26 June 2006

More on Hiring "Native Speakers"

For background, click here. This is about the Education Ministry's plan to hire large numbers of angmo "native speakers" from overseas to teach English and other subjects in Singapore schools.

Today, the TODAY newspaper has a thoughtful article pointing out the cons of this approach. Click here for the full article. What do I want to highlight? How about this:
LAST December, I was at the Sydney Opera house to witness my 17-year-old daughter, Amali, born and raised in Australia, receiving the prize for topping the English class in her final year at one of the top state schools in Sydney.

In a grade of some 250 students (mostly Caucasian), the top three students were all of Asian descent: My daughter of Sri Lankan descent, another with Burmese parents, while the third had an Indian father and a Filipino mother.

I told Amali after the presentation that if she applied to teach English (after completing a degree) in East Asia, she is very likely to be rejected when they see her picture, because she will be deemed not to be a "native speaker" of English.
Heheh. As I had pointed out in the Comment section of my previous post, there are plenty of non-white "native speakers" of English in countries such as India, the Philippines and Malaysia. Why is our Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam so keen to hire angmos from the UK? What does this show about Tharman's thinking?

Interestingly, it transpires that many Thai parents think like Tharman. I guess that shows that Tharman is approximately as clever as they are:
Last year, it was reported that a deal, struck by the Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra during a visit to India to bring South Asian English teachers to help Thai schools improve English teaching standards, was coming unstuck because Thai parents wanted their children to be taught by "native speakers".

Meanwhile, it was revealed in the British parliament around the same time that nearly 16 million adults in Britain are unable to read and write properly in English.

More interestingly, the TODAY article gives us some indication of one kind of UK native speaker who would probably be very interested in responding to Tharman's recruitment ad:
Recently, I picked up a book at a Bangkok airport bookshop titled, Road Rash: Western Tourists and Expatriates at Play in Asia's Global Village written by a Canadian who has taught English in Asia for many years. In it he says:
    "Many of these English teachers are exiled from affluent countries by debt and student loans. Others have been downsized from corporate jobs, trapped by temporary employment agencies, or locked into dead-end minimum wage jobs … the mass migration of English teachers points to an interesting dynamic in the global village; affluent and wealthy countries are now exporting their unemployable, over-educated, surplus population into less-developed nations as labourers."

    Thus, English teaching in Asia has become a lifeline for these unemployed "native speakers".
Aren't they lucky? Unemployed and overeducated in the UK. Zero experience in teaching (see Tharman's ad - "Newly qualified teachers are encouraged to apply"). But once they get here, they'll be treated as "foreign talent" and their kids won't even have to do NS.

(Oh, in case you're wondering, these native speakers might be broke but they CAN afford to send their kids over. Tharman is offering them "free economy air passage for candidate, spouse and 2 children below the age of 18 to Singapore").

Technorati: ;


Anonymous said...

"Many of these English teachers are exiled from affluent countries by debt and student loans. Others have been downsized from corporate jobs, trapped by temporary employment agencies, or locked into dead-end minimum wage jobs … the mass migration of English teachers points to an interesting dynamic in the global village; affluent and wealthy countries are now exporting their unemployable, over-educated, surplus population into less-developed nations as labourers."

In Sg they are call Foreign Talents.

Anonymous said...

To the peasants, they are better known as Fallen Talents

Anonymous said...

Or Foreign Trash ...

I hate it when these people, living off the livelihood of a Singaporean that they deprived, gripe endlessly about how lucky Singaporeans are and how ungrateful we are!

They are the ones who enjoy being cared for by the government. I always tell them in the face not to be sacarstic. "Just have your free lunch and move on to America".

Anonymous said...

Mr. Wang,

Again, a straw man argument: Singapore will import native English speakers who are no better or are even worse then what we have here. Most of them can't even get a job in the UK! Millions of native speakers can't even read or write! This problem VANISHES if each teacher's credentials are properly vetted.

Question: Are only Caucasians permitted to apply? By the way, Mr. Wang, I wish you wouldn't use the word "angmo." It's offensive.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


It isn't. You may be confusing the term with "gweilo" - which is Cantonese for "foreign devil".

Whereas "Ang Mo" simply means "Caucasian" in Hokkien and has no derogatory connotations. The literal translation is simply "red-haired"; referring to the colour of Caucasian hair.

"Red" may not be entirely accurate in describing all Caucasians' hair colour - however, it is probably not any more inaccurate than the way we describe, in the English language, the different peoples of the world as "black", "white" or "yellow".

AFAIK (and I stand to be corrected - my Hokkien is not so good), in the Hokkien dialect, there isn't a direct equivalent of "brown" in the English language - what we think of as "brown" in English is described in terms of shades of "ang" or "wooi" - red or yellow - therefore there is no obviously more convenient way in the Hokkien language to refer to "brown hair" than "ang mo".

Finally, you may be interested to know that Ang Mo Kio (PM Lee's constituency) simply means "Red-Haired Bridge". The entire area is named after a bridge built in that area by an angmo (J.T Thomson) sometime in the 1st half of the 19th century. Thomson was the government surveyor back in those days and is the same person whom Thomson Road was named after.

