By Stephanie Luo, firstname.lastname@example.org, AsiaOne, Tuesday, 15 November 2016
Photo: The Straits Times illustration/Paul Eric Roca
There's always something different to experience when travelling overseas - meeting new people, eating strange and exciting food and exploring unique places. But one thing remains the same, at least for me.
In 99.9 per cent of my travels, I hear the same statement from people who meet me for the first time: "Oh, you speak really good English."
I oblige them with a polite smile or laugh, as I try to figure out if they meant it as a compliment or insult.
Moreover, I get the usual greetings of "Ni Hao" or "Konichiwa" because my small eyes automatically let others assume I am Chinese or Japanese.
Picture posted by Sheryl Kraft on Tuesday, 26 October 2010
When I was in Japan in June this year, I met an Australian woman in her 30s whom I will refer to as A.
A and I met on a tour to an ice cave embedded in Aokigahara Forest, or better known as the Suicide Forest, below the famous Mount Fuji.
After introducing myself and making small talk, the dreaded statement which has haunted me since I started travelling on my own resurfaced. She turned to me with her eyes enlarged: "You speak really good English."
But she is not the first.
Posted by wilsonmorales (BLACKFILM.COM ) on 31 December 2015 - The Forest 6 Natalie Dormer
In 2014, when I travelled to Eastern Europe with a group which comprised mostly Americans, Canadians and Australians, at least five people told me and my Singaporean friend that they didn't know we spoke English in our country. Some were also clueless about where Singapore is on the world map.
Our conversations would delve deeper into what other languages we spoke, and you can imagine how tiresome it was repeating to everyone in the group that we have four official languages in our cosmopolitan country, and that all students here have a first and second language.
"There's a fifth language," I would joke as I began teaching them Singlish.
Picture posted by Joshua Tan, The Finder on May 2015
Those who fare a little better throw out more intelligent comments such as: "Oh yes, your country bans chewing gum and there're no guns there", or "Gosh, you hang people?"
The rather snide remarks I've received from these experiences got me thinking if Singaporeans are perhaps responsible for this situation.
If we put ourselves in the shoes of foreigners, we might end up saying the exact same thing to a visiting tourist whom we perceive as not being able to speak Standard English.
Picture posted by Ted McLaughlin on Friday, 13 August 2010 at 12:05 AM
Political Cartoon is by Cal Grondahl in the Utah Standard Examiner.
And, let's admit it. We don't speak the Queen's English all the time and we are mostly guilty of speaking Singlish on a daily basis. Since this is so, can we blame foreigners for not understanding us and become surprised at us speaking "proper English"? Perhaps not.
The launch of the Speak Good English campaign in 2000 by the Singapore government was aimed at encouraging Singaporeans to speak grammatically correct English that can be understood by a global audience.
Over the years, several themes focusing on a different target audience each year have evolved. For example, the Speak Up. Speak Out. Speak Well. campaign ran from 2005 to 2006 and it advocated the use of Standard English when the occasion was appropriate.
However, Professor Koh Tai Ann, then-professor of English Literature at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Nanyang Technological University, who chaired the campaign, said that it did not mean that Singlish or mother tongue will be completely eradicated.
Picture posted by Crescent Girls' School.
Of course, we're not entirely to blame too. I believe that the lack of contact foreigners have with Singaporeans is one reason they fail to understand our cosmopolitan culture, although the ironic fact is that most Singaporeans are travelling more often than before.
According to the Global Travel Intentions Study 2015 by VISA, 95 per cent of Singaporeans have travelled abroad for leisure, compared to Asia Pacific (84 per cent) and global (76 per cent) travellers on average in the previous two years.
But, the study also showed that the top three destinations for Singaporeans were Malaysia, Hong Kong and Thailand - which could imply that Singaporeans are still relatively closed off from the global population.
Picture posted by Starcruises
A friend I spoke to went on an exchange programme in London two years ago when he was in university and did a module with a class filled with Westerners.
When the professor of the class told them that 80 per cent of Singaporeans live in public housing, the class assumed that this was similar to the state of public housing in the US, which is mostly occupied by the less well off.
But, when pictures of our Housing Development Board flats were flashed in the class, the gasps that filled the lecture hall indicated their ignorance.
Perhaps the lesson here is not to pass judgement on others too quickly, lest people deem you ill-informed. In today's world, just because a person looks a certain way, it does not mean that he or she only speaks a certain language.
Picture posted by Ryan Sylvia on 14 August 2016 (Youtube video)
What is also important to me, is that an individual should aim to excel at speaking a language and be proud of speaking it well.
And, if a stranger tells me I can speak "good English" the next time I travel, I will proudly say: "Yes, I am a Singaporean and we can speak good English."
Picture posted by Tasty Destination Photography on Monday, 16 April 2012