Academic journal article Business Communication Quarterly

Faculty Perceptions of Communication Skills and Needs of Business School Undergraduates in Singapore

Academic journal article Business Communication Quarterly

Faculty Perceptions of Communication Skills and Needs of Business School Undergraduates in Singapore

Article excerpt

In Singapore in 2000, the government launched a Speak Good English Movement to improve English language skills and to limit the use of Singlish (a local variety of English) by promoting the use of (Standard) English among the general population. This campaign was motivated by government perception and media reports of a decline in English language skills.

Using a 40-item questionnaire, this study investigated whether faculty at a large Singapore business school shored similar perceptions of inadequate communication skills, in this case among undergraduates, and also sought to explain their perceptions. The findings indicate that the faculty perceived undergraduate communication skills to be in need of improvement, thus lending support to employer and government criticism. An analysis of survey responses revealed some probable underlying causes for faculty perceptions, including an apparent lack of real commitment to the improvement of such skills.

Keywords: Singlish, Standard English, faculty perceptions of student skills


WITH WIDESPREAD USE OF ENGLISH as the international language of business, a workforce's ability to communicate effectively in English can give a non-native English-speaking country a competitive edge and attract lucrative foreign investment.

In Singapore, the ability to speak English is considered crucial to the country's future. Since the recent Asian financial crisis, the Singapore government has increasingly devoted much of its energies to developing the island-state as a regional knowledge-based hub with a highly skilled service sector proficient in English. These efforts have been motivated in large part by a realization that the country is no longer able to compete with its neighbors for low-cost labor-intensive manufacturing investment (Rubdy, 2001).

The Speak Good English Movement

Through the media, employers and the government have long expressed criticism of supposedly declining English language skills, warned of the consequential potential impact on the country's future competitiveness, and called for an improvement, particularly in graduates' English communication skills (Chua, 1990; Cutting Business, 1998; Goby, 1999; Rubdy, 2001; Tong, 1997).

More recently, the Singapore Prime Minister in his National Day Rally speech (McNulty, 2000) went so far as to voice his disapproval of the alleged promotion in the local broadcast media of Singlish (a local variety of English), warned of the resulting potential dangers of a decline in the level of Standard English, and stressed that effective English communication skills were the key to the push for a knowledge-based economy and international intelligibility (for a more detailed discussion of Singlish vs. Standard English in Singapore, see Rubdy, 2001).

Such criticism culminated in the recent government launch of a campaign for the Speak Good English Movement 2000, which seeks to promote the use of Standard English and raise the level of English proficiency among Singaporeans.

English in Singapore

English is one of four official languages in multi-ethnic Singapore, the others being Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil. English is the dominant language, being used as the medium of education at all levels; the language of government, business, employment; and the lingua franca for inter-ethnic and often intra-ethnic communication. Bilingualism in Singapore essentially entails proficiency in English and in one of the other official languages, namely the language of one's ethnic group (Pakir, 1994).

It is generally understood that the government has promoted English as the dominant language in part to try to develop a national identity that is not biased towards one particular ethnic group (i.e., Chinese, Malay, or Indian). Some also attribute the dominance of English to the Singapore government's efforts to avoid the "linguistic nationalism of many post-colonial countries" and to promote English to ensure the country's political, economic, social, and cultural survival (Chew, 1999, p. …

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