First Speak Good English Campaign

The first annual Speak Good English campaign was launched in April 2000 by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.  It was part of the Government's efforts to expand the use of standard English and discourage the use of Singlish. The campaign was targeted at Singaporeans under 40, including young working adults, parents and students in schools, tertiary institutes, polytechnics and technical institutes. 

English-language proficiency had become an issue in 1999 following reports in The Straits Times about the decline in English language standards in Singapore. The pervasive use of Singlish was blamed for it.Singlish is a form of broken, ungrammatical English sprinkled with words and phrases from local dialects and Malay. This variety of Singlish is not understood by English speakers outside Singapore. Speaking good English means using grammatically correct English during conversations, where rules for constructing sentences are strictly adhered to, and avoiding words and phrases from local dialects and Malay.

In his 1999 National Day Rally Speech on 22 August 1999, Goh highlighted the necessity for Singaporeans to speak good English. He emphasised that Singaporeans learnt English in order to communicate with the world, and therefore, they should speak a form of English that is understood by the British, Americans, Australians and people around the world. Thus, he claimed that for Singapore to become global and a first-world economy, it was essential that Singaporeans speak good English. Previously on 14 August 1999, then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew had also highlighted the importance of speaking good English, saying that Singaporeams ought to speak good English "so that we can understand the world and the world can understand us". He noted that Singlish was a "handicap" he did not wish on Singaporeans. The government felt that something had to be done to promote English and hence, the speak good English campaign came about.

In March 2000, Lee Yock Suan, then Minister for Information and the Arts, announced that a Speak Good English movement would be launched.  The movement would be managed by a committee whose members were from the private sector, led by Colonel (NS) David Wong. On 29 April 2000, Goh officially launched the Speak Good English Movement.  During the campaign, island-wide activities and programmes on good English were organised at schools, libraries and community clubs. TV programmes and articles that show how using good English can be fun were also featured in the mass media.

Anasuya Balamurugan

Campaign to get under-40s to speak good English. (2001, March 10). The Straits Times

Ng, I. (1999, August 30).
Speak Good English Campaign next Year. The Straits Times, p. 1.

Nirmala, M. (2000, April 30).
Buck up, poor English reflects badly on us. The Straits Times, Prime News, p. 4.

Singlish "A handicap we do not wish on Singaporeans". (2001, August 15). The Straits Times.

Speak English everyone understands. (20001, April 6). The Straits Times.

Channel NewsAsia. (n.d.) Second Speak Good English Movement kicks off on Thursday. Retrieved 2001, from /2001/04/04/singaporenews55927.htm

National University of Singapore. (2000). Promotion of standard English (PROSE). Retrieved October 16, 2003, from

Speak Good English Movement. (2003). Retrieved October 16, 2003, from

The information in this article is valid as at 2011 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Language and languages--Study and teaching--Singapore
Education>>Public policy issues in education
Speak Good English Campaign, Singapore, 2000-
Law and government>>Public education
Events>>National Campaigns
Language and education--Singapore
People and communities>>Social interaction>>Communication

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