"Ang Mo" is as inoffensive as "Ang Mo Kio".

-- Mr Wang, master of useless trivia.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Just one additional comment, Eric, the usual derogatory Hokkien term for Caucasian is:

"Ang Mo Gao"

which means "red-haired ape" - "Gao" meaning "ape" or "monkey". As you can see, the derogatory aspect of the term derives from "Gao", not from "Ang Mo".

Western music is referred to as "Ang Mo Kwa" (kwa meaning songs); Western food is referred to as "Ang Mo Jiak" ("Jiak" meaning eat); Western languages are referred to as "Ang Mo Wah" (wah meaning speech/talk) .... none of these terms are inherently derogatory.

Anonymous said...

Why need native speaking English teacher ? Was it because MM said our English suck ?

Let me share w u my story, I am from pro-65 chinese educated, my wife english is just OK. But my two daugthers english is excellent. They study in normal school. Nothing special. There are only two thing my family do.1st, we get a VCR and tape down all the good programs for kids ( in 1980's). 2nd, my wife purchase a set of English story books for them.
My wife and I spend most of the time in works. We have very little times spend with my kids in 80's to 90's.

I think the problem is on the too many changes of our eductaion system. MOE can replace all English teachers from FT, do we gain ?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Wang,

Thanks for explaining these terms in a bit more detail than I understood them previously.

The word bothers me because it is often used to pigeonhole people by their skin color. In this sense it is racist. Where I come from, it is like assuming all people of Asian ethnicity are Chinese. Most people are offended by this because it diminishes the individual.

To me angmo fells different than the word white or Caucasion. Maybe it is because I have felt categorized by my skin color only when I have been in Singapore.

By the way, I am not saying that race is not an important component of the Education Ministry's decision. I just feel that using the word angmo is wrong.

Anonymous said...

Sigh. Why bother? MOE will do whatever it wants, as it always has.

Besides, MOE is more like pre-Ministry of Manpower in the eyes of the senior politicians, so ultimately, what matters is how your children will contribute to the Singapore economy.

Therefore, if we bring in angmohs into our country, and this brings about colonialist impressions in europe and america, all the better what. Then they'll bring their MNCs in here and complete the hegemony.

Which is what we want, isn't it? :)

singaporean said...

Not that I think my engrish is any good, but I think the best thing my english illiterate parents did for me was to NOT talk to me in broken english. Our English teachers may not speak Queen's English like the MM does, but if the school children can unlearn enough broken grammar and reach the standard of even the lousiest English teacher of Asian/Singaporean "descent", there wouldnt be any issue. But the truth is that, by the time we reach the 50th percentile of Singaporean school leavers, their engrish is no different from the Chinese educated of yesteryears.

In my third year of learning Japanese, my class was assigned a native Japanese who spoke little English. Given that I was at the bottom end of the class, let me just say that there was very little learning done on my part in that whole of the third year. The top end of the class benefited enormously though, because we couldnt fall back to English when we were uncertain. Gosh how I miss the temp teacher who explained Japanese in both English and Mandarin.

Having native speakers teach a language will just widen the divide between the good and bad.

singaporean said...

BTW, I did have a native Brit teacher in my secondary school, and the few things he taught us that I can still remember was:

1) Had England lost to Camerroon, he would have to walk around in a paper bag over his head. (It was World Cup then).

2) Humans do not get "matured". Cheese do.

3) Try to listen to the RTM coverage of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and note how differently the local media covers the same event.

It was practically a political epiphany for me.

"You mean there is one than one version of the truth?"

Darn, now I am corrupted by those western educated liberals...

Anonymous said...

"Red" may not be entirely accurate in describing all Caucasians' hair colour......
reminds me of my Indian classmate who got real upset at being called "coloured". He pointed out that we Malays, Indians or Chinese have naturally uniformly dark hair and eyes. It is the Causcasian that has the blonde, brunette, or red hair. Their eyes have even more shades, including green. To make things more interesting, two blondes do not necessarily produce an offspring with the same hair or eye color! So who's the real "coloured" people?

Anonymous said...

I have a good idea!

Since MM is the unspoken authority on the Queen's English, why not have him lecture and teach our young generations?

Establish a LKY school of Queen's English in Singapore. We can achieve many objectives :

1 quell unhappiness that he is doing nothing useful yet drawing high pay.

2 prevent unsavoury western and decadent influences that may inadvertantly infiltrate our young from these native speakers

3 Boost our image as a premier education hub. No other country except UK can boast of Queen's English taught outside of the Queen's land.

4 Ultimately, we can have our own version of the Queen's English, just like the concept of decomcracy, right? Western versions are not necessarily good for our country. We must learn to localise.

5 Heck, having lessons with the Old Man might just do the trick. The youth will speak and write well just to avoid attending more of his classes.( I heard the last confrontation was a total disgust for both sides ).


Anonymous said...

My 2 cents' worth on colour:

I think this racist thing is taken out of context to the extreme.

Or people are increasingly more sensitive for their own good.

Do I get upset if someone calls me pale-face? Well, I'm pale ... especially standing beside a native from India.

Are we so insecure to allow something as trivial as colour to provoke us so unnecessarily?

