Alumnus, alumna & alumni

Many people do not realise that the word ‘alumni’ is plural. The singular form for a male is ‘alumnus’ and female, ‘alumna’.


Improve your toddler’s vocabulary

First, it is more important to instil a passion for reading, and its corollary, the English language; than to ensure that a toddler learns more English words for the sake of his knowing more English words.

Second, it is more important for the parent to speak English that is grammatically sound and phonetically accurate, to his child, every day; than to speak in slang, e.g. Singlish, and to use standard English only during ‘teaching’ sessions. Children learn by imitation and even adults learn a new language more effectively by immersing themselves in a culture or society that uses that language. But if the people around them speak the language poorly, that is what the adult learner will pick up. It is therefore not surprising that Singaporeans in general do not speak, and write, English well. English language teachers in the primary schools are not setting the right ‘linguistic’ example by their poor speech habits.

Third, it is more effective for the parent to insert a ‘difficult’ word every now and then in his conversations with the child than to set a specific session for the learning of new words. I do this often with my children and they will tell me that they do not understand this word or that word and it becomes a teaching moment on the spot.

That said, I am neither discouraging the use of Singlish in my case nor claiming that slang is a sub-standard form of English. No, Singlish is a non-standard variant of English, not sub-standard. It is all right for Singaporeans to speak our unique slang among family members and friends. The problem is, we are also parents, and we want to teach our children standard English. The best way to do so is to avoid using non-standard forms in the home at all times. Children will have their classmates with whom to get acquainted with their local slang.

Self-grown edible gardens

Spectra Secondary School has an edible learning garden for students to self-grow produce. They also organise a Farmers’ Market at the end of the term to sell their self-grown produce to raise funds for the needy students. Check it out!

– Ministry of Education Singapore, on one of its Facebook feeds

This is the first time in my life that I read of a garden that can be eaten: would it not be clearer to write ‘vegetable-and-fruit garden’ instead?

Besides, what is the difference between students’ ‘self-growing’ their produce and ‘growing’ their produce? The word ‘self’ is one flagrant redundancy that careful writers ought to avoid.

Profanities and verbal intelligence

A recent study conducted on only 40-odd participants in the US, age 18-22, concluded that ‘people who are well-versed in curse words are more likely to have greater overall language fluency’.


First, the sample size is too small to make this certain a conclusion.

Second, the number of profanities with which one is able to come up does not mean one uses them habitually in everyday conversation. Mere knowledge does not equal practice, it just means that people who KNOW more curse words tend to have larger vocabularies.

Third, let us assume the conclusion is accurate. This still does not account for the rest of the native and non-native anglophone world. Results may differ.

Fourth, I have yet to meet someone whose every other word is R-rated use a variety of such expressions: it seems to be the same few words. How is that a reflection of a rich vocabulary?