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April 22, 2004

English Blitz in Singapore

The Manpower Ministry of Singapore has launched its annual one-month offensive to improve English ability in the city-state. Given their British colonial past, Singaporeans tend to take it for granted that their nation has English levels higher than most other Asian countries. But as minister Ng Eng Hen says, "Other countries in the region are making the English language part of their schools' curriculum. In a few years time, countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Korea and China may catch up or even surpass us in their English language ability."

The annual Speak Good English campaign – first launched in 2000 – features brief English lessons in newspapers, via the telephone and over the radio. The tiny island is very dependent on trade and the campaign aims to the locals more understandable to the people they do business with abroad. This year's campaign specifically targets working adults in the service industry who will be able to use English to impress and woo back more tourists and visitors, Ng said. Public elementary and secondary school courses and the business of government are conducted in English and 71% of the tiny island nation's citizens are already literate in English. In addition to English, the multiethnic population also uses its own patois – a blend of Chinese dialects, Malay, Tamil and English known as Singlish – to communicate.

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