To live in a better world, we should all learn to lighten up.

Anonymous said...

The ONLY reason why this is happening because it is a KNOWN FACT that you SINGAPOREANS WORSHIP THE GROUND ANG MOHS WALK ON.

I have an ang moh friend from Australia who recently was talking to me about how he did not have any girls to date whatsoever in his hometown of Melbourne, and then he quipped, "I should come down to Singapore, I heard how easy it is to get chicks over there". Think about it, it's a wide-known fact now - how much white meat is loved here.

Well, chick or not, I've observed how ang mohs are treated here in Singapore by the GENERAL PUBLIC, as opposed to people of Asian origin. THEY ARE WORSHIPPED.

In fact, when I'm out with my Caucasian friends, I always note how well we are treated, we don't even have to queue at nightclubs, we are ALWAYS picked to go in without any wait. WHY? Because you Singaporeans respect whites more than your own kind, i.e. brown or yellow skinned people. IT IS A SAD FACT.

So coming back to this issue in paricular, it is no wonder why ministers would want to get a white to teach kids here - because the mentality has been set. Not only are ang mohs better than us in English, but also in EVERY OTHER CONCEIVABLE task.

My question to Singaporeans: Why the inferiority complex?

Anonymous said...

"The ONLY reason why this is happening because it is a KNOWN FACT that you SINGAPOREANS WORSHIP THE GROUND ANG MOHS WALK ON."

Hear, hear!

Anonymous said...

To be fair, I have been taught by some very good teachers from England in my JC days but at the same time, there were others who were clearly overrated, overpaid and over here

Anonymous said...

"Why the inferiority complex?"

Good question that should be posed to the Tartman to answer.

Anonymous said...

What crap...! I'm currently studying to be a teacher in Australia, and my Australian partner for my school placement actually asked me how to spell words like "exercise" whilst teaching the class together. I had to run to her rescue so that the kids didn't suspect anything.

And she'll probably be a better teacher than I am then, since I'm just a Singaporean and not a "native speaker".

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

And Porco, don't forget that your JC angmo teachers had been carefully selected to nurture a special category of students in your top JC.

Now, Tharman is proposing to hire the foreign teachers in very large numbers, and he's encouraging "newly qualified teachers" to apply.

The quality control issue therefore surfaces once again, and we know from Singapore's past experience that the government doesn't exactly have a great record in this area, as far as foreign talents are concerned.

Anonymous said...

".. quality control issue" brings to mind DBS's John Olds and Philip Paillart, former personally selected by no less than Lee Kuan Yew himself. Now we have these DBS ATMs which can be easily tampered with; and the chap in charge of systems security at DBS? Another hazy deadwood of an Ang Moh imported from foreign shores when we have so many qualified Singapore born IT professionals. It seems that after Hongkong was taken over by China, all the FILTH (Failed In London Try Hongkon) seem to have settled here.

Anonymous said...

I have come to the conclusion that MM mooted this foreign talent policy to provide entertaiment fodder for the once-considered sedate nation.

He knows our local talents just aren't clownish enough to provide kopitiam talks.

So, we have the DBS guys, then the SGX chap and the latest seem to be the NUS (or was it NTU?) joker.

That some were handpicked by MM himself shows how good he was at selecting world-class clowns.

Thsoe FTs we meet at our workplace are just mediocre ones.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree that while our culture 'taught' us the word "ang mo", to use it is insensitive. It amounts to literally describing an individual by his/her hair color. As simple as that sounds, if the shoe is on the other foot, I doubt many Chinese would take it kindly if he were to be persistently and openly called “flat nose” in some western country. We may still pretend that it's innocent and that we don't mean any derogation, but in reading comments from this post, there seems to be an undercurrent of xenophobia among some commenters, to shrug it off and to perpetuate such insensitivity is racism.

Anonymous said...

Actually there is nothing in it if the small yellow guys call the angmoh angmoh, right?

I like to call my HK friends chink bastards, they just love it as well!

Anonymous said...

My UK friends told me the same thing; 'not everyone over there speaks the Queen's english, squire'.

What is this fascination with foreigners being better than us? Tsk.

le radical galoisien said...

Meh, Singlish is a creole. There are some words that are otherwise hard to explain in the same manner and style, one of them being "chey".

Even in the United States I use it in otherwise rather Americanised English (as always) because there is no effective replacement for it that conveys the same attitude.

(I remember one classmate in primary school conveyed it while slapping his fist on the table - it remains timeless, forever.)

What particularly disturbs me is where the culture is going, because I am very much a "third culture" person, ie. I do not identify with the people here, not even with the Chinese Americans, while in sec 1 my accent was made fun of.

Anyhow, I started disliking Thaksin after he cited Singapore as a reason why dominant-party systems are not worrisome. It is rather good riddance he is facing a crisis.

I am also rather curious if any of the commentators here are Caucasian or have encountered any such discrimination? Eric? The other anonymous person

Also, our apparent "worship" of Caucasians is paradoxical because it is a love/hate relationship. We resent it, yet we perpetuate it. Somewhere the catch-22 has got to stop.

