Tag Archives: english

Learning About Language in Singapore

By Eric Chow

Over summer break, I traveled to Singapore to visit some friends and family and to learn more about the country. When I arrived, I was interested to see how many different combinations of languages are spoken there. Something I noticed when I was there was that both Mandarin and English were spoken in equal frequency. However, in some cases, the English that was spoken oscillated between American and British styles of English. Coming across someone who spoke perfectly fluent English was few and far between. In Singapore, English is spoken in two main forms: Singaporean Standard English (indistinguishable grammatically from Standard British English) and Singapore Colloquial English (better known as Singlish).

Photo by Zhu Hongzhi on Unsplash

Singapore is a cosmopolitan city, with 37% of its population born outside the country. Singaporeans, even those of the same ethnic group, have many different first languages and cultures. Standard Singapore English is the standard form of English used in Singapore. It generally resembles British English and is often used in more formal settings such as the workplace or when communicating with people of higher authority such as teachers, bosses, and government officials. In Singapore, English is a working language that serves the economy and development and is associated with the broader global community. Meanwhile, the rest of the languages spoken are “mother tongues” that are associated with the country’s culture. Although Standard Singapore English is mainly influenced by British English and, recently, American English, there are other languages that also contribute to its use on a regular basis. Most Singaporeans speak more than one language, with many speaking three to four. Most Singaporean children are brought up bilingual. They are introduced to Malay, Chinese, Tamil, or Singapore Colloquial English (Singlish) as their native languages, depending on their families’ ethnic backgrounds. 

Photo by Galen Crout on Unsplash

The role that English plays is so important that the Singapore government aimed to improve English speaking throughout the country. The wide use of Singlish led the government to launch the Speak Good English Movement in Singapore in 2000 to replace Singlish with Standard English. This movement was made to show the need for Singaporeans to speak Standard English. Nowadays, all children in schools are being taught Standard English with one of the other official languages being taught as a second language. It was so fascinating to me to see how languages have developed in other countries with a lot of cultural diversity. If you have a chance to, I recommend visiting Singapore to check this out for yourself!

Featured Image by Jeremy Julian on Unsplash

Eric is a first year undergraduate majoring in Philosophy, politics, and Economics and Business Administration. He spent most of his life in San Diego but he moved to Shanghai and then Taiwan. Being an international student, he understands the struggles of crossing a new language barrier. He is both a native speaker of Chinese and English and has extensive experience in mentoring and public speaking. On campus, he is involved with Troy Camp which specializes in both academic and non-academic mentorship. Outside of campus, he plays the piano, works out, swims, and reads comic books.

Depicting Race Without Racism: The Disconnect Between My Home Country and Disney’s “Encanto”

By Glenda Palacios Quejada

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[5 minute read]

As a Black woman from Colombia who recently moved to the United States, I was excited when I first heard that Disney would be releasing Encanto, a movie taking place in Colombia. Studying in the U.S., so far from of my country and my language has produced a strong sense of loneliness in me, not only because I cannot frequent the usual places and people I am accustomed to, but also because I feel that I am losing my voice and identity as I try to become immersed in a white-English predominant place. So, to me, Encanto seemed to be the perfect way to reconnect with my country, and to remind myself of home even if just through a screen. Additionally, this movie gave me the opportunity to share this experience with other Latinx students, as I went to the movie theater with a group of women who I have befriended in graduate school.

Photo by Krists Luhaers on Unsplash

The film began by introducing the hostile imagery of a Colombian family who became victim of armed conflict. Through this you could see the painful representations that are repeated throughout Colombian political history, such as images of women with children in their arms who see their spouses killed as a consequence of the war, or images of entire families who carry their most valuable belongings on their shoulders as they walk the long journey from their home territory to a safe place. Right away, I was impressed that Disney chose to confront this subject matter in a direct way.

Only ten minutes had elapsed before the film began to confuse different geographical, cultural, and historical aspects of Colombian tradition. Among the mountains with coffee plants, tall and leafy palm trees loomed which normally would not be found in these mountainous regions. At community festivals, in a place that seemed to be located in the Andean part of the country, Salsa music prevailed instead of carranga and guasca[1] music; and in exchange for the guitar, a White man played the marimba[2]. The rural people of the Andean zone, instead of wearing a ruanacarriel, and machete, wore summer clothes and sombrero vueltiao. The most shocking inaccuracy was the multiculturalism that the film tried to portray. There was a harmonious multicultural coexistence among the characters in the movie that erased the systemic racial violence that Black people who grew up in the Colombian Andean region, a white-predominant place, are used to. Consequently, I felt frustrated that Disney tried to portray a world with race without racism; it misrepresented and erased tangible and visible racial tensions that constantly subjected Black people to traumatic and painful experiences. Particularly, that magical world denied and hid more than 200 years of slavery and its permanent effects on the modern Colombian society.

