English pronunciation

When I was a schoolboy in the 1980s, emphases were made during English lessons on learning the spellings of words by heart and applying the parts of speech in grammar exercises and writing compositions.

One crucial aspect was left out: accurate pronunciation. It resulted in an entire generation of Singaporeans who could read English and possibly write it well enough to be understood but who could not speak it.

Time and again, I have encountered Singaporeans who pronounce their words with stresses on the wrong syllables. Many continue to speak English in the same way they speak the other three official languages of Singapore; syllable-timed, i.e. in staccato-fashion.

English is a stress-timed language and many of our intelligibility problems, especially when communicating with native anglophones, are easily solved if we were to have learnt phonetics.

I cringe every time I speak to my children’s English language teachers. Many of them do not and probably cannot pronounce their words accurately.

It is a shame on the part of our education system that I have to correct my children’s mispronunciations regularly.


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