I especially like how they want to get "native speakers", but accuse Chee Soon Juan for being a "foreign puppet" or something of the sort.

Just wonder what the trend is for cross-immigrants and linguistics?
I've always been rather self-conscious of my accent ever since I was called "slanger" in sec 1, but since I returned (and despite going back againto the US) I always identify here and though I identified with the US once. But not anymore. My linguistic style rather stands out in my current US school, but I do recall that once there was a girl in P5 or P6 who said to me that I should stop "pretending to slang" or something of the sort. I was utterly stunned.

Anonymous said...


I have never experienced discrimination as far as I know. I have not received any special treatment either, again, as far as I know. I have never expected special treatment and don't want it. I want to be treated as an individual just as I treat everyone I meet. This is why it is rather shocking and disheartening to read some of the comments on this blog as well as other Singaporean blogs. I have been told the negative views that some people have of Caucasians but I have never really seen it as clearly as I do now.

I would like to ask that if there are any readers who don't like that such stereotypes, good or bad, are being perpetuated to please add there two cents.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Eric, I think you might be mistaking some of the unhappiness here over the Singapore government's foreign talent schemes, for unhappiness with Caucasians. Let me assure you that many Singaporeans are just as unhappy with the Singapore government's foreign talent schemes where the relevant foreigners come from India or China.

The crux (for me at least, and I imagine, for many others) is not in the skin colour or the ethnic descent; but in the way the government has so grossly mismanaged its foreign talent scheme.

To give you a simple example: suppose a newly-qualified angmo teacher is hired under this scheme, to teach in a primary school.

Then suppose a newly-qualified Singaporean teacher also starts teaching in a primary school.

1. Who do you think will be paid more?

2. Is this fair?

3. How is this situation exacerbated?

I'll answer Question 3 for you. It's exacerbated by multiplication - because, going by past government initiatives, we know that the government will probably just hire thousands and thousands of angmo teachers like that, displacing thousands and thousands of local teachers who could have done the job just as well, and furthermore the government will pay more for these angmo teachers, using taxpayers' money.

By the way, I don't think that in the Hokkien dialect there is any other way to refer to Caucasians other than "ang mo". I suppose you could take the Hokkien word for "white" and the Hokkien word for "man" and put them together - you get "peh lang"; but linguistically that sounds wrong; I don't think the phrase is ever used; I think the image which "peh lang" would conjure up for Hokkien speakers is probably something like a mannequin painted white.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


Thought you might be interested to understand more about why so many Singaporeans feel the way they do about foreign talent.

Anonymous said...


If Singaporeans tell you that they don't mean any harm when they call caucasians "Ang mohs", then please accept it. This term connotates a sense of envy and to some misguided folks like SIA girls, is some kind of brand of excellence.

I'm all for a color-blind society, but come on, Asians are called worse things even today. I've always thought the term "Oriental" was offensive. Perhaps because it makes all of us seem quaint, inscrutable and slitty eyed. Yet this term is still bandied around this days.

It's well-known that countries like Korea, Japan and Korea insist on hiring "native English speakers" to teach at schools and tuition centres. As to whether that does a fat lot of good, the proof is in the pudding. The standard of English sucks in these countries. But because parents want to see their kids taught by Caucasians, the cycle continues.

If MOE insists on hiring native English speakers, I hope they insist on people with degrees in Linguistics or language instruction. Native English teachers normally find it hard to understand the difficulties faced by non-native speakers, because they are guided by intuition rather than a knowledge of the rules of the language.

I've also had enough of expat teachers who just walk into the classroom and prattle on without appearing to have read the text beforehand. They're obviously ill-prepared, and don't give a hoot about the teaching profession. I have had one Canadian History teacher, and a Australian English teacher, both of whom were enthusiastic about their job, and behaved professionally. I just hope there are more of such teachers who want to come here to teach.


Anonymous said...

This term connotates a sense of envy and to some misguided folks like SIA girls, is some kind of brand of excellence.

Thanks for making my point, Mugster: Ang moh means something more than white or Caucasian. The backlash from this connotation is what I sense.

By the way, I cringe when I hear the term Oriental.

Anonymous said...

Mugster, I'll bet that you think when someone says, "I live in Ang Mo Kio", that conveys a sense of envy too.

I don't think you know the Hokkien dialect.

Anonymous said...

it's interesting this "Native Speaker" initiative.

Does this mean, that for the past few generations of Singaporeans with an unsatisfactory standard of English would be because

1. Our teachers were of low quality.

and not because

1. of the way the language is taught? Singapore's the land of campaigns, i'm sure that if the government comes up with some plan to get families at home to become involved in the language process (reading story books etc?) that may aid in improving grasp of the language? i do not speak perfect english, but i've always topped my class in secondary school, and i believe it's not because i was the best (it's apparent, heeeh), but because i had a good start - i remembered my dad bringing home story books from second hand booksales every once in a while and other than asking me to read them out loud when i was much younger, but helped foster an interest in reading.

2. of the bilingual policy - speak mandarin campaign (cool speak? the one with hossan leong on the bus?) was so successful that we have most singaporeans engaging in conversation in mandarin...and so, we see many singaporeans with difficulty switching modes between "chinese" and "english" sentence structures?

oh well, you know what they've always said, once announced, probably will be implemented. Even if it doesn't work out, would we know? and, would speaking good english soon be equated to speaking with an accent?

