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Singapore English

2017-01-26 | English Language

I recently was in Singapore for a business trip. We were working with the Global Medical Affairs team of a Japan-based pharmaceutical company. This was probably my 10th trip to Singapore over the years. It is one of my favorite countries in the world. I love the cleanliness, efficiency, people, and of course, the food. But it had probably been five or six years since I last visited.

 One thing that really stood out for me on this visit was that Singaporean English, or at least the English Singaporean people speak to non-Singaporeans seems to be rapidly approaching a kind of "off-shore English." I noticed this from taxi drivers, shop clerks, hotel workers, and businesspeople, alike. In other words, the English that most people spoke to me was very close to what I'd call a "global standard." It was very easy to understand. Of course, since I am a native speaker of English there theoretically should be no problem for me to understand even heavily-accented English. But for non-native speakers, this is likely not true. Without a doubt, the closer the English is to a "standard" variety, the easier it will be for non-native speakers of English to follow. It definitely seemed that the English I heard on this visit to Singapore was much closer to this "global standard."

 Now, no one "owns" English. It's not a British possession, not a U.S. American possession, not an Australian possession. But, for better or worse, there is no escaping the fact English is undoubtedly the language of business in today's world. And in order for that standard language to fulfill its role as a lingua franca, it needs to be mutually understandable among the people who use it.

 What do I mean when I say "standard"? When it comes to pronunciation, whether we are talking about the phonetic level of how specific consonants and vowels are pronounced or whether we are talking about prosody (intonation, stress, rhythm, temp, pausing, etc.), I strongly believe that there is an acceptable range within which reasonably competent speakers of English (especially non-native speakers of English) can be expected to understand the message. As long as the pronunciation is within this acceptable range, English can function well as a vehicle for communication among people who come from different backgrounds.

 As I mentioned, what I observed on this visit to Singapore was that when native Singaporeans were speaking to people from outside Singapore, they almost always used the off-shore, standard pronunciation of English. This English still had a perceptible "Singapore accent," but it was so much easier for me to understand than the English I often heard on previous visits. At the same time, when Singaporeans spoke with other native Singaporeans in English, we could often hear the local Singlish. I could catch most of what they said, but I really had to pay careful attention. Non-native speakers of Engish surely must struggle to understand.

 Thus, at some level, many Singaporeans are consciously adjusting the English they use in order to communicate effectively with others. In my opinion, this is a very positive trend. We can and should respect local varieties of English. These local "Englishes" are often an important badge of cultural identity and local pride. A barista at a local coffee shop told me that she definitely speaks Singlish with her friends and coworkers if there are no non-Singaporeans around. As far as I'm concerned, when people from the same background speak with each other, if they choose to speak English, they should be encouraged to use their own local variety.

 At the same time, however, I strongly believe that there needs to be some "standard, mutually understandable, off-shore" version of English that can be used as a tool to communicate comfortably in today's diverse, globalizing world. Based on my observations in Singapore last week, it is clear that, as a tendency, many Singaporeans have embraced this idea. And that certainly is a good thing, in my opinion.




ANA First Class Rocks!!

2016-11-28 | 日記

Wow! Now I am in Germany for business. I was so lucky that my travel agent was able to get me a First Class ticket on ANA for even less than what it normally would have cost for Business Class.   So, naturally, I jumped at the opportunity. (BTW, I only fly business class when it is part of the client contract. I can't afford to pay for it myself!) 

This was the first time in my life to fly First Class, so I was very excited. At the same time, though, I thought "Can it really be that different from Business Class?"   I was pleasantly surprised to find that the answer is "Yes." It's more than simply a "level up." The service was attentive, without being cloying. The food, pictured above, was amazing. Like fine dining in a great restaurant.

Anyway, I hope that this was not a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But I am certainly glad that I was able to enjoy it even once. And I hope it doesn't spoil me from flying in my usual seats in Premium Economy. 

