Friday, 23 December 2011

From Broken English To Misinterpreted English To Non-English Languages: Are We An International City With A Human Touch?


There seems to be a language communication issue in our transport system.  Not only our ‘national language’ English was not well communicated to the commuters about the MRT breakdowns, other official languages of Chinese, Malay and Tamil face even more communication problems or no communication at all.

In addition to a previous post <Lui Tuck Yew should think out of the PAP box> (http://pijitailai.blogspot.com/2011/07/lui-tuck-yew-should-think-out-of-pap.html) , now Liu should act further to think out of the ‘communication and language box’.  I have also pointed out that English may not  necessary to be the working language for all residents in Singapore (http://pijitailai.blogspot.com/2011/11/singapore-working-language-is-english.html). 

Therefore, how to guide and communicate with commuters in their own languages, other than English, is critically importance. Unless  the government has different positions towards these groups of commuters, seeing their lives less important and treating them second class.

So the communication issue is even more urgent and critical than the ‘broken English’ issue.  If by speaking singlish, we can get the urgent messages through to commuters, it is a good communication tool and has passed the communication test even it is not Standard English.

<<Just like the famous slogan of Deng Xiaoping: "It doesn't matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice" >>

Unfortunately, it seems not the case.  In the recent breakdowns, commuters did not get the messages from SMRT in all four official languages of Singapore.

We are the first world country and Singapore claims to be an international city or at least a leading city in Asia. There are many tourists and business visitors using our airports, seaports and public transport system, so we really cannot afford not to get the public messages out clearly and correctly.

It is a question beyond English.  Whether the English is broken or misinterpreted, there are still many commuters cannot understand English.  What happen to the commuters who are senior citizens, non-English speaking locals and foreign visitors?

Whenever there is a new launch of MRT routes, one of the common complaints is there is a lack of non-English signboards or directions. Even at Changi airport, non-English speaking Singaporeans are complaining about it. Are we pushing too hard to be a English country and forget about our Asian roots.

This is certainly not a new problem or new issue. If Minister Liu is concerned and care about non-English speaking commuters, he should not only solve the English communication problem. By doing so, he is still thinking within the ‘English box’ and fails to provide solutions to the ‘non-English box’.

It is quite surprised to learn that after putting so much effort in learning English for so many years, even with the sacrifice of mother tongues, we still face the problem of effective English communication. Could it be we are only looking at the economic benefits above human touch and human communication? 

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