Anonymous said...


I was told that in Australia, teachers cannot use "black" to describe people? Or any other colour. So, they replace colour with "rainbow"!

That bloody "rainbow" fouls up again. And they are foreign talents?

There! racial harmony...

I thought it obvious that this FT issue is not about race? Singaporeans don't think angmohs are bad. It's those angmohs who can't perform and yet act like talent that we hate. For that matter, they can be Indians and Chinese. So, it's capability we are talking about. Why bark up the wrong tree?

For the same reason, Singaporeans laughed at their Ministers. Those jokers can't perform and want to act like talents. We call them gahmen. If they are red-haired, we'll call them angmoh gahmen too!

When I lived overseas, I made it a point to earn their respect from the locals. It's not given freely, never is.

They called me "chink" initially. Now, it's "mate".

Whining and insisting justice be done widens the gap further.

Anonymous said...

to anonymous:

Envy is what I felt when I tried to apply to teach English in Korea and China, and got turned away because I wasn't a "Native English Speaker*". I mean, it doesn't matter that I probably did better for English exams during the CAMBRIDGE-Singapore O and A levels than the Princes of England, no, one look at my nationality and I was denied the chance. The admin lady of the universities couldn't even reject my application in proper English, they must have been instructed to only approve the applications from "Native english speaking" countries to higher authorities.

Eric: You obviously want to have your cake and eat it too.

*(Though technically I am, and it would have been such a time-saver if the ads stated truthfully: "Caucasians wanted", instead of using the politically correct term.)


Anonymous said...

Well, good luck to you, Mugster. When the angmo teachers come in masses, maybe you won't even be able to teach English in Singapore.

Anonymous said...


I guess that's how we differ. I offer respect until there is a reason not to. And I expect the same in return.

If this debate isn't about race, why hasn't anybody asked, besides me, whether non-Caucasian British are being considered for teaching positions?

Anonymous said...

Still don't get it, Eric? No one is asking, precisely because it's not about race. It's really much much more about:

Singaporean <-> Foreigner


Chinese/Indian/Malay/Other <-> White Man

Angmo is just a convenient shorthand to describe the large majority of the kind of foreign candidates that Tharman is going to get.

After all, he advertised in The Guardian, you know. Not the Hindustan Times or the Bangkok Post or the Kenyan Daily.

Anonymous said...

And just to add to that, if Tharman HAD advertised in the Hindustan Times, the earlier Anonymous would have said:

"Well, good luck to you, Mugster. When the INDIAN teachers come in masses, maybe you won't even be able to teach English in Singapore."

Anonymous said...

No one is asking, precisely because it's not about race...Angmo is just a convenient shorthand to describe the large majority of the kind of foreign candidates that Tharman is going to get.

Why point out that they're "ang moh" if nobody cares about race? This is exactly my point. Can't you see it?

Anonymous said...

Ok lor, then just substitute with "UK citizens who are native speakers of English and mostly white".

Anonymous said...

Oh, and this as well:

"Well, good luck to you, Mugster. When the India-citizens-who-are-mostly-Indians teachers come in masses, maybe you won't even be able to teach English in Singapore."

Anonymous said...

Eric - actually, if you read between the lines, we singaporeans don't care.

We know our English is not perfect but we didn't think it was anything to do with race. It was Tharman. He's the racist one. He ascribe certain strengths and weaknesses to certain race of people unjustifiably.

And if you're sensitive, you'll probably feel that we are "angmoh bashing" here. Not true, I like angmohs. They provide heaps of entertainment in my classes.

Without them, we don't have nice movies like X-man, Superman, Spiderman etc to watch. Brokeback Mountain is not my cup of tea.

Anonymous said...

I remember this on Kenny Sia's blog:


He analyses the Hokkien language and I think that the conclusion is that sometimes "ang mo" is derogatory and sometimes it's not, but since there is no other appropriate and always-non-derogatory term in the dialect to refer to Caucasians, you just have to use the phrase "ang mo" regardless of whether or not you mean to convey any derogatory or non-derogatory connotations.

Btw, Mr Wang, miss yr funny pix. You used to be almost as funny as Kenny.

Anonymous said...

I think the mindset that Singapore is small and so, we cannot find the right talents for some of the work that we want performed, is a very strong one in some quarters. Was it MM who once said that if we put the top 150 people of Singapore into a plane and if it crashed, it would spell the end of Singapore? (Or something to that effect)

True, on a population of 4 million or so, we certainly do not have the depth and breadth of talent that countries like China and India have. But, I think, when we look for a talent (foreign or otherwise), the key criterion is whether the person is 'good'.

I am sure we can still remember some of the teachers who taught us - some we revere, others we despise. What makes one a good teacher is often the level of commitment on the part of the teacher. Does he/she conscientiously 'model' good behaviours in class? Does he/she convey the right information/engage the students' learning in class?

