Encourage students to speak freely and ask questions

It is good that primary schools are using Stellar, or Strategies for English Language Learning and Reading, to encourage pupils to express themselves clearly and confidently ("Schools get children talking the Stellar way"; Monday).

Singaporean children have always done well in mathematics, science and reading - and now, problem solving ("S'pore teens ranked No. 1 in problem solving"; Wednesday). But when it comes to public speaking and social conversation, we lose out ("Singaporeans 'fare poorly in spoken English'"; yesterday).

Some have observed that Singaporeans are well trained to communicate answers, but not thoughts and opinions.

In short, we lack the skill to communicate spontaneously.

The problem is that we are focusing too much on textbooks and workbooks, which is good for subjects like maths and science, but learning languages is a different matter.

Schools should encourage students to speak freely and ask questions, and train them to relax when making a speech.

During a recent visit to Singapore, Dutch Education Minister Jet Bussemaker said asking questions is necessary to stimulate curiosity, and that students here tend to learn by repeating information taught by teachers ("S'pore, Dutch students 'can learn from each other'"; Wednesday).

Unless we are trained to communicate spontaneously and clearly, we will not be able to gain the confidence of our listeners. Not everyone will wait patiently for us to express our ideas.

This article was published on April 5 in The Straits Times.

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