Recently, I achieved another honours for my oral communications examination in a private course, the fifth straight time I have done so.

But strangely…

…my communication skills seem not to serve me well in school. Based on the comments made by my various English Language teachers, some of the knowledge I attained from ‘professional’ training is not acceptable.

When I read out a passage from a story with dialogue, I gave voices to the characters. I was told that that was wrong. But I was taught it was the way to put “life” in my voice and “drama” in my reading.

After that and other experiences, I have been wondering about the competency of some teachers to teach the language and grade the proficiency of students’ oral English.

In October 2006, the Ministry of Education announced its plan to focus on spoken English by introducing a new syllabus in 2009 and giving the oral component of the English Language greater emphasis in 2012. The Ministry also plans to require all teachers to attend spoken English courses.

Will the measures help students to communicate better? It may not be enough. Teachers who have been conditioned to speak ‘poorly’ most of their lives, cannot improve dramatically through short courses.

I think it is imperative that English, including oral communication, be taught by teachers who specialise in the subject.

A positive environment to promote effective communication is also necessary if students are to be encouraged to speak well. The school canteen is a good place to be designated as a ‘Speak Only Good English’ area where Mandarin and dialect are prohibited.

English Language teachers could also mingle discreetly among the students to help them communicate in proper English. And how about imposing a small penalty for the use of Singlish? Teachers included. It can be a fun way to help each other to speak right.

(This journal entry was published on 3 January 2007, the first 2007 issue of TODAY)