If so, then, the question becomes "Does recruiting from the UK increase MOE's chances of finding more such teachers than they can in Singapore?"
I suspect the biggest challenge confronting MOE about finding enough good English teachers in Singapore is that the standard of English in Singapore had probably fallen compared to say 20 years ago. This could be because :
(1) a generation of students were not taught Grammar and hence graduated without that foundation;
(2) with more in each cohort graduating from the universities, the general standard of teacher applicants could be lower than they were 20 years ago.

So, while going to the UK could help MOE address challenge (1) above (provided the UK teachers are all trained in English grammar, because the trend of not teaching grammar was started amongst native-speaking countries where educators there did not see the need to then. However, I had been told there is currently a review and that grammar may be taught in schools.) But, it might not address challenge (2) if the UK candidates are from the lower-most percentiles of their cohorts.

Yes, we are small, so, we quickly reach the bottom of the barrel when we need large quantities. But, when we expand the search, make sure we do not start looking from the bottom of a larger barrel. Given that this is a larger barrel, its bottom could be even more unsavoury than a smaller one.

Going by Singapore's track record with foreign talents so far, I think Singaporeans are not confident MOE would be able to identify and select the right ones.

So, Eric, Singaporeans have nothing against foreigners, per se. The way I see it, our unhappiness has more to do with the biasness in the minds of the government than biasness in the minds of Singaporeans.

Anonymous said...

Eric, you jump to conclusions hastily.

It's a bonus to meet people like you. However when I don't get respect freely, I learn to earn it.

Did I imply that I gave others a hard time because of race? I was at the receiving end. I was called a "chink", remember?

Yes, we react to the same issue differently.

It's not a race nor class thing. It's about one's experiences with the foreigners.

Anonymous said...


Yes, I think you are right about misinterpreting your comment. I still can't agree with the rest of your post. ;)

Anonymous said...


I commend you for writing a thoughtful comment. I agree with many of your points.

Could you please clarify the following sentence:
The way I see it, our unhappiness has more to do with the biasness in the minds of the government than biasness in the minds of Singaporeans.
What government bias do you mean?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


If you really don't know, then I am not surprised that you felt that the comments here were racist.

Let's just say that when my wife was pregnant with our first child, we contemplated getting out of the country for her to deliver elsewhere, then coming back here thereafter.

Sadly I discovered that this wouldn't help. Legally, my son would still be regarded as a Singapore citizen. A major disadvantage. How nice it would be - if he could be a foreigner, and live in Singapore.

singaporean said...

WTF? Michael McCrae gets just 10 years each for killing two Singaporeans?

The first kill may be manslaughter, but the second kill was clear cut murder to silence a witness. If the skin of Michael McCrae was anything but white, he would certainly receive minimum 20 years each.

If two angmos were killed by a Singaporean, there is little doubt the Singaporean will receive two death penalties, irregardless of the circumstances to send a "strong signal" that we cannot afford to scare away expats and tourists.

Maybe the McCrae case is a also a strong signal to expats that they are not subject to same judicial harshness Asians here face.

One country two systems.

Anonymous said...


No one likes it when a group of people are treated preferentially for no apparent reason. And when they prove themselves to be incompetent, it just riles everyone more. And I'm not sure this problem is specific to Singapore, it's like that in all Asian countries, sometimes people get put on pedestals when they don't deserve to be. You are better off writing against the practice of hiring foreigners who have no talent, than writing against the use of the word angmoh. If the practice does not change, why would people's sentiments?


Anonymous said...

This is my understanding of your claim of "government bias": the government prefers hiring Caucasians to Singaporeans, blind to the (dis)merits of Caucasians.

It seems that a lot of the stereotyping of ang mohs follow as people look for evidence that the government prefers Caucasians. As evidence of the bias, people supply stories of lousy ang mohs who think they are better than the locals. I read a lot of comments that start with "I have a friend who thinks ang mohs are ....", "I know an ang moh who says ...", "It's obvious that ang mohs ...", etc. To me this is your bias: stereotyping Caucasians. To say there is a government bias one has to explain how the government systematically prefers Caucasians to Singaporeans, to the detriment of Singapore. No one has supplied such evidence, only anecdotes about why Caucasians in Singapore are inferior.

I don't take issue with those who argue that Singapore does not need to recruit native English speakers. This is a valid and necessary debate of policy. But when someone uses the term ang moh he or she turns the debate into a racial one, since the term ang moh is known to be so loaded with meaning other than Caucasian (i.e., privilege, envy, inferiority as so many have pointed out in these comments).

Anonymous said...


I don't think Waterchild's government bias refers to systematic preference for Caucasians, rather the systematic preference for anything foreign!

Singaporeans are treated like dirt here.

When the MOE announces the hiring of native speakers, all those born, bred and educated here, knows they are not hiring any other race, period. Moreover, the advert was put up in UK. I'll drop my head if the first native speaker teacher is an Indian UK citizen!

I think it's a waste of time to gripe about the use of angmoh to describe people like yourselves. To make you happy, we can call you rainbow, like someone suggested.

There are only 2 ways to it:

1 insist that the government should not perpetuate racisit policies ie advertise for proficient English teachers with a proven track record in any country, in general. The real capability must be to teach a subject well, not sound like a native!