By the way, I can really recommend my travel agent. His name is Vincent. You can contact him at: vincent.dobc@gmail.com

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2016-11-24 | 日記

I attended Crawford High School in San Diego, California. Recently, I met a lady who graduated from Crawford several years ago. She was born in Somalia and came to the US as a child. She told me that Crawford is now the most ethically diverse high school in the most diverse state in the most diverse country in the world. I remember back to when I went to Crawford (back when dinosaurs were still roaming the Earth). Aside from a very large Jewish contingent (probably around 25%), the rest of the student body was pretty much white-bread WASP. For me, the current Crawford represents the real potential and strength of our country. I'm afraid, though, that the next president's view of an "Ideal USA" is closer to what I experienced back in the Old Days.




2016-01-21 | TOEIC

There is definitely a lot of interest on the part of 一般の人たち about the upcoming changes in the TOEIC. It is not limited to TOEIC オタクlike me and my TOEIC writer friends. Many of my seminar particpants ask me what's going on. Of course, many blogs are full of information about the expected revisions. And, indeed, one of the biggest indicators is that two important Japanese magazines have asked to interview me for their upcoming editions.

I am as excited as everyone to see how the actual revisions are implemented.



Actual changes from May, 2016

2015-12-29 | TOEIC

Good morning!

Looking out the hotel window at one of my favorite views. Today is perfectly clear, so we can even see individual ships on the distant horizon!

The main reason for today's post is that I realized many people may not be aware of the actual changes in the TOEIC set to appear in May of next year.

These changes can be seen on the following web page: http://www.toeic.or.jp/info/2015/i025/i025_01.html

Essentially, the changes can be summarized as follows:

In the Listening Section, the number of items in Parts 1, 2, and 3 will change. Part 1 will have only 6 photo items, Part 2 will have 25 items, and Part 3 will have 13 conversations, each with 3 Qs, for a total of 39 Qs. Part 4 will still have  10 3Q talks for the same total of 30 items. The Listening Section will still be administered in 45 minutes. Another change is that there will sometimes be visual prompts in Parts 3 and 4. These will likely be things like charts, tables, maps, etc. with the speaker(s) mentioning information that can only be seen by looking at the visual prompt. This is consistent with TOEIC's recent tendency to increasingly require the synthesis of information from different locations.

In the Reading Section, there will also be a shift in the allocation of items to each Part. Part 5 will still be in the same format, but will have only 30 items in the future. Part 6 will increase slightly by adding one item to each passage for a total of 16 Qs (4 passages, each with 4Qs). There will be one additional item in Part 7 Single Passages for a total of 29Qs. And Part 7 Double Passages will be called Multiple Passages in the future. One additional set will be added for a total of 25 Qs (5 sets of 5Qs). The reason for this is that some of the MP will have 3 passages, instead of the current 2. Exactly how many there will be is not yet open. Also, we're not sure if the number of questions requiring the synthesis of information from multiple locations will increase or not. These are currently called BPQ; we'll need to re-name this item type.

For those of you who were wondering what the specific changes would be, I hope this post helps. To be honest, we won't know for sure until the first test appears next May, however.




After a long absence

2015-12-28 | TOEIC


This time, uncharacteristically, I won't even try to apologize for my long radio silence. I'd like to think that I'm not just lazy, but actions speak louder than words.

Now I have a few days with my family in Awaji. This is one of our favorite places. We come here two or three times per year. It's not only good family time. It gives me a chance to think about the direction I want to go in the future.

Certainly, with the TOEIC undergoing another relatively substantial revision to be rolled out in May, 2016, there are many opportunities for TOEIC authors to revise their offerings to reflect the changes in the test. One of the big gambles, of course, is whether to produce materials before the actual test is unveiled next May. Naturally, any author that ventures to write a TOEIC book before experiencing the actual test has a big advantage, assuming he or she "gets it right." The problem, to be sure, is that ETS might make some last-minute changes in the test, based on their pilot testing, similar to the changes they made in 2006. One concrete example is that they announced that Part 6 would have 3 passages with 4Q each and the CDQ would comprise the bulk of the questions in Part 6. As we know, the actual test that came out in May, 2006 had 4 passages with 3Q each. Further, there were very few CDQ in the initial offering of the 新型 TOEIC at that time.

