Public response to the Education Ministry's plan has generally been negative. Many Singaporeans have pointed out that there are other, more effective ways to improve English standards in Singapore (not that the Education Ministry really cares about your feedback).
Anyway, today we have someone, Julia Gabriel, writing to the ST Forum to share her two cents worth. Julia Gabriel's two cents are actually worth a lot more than two cents, because she is a very experienced specialist in the area of teaching language:
I'm amused. Julia Gabriel says that "emphasis on the nationality of teachers alone is not enough" and that hiring foreign Caucasians is probably not the answer, because many of them will have "strong regional accents, acquired in the homes they grew up in, where they learnt non-standard regional phonemes, idioms and grammar." Julia Gabriel also points out that many local teachers are also 'native' speakers, having grown up in homes where English is a first language.
ST June 19, 2006
Start from preschool with parents chipping in
MS SHERI Kristen Goh Kwee Hwa's letter, 'Reconsider move to hire native English speakers' (ST, June 14), highlights the value of reading and prompts further discussion about nurturing children's language development.
Ms Goh's voracious reading and love of writing have undoubtedly contributed to her high standard of spoken and written English. Credit for this must go to her parents who provided the conditions for her language to reach its full potential: a home where empathic family members made time to talk together in Standard English, listen responsively, and share an interest in books and reading.
There is a wide body of research on language development showing that reading alone is not enough. Neither is exposure to good models of language. To engage with language fully, children need opportunities to talk, practise and use it, making mistakes and approximations, especially in the preschool years when they are most able to hear and 'catch' the language around them.
The fixed roles of teacher and student, in the more controlled environment of school, can encourage passive learning, in contrast to the active learning styles children are used to at home.
Ms Rosemary Sage's research, in Britain, shows that three-year-old children utter around 40,000 words a day, diminishing to roughly 20,000 a day, the number expected of a two-year-old, when they enter school and 'teacher talk' takes over.
Ms Goh's suggestion that Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and the Ministry of Education reconsider importing 'native-speaking' teachers and learn from the experience of those who are able English speakers here is surely worth considering, but emphasis on the nationality of teachers alone is not enough.
Our teaching service is already well supplied with highly educated, accomplished speakers, and writers, of Standard English. They need to ensure they engage students in rich whole language, creating Standard English-only environments in our schools, and reach out to parents to do the same at home. Compulsory English literature in secondary schools would be laudable, but too late to create a reading culture for most.
The time to nurture this is in preschool, with parents and teachers working in a supportive partnership, continuing throughout primary and secondary education. Parents are an important part of an active school community that involves, and helps, families to foster children's potential.
In the early 1980s, a large cohort of native English speakers was hired from Britain to teach English in schools here. Some of their students must now be teaching and better equipped than their foreign counterparts to understand the particular needs of the children they mentor. Many of these teachers will also be 'native' speakers, having grown up in homes where English is a first language.
There is a popular belief that foreign Caucasians speak Standard English by virtue of their birth. The fact is that many of these so-called 'native speakers' have strong regional accents, acquired in the homes they grew up in, where they learnt non-standard regional phonemes, idioms and grammar.
Everyone speaks with an accent of some sort. More important by far is children's need to express themselves fully and individually, using clear diction and pronunciation, accurate speech rhythm, Standard English construction and a wide range of vocabulary. These are fostered in homes and schools that, together, provide a foundation for global language.
Julia Gabriel (Mrs)
So an angmo teacher is herself telling us, very honestly, that angmo teachers are not the solution. But our good friend, Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, can't seem to see that. Very sad.
- What is this native speaker of English saying? Click here for the translation.
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