2 hope that foreign workers who are guests of a country, do not overstate their abilities and do not take the opportunity to work here as an easy ride.

As a Chinese, my parents always remind me that as a guest, one must exhibit exemplary behaviour and not to expect the world at your feet.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

"This is my understanding of your claim of "government bias": the government prefers hiring Caucasians to Singaporeans, blind to the (dis)merits of Caucasians."


No, Eric, your understanding is wrong from step one. The bias is not so much in favour of Caucasians, but in favour of foreigners. So for instance:

Singaporean nurses are displaced by Filipino nurses;

Singaporean engineers are displaced by PRC engineers;

Singaporean IT personnel are
displaced by Indian nationals;

Singaporean construction workers are displaced by construction workers from China;

Singaporean cleaners are displaced by cleaners from Bangladesh;

Singaporean CEOs are displaced by British or French CEOs;

Singaporean university students are displaced by students from India and China;

Singaporean doctors are being displaced by American doctors;

even Singaporean prostitutes are being displaced by Eastern European prostitutes, Indonesian prostitutes and PRC prostitutes;

Singaporean teachers being displaced by "foreign native speakers" are just the latest example.

You probably do not know very much about the details of the specific schemes and policies that led to this phenomenon -

let us say that many of the schemes favour foreigners in Singapore greatly over Singaporeans; that all this happened fairly recently - :

that is why I wanted my son to be a foreigner living in Singapore.

If you really start looking at government policies, you'll realise that there are so many ways that a foreigner in Singapore enjoys advantages over a local in Singapore; and that there are hardly ANY advantages that a local has over a foreigner.

Anonymous said...

Singapore actually holds two other world-class records which the government does not like to publicise.

It has one of the world's highest immigration rates, and one of the world's highest emigration rates.

In other words, the foreigners are dying to come here, and the citizens are dying to get out.

Anonymous said...

Dear Eric,

It seems to me that the main issue you have is over the use of the term "ang moh", which many readers, including the owner of this blog, Mr Wang, had taken great pains to explain, is not used in a derogatory manner.
Whereas, for the other readers, their main issue is the biasness in the government's minds about foreigners (Caucasian or otherwise).
These are two very separate issues.

I understand from cultural studies that the concept of 'identity' is related to the concept of the 'other'. For example, "I am a man" immediately defines the 'other' as 'woman'. Or, "I am a graduate" immediately identifies the 'other' as a 'non-graduate'.

The government (perhaps with the experiences of the racial riots of the 60s), tries hard to 'even out' any sentiments about the 'other' amongst Singaporeans by extolling the virtues of foreigners.

But, in doing so, I think it could have 'over-sold' the campaign. We are not living in Heaven - so, we do not expect to see any angels or saints around us. And neither are we living in Hell - so, there are no devils either. Everyone is human here (Singaporean or non-Singaporean), so nobody's perfect.

Foreigner or otherwise, everyone has his merits and de-merits. Singaporeans are mature enough to see that we need talents from Singapore and beyond. We just hope that the government is, likewise, mature enough to see that not all foreigners are as 'talented' as they thought them to be.

For sure, there are brilliant foreigners just as there are brilliant Singaporeans. What we are saying is "Just make sure that we recruit more brilliant foreigners than we have non-brilliant foreigners" or it would further erode public confidence in the government's campaign on foreign talents.

Anonymous said...

My brother helps run a small engineering company here.

He employs mainly diploma holders where many of our local grads will do fine. Of course, he too employs FTs, if they are proven to have a good attitude, which compensates their lack of the language competency. Most of these studied in our local poly and would be offered PR if they are employed.

Over the last 2 years, he had to fire 3 PRCs and 2 Indian nationals because these workers prefer to indulge in office politics than working for their livelihood. The PRCs even went to instigate others to displace him!

However, he still have FTs with him now.

But he got really pissed off when MOM repeatedly questioned why he stopped hiring these foreign dip holders. The message was that if we don't hire them, they won't come here to study.

He questions why we have to employ them and give them PR just because they spent a lousy $10k to study here?

What's the use of speaking Queen's English when our companies can only employ foreign workers who mostly knew a smattering of it?

Anonymous said...

If Tharman Shanmugaratnam want to improve English proficiency of Singaporeans, he should drag the entire bunch of MediaCorp artistes in front of a firing squad. No amount of angmo english teachers is of any use if the environment isn't there.

Anonymous said...

My main issue is not the use of the term ang moh per se. OK, I get that some people don't think this term is derogatory but telling me it's not isn't going to change my mind. Some people believe it is derogatory, some don't.

My main issue is with the introduction of race and racial stereotypes into this debate. And also then claiming that this debate is not about race. I guess we see the issue differently.

Anonymous said...

