Good English Isn’t Always Good English in Singapore

In this sign you’ll see that explanations are made “pristine clear”, which is redundant. It doesn’t inspire much confidence in the teaching ability of the instructors at this education center if they can’t even get their sign right, especially since they’re supposed to be teaching English.

This reminds me of the Speak Good English movement that the government has been pushing. Singapore is a country that has tried to develop a mandatory bilingualism among its citizens. That’s a great goal, but some of my online reading suggests that the plan has backfired and resulted in a large number of Singaporeans that speak both English and Mandarin inadequately.

Speaking to locals can sometimes be a daunting experience. First you have to adjust to the accent. Then you have to occasionally jump the hurdles of grammar errors and mispronunciations. Compound that with the occasional local that addresses you with the local pidgin English (called Singlish) and it can be a verbal minefield that will leave you scratching your head and asking for a translator. I always excelled in English and Literature subjects in school but sometimes I have to ask someone I’m speaking with to repeat themselves a few times to figure out what they’re trying to say.

This problem was very much apparent when I went to SingTel last night. I showed up and got in line to have my plan upgraded to an iFlexi plan. You see, when I first got my iPhone from SingTel the iFlexi plans (which were tailored for the iPhone) were … lacking to say the least. They didn’t really offer any benefit at all. The data allowance was VERY low and it just wasn’t worth having. So I wound up selecting another plan and I just used the wireless@sg that’s available all over the island. Well, not everywhere, but it’s in most shopping centers, libraries, and public buildings. If you’re not familiar with it, wireless@sg is free wireless that’s available to anyone in Singapore with a local phone number.

The release of the iPhone to other carriers in Singapore created a quick round of competition between the three major mobile carriers to offer the best plan for the best value in regards to their iPhone offerings.  Yay capitalism!  Part of that competition called for an increase in the data allowance to 12 GB monthly all around. SingTel was previously only offering 500 MB per month on the low end iPhone plan. Now the 12 GB limit was across the board. SingTel also offered a 30 SGD cap on data usage beyond the 12 GB allowance. That was great, so I wanted to get on board with it.

I realize I could’ve just called in, but we were at the mall anyway and I thought it might be a better idea to just handle the problem in person. When I got in line a girl came up and asked me what she could help me with. I told her I wanted to upgrade my plan to take advantage of the new offerings in the iFlexi plans. She took down my mobile number and other details and then went to a counter. She came back after a few minutes and told me that I’m not eligible to upgrade my plan. After quite a bit of going back and forth with her I asked her to get someone that spoke better English to assist me. Shortly, the manager came back and we quickly resolved what it was I was trying to do and I was able to upgrade my plan to an iFlexi plan. I’m not quite sure why, but the girl thought I wanted to re-contract my iPhone.  She was trying to tell me I wasn’t allowed to upgrade to a better, more expensive plan.  That obviously makes no business sense so I knew she was missing the point.

It can be funny finding signs like the one pictured above, but living in Singapore has taught me how important it is to be able to communicate effectively and it makes me glad that the ‘international business language’ is my native language. I hear English is one of the hardest languages to learn, so good job to those that have mastered it as a second language.