Once again, a writer from the Straits Times attempts to take the moral high ground and brand people with concerns over the excessive use of one language, in this case, Mandarin in Geylang as xenophobes.
I find the arguments brought up by the writer to be flawed and well, unconvincing.
Singapore is a multi-racial country. We take pride in being one of the few multi-racial country in the world that have seen harmony among the various races for almost half a century. This was not always the case.
Baby boomers and older would remember the days where racial riots were common and state emergency had to be declared.
People spoke different languages and even the Chinese fought among different dialect groups.
Earlier Chinese immigrants did not take up English because there is an advantage in doing so. English was only needed if you want to do business with the British. Everyone could easily get by speaking their own dialects and work in their own community.
It took independent Singapore great pains to get everyone to speak English.
English was being introduced as a compulsory first language in our schools because the Government saw the dual benefit of English both as an international language, as well as a language that can become common to all Singaporeans thus bringing us closer.
The journalist also mentioned that “One only has to look at the world’s most economically vibrant cities – London, Sydney and New York – to see the benefits accruing from recruiting foreigners.”
Two of these cities have been hit by terrorist attacks. The perpetrators are of foreign origins and some are second or third generation immigrants.
Some of these immigrants, born there cannot even speak English! Why? Because there is no reason to. They can get by in their own local enclaves without the use of English.
The governments there were not bothered that their immigrants do not speak English or are unable to interact with the rest of the population. As long as they stayed in their own area. When misunderstandings arise, the language barrier prevents resolutions from being made. People get angry. Some feel oppressed. This gives fanatics a chance to spread their ideology among the immigrants.
I am not saying that this will happen in Singapore. That our immigrants will become terrorist if they do not speak English.
What I am trying to highlight is, we cannot take it for granted that immigrants will take up English to better themselves or even just to get to know us better. Not when the need is not there.
The rate of immigration in Singapore is high. We cannot be ostriches, stick our heads in the ground and wait for the fullness of time to bring about a generation of English speaking immigrants. It will not happen. London, Sydney and New York have all shown us that it will not happen.
Action needs to be taken to ensure that immigrants and Singaporeans speak a common language as quickly as possible. In this case, English.
Speak English campaign, like those I had in primary school might be a good idea. We can’t speak good English if most of our immigrants can’t even speak English!