Anyway, I look forward to our annual TTT in February so that I can share ideas with other TOEIC specialists and determine the best path to take.

I'll keep you posted.



Malcolm Gladwell

2015-10-04 | TOEIC

Are you familiar with the writings of Malcolm Gladwell? He's a kind of business guru these days. One of his books, Blink, talks about how peope make lasting first impressions in the blink of an eye. If people are given positive information about something, they will be predisposed to have a positive experience. The opposite also holds.

Today I had a wonderful experience working with a group of teachers who are part of the Chigasaki Method of English Study. The people in charge of the talk had already given a lot of positive background about me and my lecture style to the members of the group (around 50, I think). As a result, the participants were well-primed to receive my talk positively.

I never forget the time I had an opposite experience. Several years ago Gaz and I were doing a training session with a new client. The person in charge of the training decided not even to come to the session. Instead, he instructed one of the participants to make the introduction of the instructors on his behalf. The person seemed very nervous and, actually, put out that he had been asked to do this. So he said, "I really have no idea why we are here today, but my boss told me to come and make this introduction, so since we have to be here until 17:00, why don't we make the best of this situation?" 

As you can guess, the participants began with a very negative attitude towards the day's training and it took us much longer than usual to bring them on board. We finally could do that, but in Gaz's words, "We fought with the marlin." (A Hemmingway reference from Old Man and the Sea.)

Today was anything but a marlin. I don't know how many people came up to take a photo with me before and after the 90-minute session!! But I was so happy that I could deliver some content to some eager people who were positively predisposed to listen to my message.

Thank you, Kazue and Roy. You made my job much easier today. One of the best sessions I have ever had in my career. Seriously. It was a pleasure.




2015-09-28 | TOEIC

This past weekend, we had the 21st T860 (ALC) seminar in Kanda Urbanet. 46 participants. It was one of the most enjoyable TOEIC seminars I have ever conducted.

There were several people that I had met before in previous seminars. All of them came up to me and announced that they had increased their TOEIC scores significantly. One young man had gone from the low 600's to the middle 800's. His next target is 900. I am sure that he will do what he needs to do to achieve that mark.

We covered a lot of ground in the seminar. The order of presentation was different than the usual presentation I make for a T730 seminar. We started with Parts 3 and 4, because those are usually the two parts which present the biggest challenge for high-level English learners.

We also spent quite a bit of time talking about vocabulary acquisition, particulary learning synonyms for the words the participants already know.

I hope that all of the members of the 21st T860 seminar enjoyed the two days as much as I did.


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2015-08-30 | TOEIC

Yesterday I had a chance to deliver a seminar about Intercultural Communication under the auspices of ALC Press. We had 24 participants, a very good number for a seminar of this type. One of the things we did was to talk about what was needed to be successful in navigating a global, diverse business environment.

Essentially, we think there are three major pillars: English ability, job skills, and intercultural awareness. Of course, English is necessary, even if the vast majority of Japanese business people in our data base are either neutral of openly negative about English. People don't really like English, as a rule. But they know they need it. And that gap also causes big stress for many people.

However, even if a person has a TOEIC score over 900, if they don't have business skills, they cannot truly contribute their full ability in a global, diverse business environment.

But the base is having the requisite intercultural awareness to be able to read to other people and decide objectively the best way to work with each individual.

What we did in the seminar yesterday (Sat 8/29) was to focus on the overlap between English ability and intercultural skill. The participants were very active and we had many good discussions. I have confidence that the participants left the seminar with a practical toolkit that they can access when they are using English to communicate with people from different backgrounds and nationalities.




President (again) !!

2015-08-27 | TOEIC

There will be an article in the 9/14 edition of President magazine. I had a chance to share some of my thoughts about developing an "English Mindset," particularly for learner who are now in the 300-450 range. The following advertisement appeared a couple of days ago.