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Singapore 'told to learn English'

Singapore is redoubling efforts to persuade locals to speak standard English as part of a drive to improve tourism and business.

The government insists mastery of English is imperative to raise living standards as the economy shifts to services from manufacturing.

But some fear the island's unique patois, known as Singlish, could be lost and with it an important cultural glue unifying the multi-ethnic, multi-religious city-state of 5.1 million people.

"There are many people who champion 'Speak Singlish'," Vivian Balakrishnan, a government minister, said. "But I appeal to you to think of our children. Put aside some of the more emotional elements that language always engenders."

Through partnerships with restaurants and shopping centre food courts, the government plans to exhort patrons to "Get it Right" with posters showing examples of Singlish phrases crossed out and their equivalent meaning in English.

So "Got problem call me can" becomes "Please let me know if you need help". And "You ask me I ask who" becomes "I don't know either."

Primary schools will increase teacher training in standard English diction and syntax, so Singlish is not inadvertently taught.

"We need to remain relevant to the world," said Mr Balakrishnan, who is the minister of community development, youth and sports. "English is a portal to knowledge."

Singlish is a jumble of the nation's four official languages - English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil - and vocabulary from several Chinese dialects. It often consists of English words used to directly translate Chinese phrases.

"It's what makes us Singaporeans," said Fadilah Mohammed, a saleswoman at a food store in a shopping centre. "When I speak English, I have to think carefully. When I speak Singlish, it just comes out naturally."

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