think that’s quite true since we can see that he didn’t even intended to criticise Singaporeans. His purpose was to make the audience laugh with no intention of hurting anybody. So that’s why in his apology, he said sorry for being to straightforward and got too carried away in his jokes. His apology sounded insincere to me when I read it before watching the full episode of the show, but after re-watching it in detail, I think that to him, he didn’t really understand what he did wrong as his purpose was not to criticise Singaporeans but merely to make the audience laugh which his lousy English in the beginning. But its only after the other guests on the show commented that he sounded like Singaporeans that he got linked to imitating Singaporeans and resulted in the criticism thrown at him by Singaporeans. I think it’s not really his fault to begin with, but he just apologised to Singaporeans for his actions if he had caused the unhappiness. So just stop flaming him ya? It made it seems like Singaporeans are petty and cannot take jokes.

On the other hand, I think that the apology by the English teacher was insincere. Her pregnant incident she brought up was clearly pointing and directed at Singaporeans and her motive for bringing it up seems to be criticising our English. Well, it may be what she claimed that the editing had made her words sound offensive. Well, we’ll never know the truth. So since she had already apologised, why not just let the matter rest? Singaporeans had already bombed her with our unhappiness and she had already know the damage she had done. So give her a slack.

The programme was after all only a variety show and those comments made were mostly just casual comments by the celebrities. So just take it more lighted heartedly and treat it as an entertainment. In Singapore, the regulations for TV programmes are more strict, so its rare for us to see Singapore variety shows joking so openly about sensitive issues for example making racial jokes on national TV. However, things are different in Taiwan, so its unfair to judge their variety shows by our own standard. In Taiwan they can just openly joke about their ministers and even mimicked their ministers to make a laughing joke out of them. So just watch the clip as entertainment purposes and don’t take the incident to heart since most of the celebrities involved did not have any purposes/ intention of criticising Singapore in the first place. Besides that, it’s also quite unfair to attack the entire Taiwan population just because of the comments made by the few celebrities. They do not represent the voice of the entire Taiwan population and its not fair to attack the whole Taiwan population just because of that.

I’m still a loyal and true Singaporean even though I seem to be siding the other party now(I'm really not trying to defend them. I'm just looking at the incident more objectively) It was funny reading the comments on Youtube and all those comments siding Taiwan were all being marked as spam ( I was happily giving thumbs down to those negative comments too when I read them before watching the whole episode and looking at the clips again). Hopefully Singaporeans would look at the matter more closely and judge them again without being influenced by the press or article which you’ve read. I think the main reason for Singaporeans to get so worked up was because of the article that was published. It influenced my judging and opinions regarding the matter at first. Since most of us got to know of the article after reading the article and only watched the short clip after that to judge and voice our opinions on it, it's not very fair to the people involved by passing our judging so fast. They were just discussing on our slang and how it sounded different with no intention of criticising us or putting us down. They didn't say their English is better either. Most of them(except maybe the English teacher) were not trying to correct us or anything. In order to judge if a person is guilty or not, the intention of the person is very important right?? (Well, I still don't really like the English teacher. Can't stand her face when she was demostrating the correct way to say pregnant. To add on, she deleted ALL the comments left by Singaporeans on her blog. What a good way to handle the matter)

The article was posted on Asian Fanatics forum and also drew quite a lot of negative responses from foreigners. Read them here. I think the reason the incident got blown up was mainly because of the media…

Its nice to see Singaporeans so united due to this incident. Way to go Singaporeans!( but I think we can should stop the flaming) .... I can understand why we(Singaporeans) got so worked up in the first place, but maybe we should look at the matter in another perspective... The video just turned out to sound offensive even though they don't really mean it that way. Yes, I was also offended by their remarks at first after reading the article and viewing the clip, but I tried to put myself in their shoes and analyse the situation more objectively and it kind of changed my views on the incident.

PS: Sorry if the post is abit unorganized. I edited it a few times and kept going back to add in more stuffs in between the paragraphs along the way...


sheryl said...

hello bluedolphin, i'm actually amberlin from the JYC thread, nice blog you have here!
Would it be okay if I linked you at my blog (
I linked coolsmurf's one too, hehe.

And stand up for Singapore, yo! :D

Stars on Screen said...

Haha. Yeah, of course you can link me =)