I love the BBC World Service The Documentary series “English in the East”! I’m hoping there are more than two episodes in this series but here is a recap of the one I just heard.
Episode 1: Tale of two neighbouring countries [my title]
In Malaysia, recent policies encourage turning away from reliance on English but parents with means will try to arrange an English education for their children such as sending them to private school. Families who live in the south, close to the border with Singapore, will take the extreme measure of sending their children across the border to be educated well in English! I feel bad for the children not just for having to commute so long, but for being different from their classmates. A teacher was interviewed about how important she felt it was for the children to learn maths and sciences in English.
Meanwhile, Singapore may be going in an opposite direction. Still, there is a legacy of English spoken there not soon erased. It was emphasized how Singapore is the only Asian country with English an an official language, a “glue language” for all the ethnic groups. And how did that come about? The city nation is a mosaic composed of people from away and they clashed and a neutral language was selected to be the official language so no one group is extremely favoured. It was couched as the “strategic” choice because the nation’s business sights were set on the English-speaking world. But now it is even more favourable to trade with China and it is showing with hiring favouring people who speak Mandarin in addition to English. And it is a touchy subject because the Chinese population could feel superior and generate resentment in the other ethnic groups. But that’s the way the world is going. Meanwhile, Singlish flourishes with its cultural roots. A Singaporean blogger going by the name Mr. Brown was interviewed about how Singlish, after being a natural hybrid of Chinese and English, is a bit of a rebellion concept from the formal English they are all taught.
Is Singlish a dialect, they discussed for a while. I was fascinated although I do not know the jargon surrounding formal language research. I did visit Mr. Brown’s podcast and listened to his Singlish language pack 1 and learned  it’s not like Chinglish that I know and  it doesn’t sound Chinese-based at all!
I will keep updating this blog post as I listen to later episodes of this documentary series. I’m just that excited about the topic to post right after hearing the first episode!
Episode 2: A trip to Vietnam [my title]
In Communist Vietnam, people are learning English in droves and with intensity. To them, it represents freedom and an open culture, a far cry from the country long under Soviet-style rule. Learning English does confer an advantage for one’s future and the government has acknowledged that an immersive English environment (not just working on problem sets like for math and science) is necessary. Child prodigy Do Nhat Nam who at 10 years of age has already passed college entrance exams, gives an interview and describes his passion for the English language and being famous for teaching English through a variety of media channels. Embracing English was fine and well in the past decades to normalize and catch up the economy but the million (billion) dollar question is… why isn’t there a push to learn Mandarin? In fact, policy has turned away from teaching Chinese. In fact, both English and Mandarin need to be taught. Innovation still comes from the West but practically, the emerging force is from China.