Photo by Niels van Altena on Unsplash

The film had three opportunities to accurately represent situations related to racism in the mountainous areas of Colombia, especially with their three main characters–Matrona Madrigal, Maribel, and Bruno. Firstly, it described the dysfunction that the Madrigal family experienced as the female head of household was deemed as an authoritarian presence. She reminded me of the paisa women I used to see every morning on my way to school. They gathered in the main park drinking coffee after leaving church to lament and criticize the students who got pregnant, the wives who separated from their “brilliant husbands”, or those women who were seen participating in “immoral” sexual acts. Matrona Madrigal also reminded me of those paisa grandmothers who reject their darkest skin grandchildren. These women silence them, deny them gifts, and subject them to accusations and punishments in front of their lighter skin cousins ​​or siblings. Right there, the film had the possibility of enunciating how in white-rural contexts, girls with magic like Mirabel lose their strength due to the internalization of racism and their darker skin tones. This rhetoric makes children like Mirabel believe negative stories about their body, hair, color, and ancestry. Secondly, the film could problematize the role of the uncle who lived hidden. He reminded me of the homosexual rural men who are expelled from their homes because they do not follow the heteronormative and imposed ways of feeling for and loving others. The men like Mirabel’s uncle, despite being excluded, stay in these spaces because the paisa culture, religion and customs comprise a fundamental part of their lives that they are not willing to give up. Thirdly, in the representation of magic, the movie did not highlight how Black and Indigenous communities are stereotyped as witches, sorcerers, and children of the devil in these Andean geographies. The movie had no conflicts with these racist ways of classifying spiritual and ancient ways that are not seen as the norm. 

I left the film feeling extremely uncomfortable because I realized that this successful film inaccurately decontextualized race to play into the politically correct idealized world which Disney wishes to portray. This not only ignored long-standing and tangible problems but also recreated them as positive. Another dangerous aspect of these animated films is that they superficially make us believe that they have no impact on the construction of stereotypes, racial prejudices, or other types of bias. But it is quite the opposite. From my experience, this type of film contributes to the discourse of hiding and covering up the existence of racism and racial discrimination, which leads to null or ineffective measures against this structural problem.

Photo by Zan on Unsplash
Continue reading Depicting Race Without Racism: The Disconnect Between My Home Country and Disney’s “Encanto”

My Comfort Language

By Chloe Ahn

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[3 minute read]

Language plays an incredibly important role in forming connections with other people. This may seem like an obvious statement. To communicate with someone else, you need to have a shared language. However, not all languages hold the same weight in a conversation.

A person’s first language is not always the one they may prefer to use when creating a bond with a new person. This is especially true for bilingual speakers who grew up speaking more than one language. Although these types of speakers may have a dominant language that they tend to use in more day to day interactions, this does not mean that it is the language that they like to speak the most when it comes to socializing. In addition, they may have a certain language that they associate with certain people or places.

Photo by Sava Bobov on Unsplash

Growing up in predominantly white neighborhoods, I never really had the opportunity to use Korean outside of my home and as one of the few Korean students in my high school, I didn’t have any reason to use it with my friends either. Though I spoke mostly Korean with my parents, I had developed a habit of using English with them when we left the house because I had had negative experiences with speaking Korean in public. I would constantly get weird stares or the occasional dirty look from people who did not speak Korean. Eventually, I started to feel embarrassed using Korean with my mom or dad and stopped doing so.

This mindset changed with the onset of the pandemic. Since I was home all of the time, I began to use Korean more often than English. During winter break of my freshman year, I visited my grandparents in South Korea and was able to spend a lot of time with them. My negative associations with using Korean in public disappeared and I started to connect more positive ideas with the language. Korean is the language of my culture. It is the language that I use with the people I love the most. It is the language that allows me to spend quality time with my grandparents and other relatives who I do not get to see often because of the distance between us.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

With this new perspective, I came to campus at USC for the first time this past fall semester. For the first time I had the chance to interact with and meet people who had the same cultural background as I did. I joined the Korean American Student Association (KASA) with the hopes of making new friends and was successful. Many of the close friends that I have today are people that I met through KASA.

That being said, not all of my friends are Korean and I do not think that you have to be the same ethnicity in order to form close connections with people. Rather, being able to speak Korean with the friends that I made in KASA helped me to open up to them sooner because of the associations I have with the language and my family. Having come from the East Coast, I was worried about feeling homesick and missing my parents and sister, but making these friends and being able to use Korean more in my daily conversations with them gave me a sense of comfort and was a reminder of home. Sometimes, you find comfort in a language other than the one that you speak most often, and it becomes a great way to form deeper bonds with others.

Featured Image by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

 Chloe is a rising junior studying Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at the Keck School of Medicine with a minor in Business. She was born in South Korea but grew up in New Jersey. Aside from English, Chloe is conversationally fluent in Korean and is learning Spanish. Her involvements on campus include Dear Asian Youth, International Student Assembly, Innovative Design, and the Korean American Student Association. In her free time, Chloe enjoys watching movies, going shopping, hiking, and listening to music.