I just came home from being a foreign talent for a few years. Let me play devil's advocate. Our Gahmen and Tartman are geniuses, the millions of dollars spent on them and our scholar think tank must have help them work out everything like Kasparov at chess. See it this way: Foreign teachers especially white/causcasian whom we worship are the perfect candidates to check the omnipotence of school management. The many teaching and learning quality issues in our schools can often be attributed to the management styles of this middle management both at school and ministry level. Singaporean teachers fear for their jobs, they obey, they do uncreative work, they work hard at pushing grades, do drills, the students don't worship them, the principals and HODs don't respect them. But, expatriate teachers are different, their higher price automatically accords them respect and if that's not enough, we know their more liberal education and cultural background means they probably will be able to stand up to unnecessary/ineffective work. they will more likely teach with passion/flair, because they are free men and women in this land. And their better conditions will encourage them to be more flamboyant. This will enhance the worship by the students of the expatriate teachers and they will be more willing to learn. We know, they are geniuses, this is a technocratic management issue. We cannot be worried about individuals, such as a few lousy caucasians and a few lousy classes and schools they produce. Remember, by and large the major trends will be good. Remember meritocracy will drive this country to be the best. We must continue to nurture the elites. They are our future, in their minds rest the solutions to all our future problems.
Someone said: that we rank the highest in immigration and emigration rates in the world. That's the other side of our Gahmen's genius. U see with the better overall education that will consolidate our great system, Singaporeans can continue to become foreign talent. This is fantastic, being a foreign talent is a great enterprise. Many of us Singaporean foreign talents are paid more than 10 times what the locals in our Asian neighbours are getting. Fear makes our country strong by compliance and engendering a stable investment environment that attracts the big money, thus the high economic growth figures and then use the same fear to allow better men and women to do the important work. Those of us who don't fear go out and live a life without fear and that's good marketing for Singapore. Don't u see the wisdom?
With regards to the term of Angmo, u can't blame the Gahmen, Hokkien has no institution to evolve more sophisticated terms to renew itself not like English or Putonghua. Language is part of culture, after even the most sensitive construction or choice. Red hair is derogatory when contemptuous issues in relations add emotional connotations to it. Example: African are made slaves, u don't respect them because of their status, u call them black, nigger or blackie. Anything u choose to call them will become a racist term. If we call African slaves rainbow, then rainbow will be a racist term and become taboo when they are emancipated. My Irish buddy, because we share good times and have mutual goodwill, I call him IRA and calls me Mad Chinaman. I use to call my classmate Urine, he calls me Chewbakka(Star Wars Ape-like alien). We were together for 4 years, and we never got into a fight. See Angmo can really be a wonderful term, being identified by skin colour or hair colour can warm up relations if we see how these foreign talents fills the gap that we cannot fill as long as we still cannot yet grow out of our inferior complex and the masses continue to be justified to have the complex anyway.
Now, let's be constructive, the election is just over and only 40% or so got to vote and I, like many foreign talent, cannot vote because I was overseas(don't know Singapore to vote wisely) and now need to be local talent for some length of time ..... How can I, or sorry we, not stay structurally unemployed.... Maybe go for retraining aka accept starting pay.

Anonymous said...

All the exchanges are interesting but shows an underlying truth :

That our employers would be better off employing locals first. At least, you don't have to spend the whole day explaining why you just said something which may sound offensive! And you will still scratch your head at the end of the day.... LOL

Singaporean workers are voted the best in the world because as long as we're paid peanuts, you can call us anything!!!!!

This aptitude is only possible if you have spent half your life here, where the government regularly calls you names (which is a form of branding, actually) - quitters vs stayers, heartlanders vs comospolitans, peasants vs talents etc.

Anonymous said...

Remember before the downfall of Athens, Spartans were an easy option to serve Athenian duties. Did I get my history correct? Did using Spartans accelerate the weakening of Athens or was there no correlation?

Anonymous said...

What's new.... When I was doing my post grad in Australia, my classmates were all middle management staff, directors, managers, vice presidents. When I had to type the proposals, the level of English from all this big wigs were that of a primary school kid.

le radical galoisien said...

If this Eric in particular might still come across this, I'm curious about his background? Usually often we seem to be ignorant about the minorities (ie. never mind the four races - those mitigated by such rigid classification.)

I remember one time in 2005 Today reported about the ang mo preference by some Department of human resources, and they confirmed this because the person without the accent was told the director was busy while the person with the ang moh accent got through right away.

I wonder if I can run similar sting operations, than prosecute for it under discrimination? After all, I would love to see justice done and the look on their faces, since we shouldn't be jailing the dissidents, but the racial discriminators. How sound would this be?

Anonymous said...

I don't think the use of Spartans to serve Athenian duties accelerated the weakening of Athens. The Spartans were after all more disciplined albeit poorer cousins of the Athenians. External factors were more relevant. Persians and especially, the Macedonians were on the ascendancy, militarily.

A better example would be the use of apes to serve man as in 'the Planet of the Apes'. In order for the apes to better serve man, they were better equipped, ending in the servants turning the tables on their masters.

At present, the attraction of such a strategy is exemplified by Captain Ryan Goh. If he is docile, he is a better option than using the locals (the locals cannot rebel if they are kept slaving for a living). If he is not, he becomes immediately persona non grata. You can do that with a few apes. You cannot do that with a million apes.

There is also another problem. More filipinos, china-man and indians create deterioration in the language proficiency, besides an imbalance in ethnic origin (like dilution in EPS and voting right when you issue more shares).

Wait for the downfall of the PAP.