I have a theory about the oral language proficiency of Singaporean students.
Friends who know me know how much I complain that our students - even the top ones in HCJC and RJC - often can't seem to string intelligent sentences together.
This week, while searching for articles on EL development in Singaporean students I chanced upon a 1983 journal article by an American language researcher comparing Singaporean students learning the language with their American counterparts.
To my shock, the research describes our children as "learning English as a third language".
What's more, the article surmises (without hard proof), that children in Singapore are generally reading at a level that is 1.5 years below their average American peers. Despite this, the researcher found this to be pretty impressive, given the multilingual context our children grow up in.
This is an article describing the situation more than 20 years ago, so I wonder if the picture looks the same today.
But what is increasingly clear to me, is how much talk ("language input") it takes for little babies to acquire language, learn new words, speak, and speak elaboratively and fluently. And this seems to underpin their future success in schools - both in learning to read and write, and performing academically well.
And note this: it doesn't matter what language the talk is in - Malay, Mandarin, dialect, anything!
So, a little disturbingly, I am slowly forming a hypothesis that I'm hoping will either be confirmed or debunked over my professional career as a reading specialist.
The bottomline seems to be: our kids need quality language input from their caregivers. Language has to come from somewhere - the parents, the grandparents, the domestic helper.
(and dig this: Not television cos language comes from dyadic communication!)
So friends reading this post - talk! Keep talking to that baby.
The highest-paid academics here in Harvard are being paid to tell parents this very same thing.
Don't believe me? Read this:
"With babies, words for wisdom" (Tracy Jan, The Boston Globe, April 2)