Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of National Development and Ministry of Education at the 24th YMCA Plain English Speaking Awards Ceremony on Friday, 17 September 2010, at 8.30 pm at Spring Singapore

Mr. Stephen Loh,
President, YMCA of Singapore,

Mr. Teo Eng Cheong,
Chairman, 24th YMCA Plain English Speaking Awards,

Distinguished guests,

Principals, teachers, parents and students

It gives me great pleasure to be with you all tonight at the 24th YMCA Plain English Speaking Awards Ceremony, to honour our young speakers of plain English and celebrate their achievements.

For the past 24 years, YMCA has committed itself unwaveringly to raising the proficiency level of the English language amongst our young through the Plain English Speaking Competition. The competition has continued to grow and evolve over time and is now a standard fixture in the school calendar which provides a unique opportunity for our young to both develop and showcase their communication skills.

That the English Language has become the world’s lingua franca is a reality of globalisation. There is a need for our young people to be effective and persuasive communicators in internationally acceptable English. These qualities can only be acquired if we believe in their importance, and if we provide opportunities for our young to develop such communication skills at every stage of their education.

We have a daily need to speak plain, good English. I am not referring to a specialised skill such as that used in formal debates which requires a mastery of rhetoric. Nor am I referring to the type of language used in drama performances that requires the delivery of a script enriched by a display of emotions and body language. Plain, good English is the English we need in order to be effective in our daily lives. It is used when we present an idea to our colleagues and bosses at work; when a teacher instructs a class of students; when we communicate with customers in order to understand their needs and to persuade them to buy our goods; when we share a good story that moves our listeners.

These are simple, everyday situations but they can be demanding. I am sure that some of us have had the experience of not being to communicate our intentions accurately and of not understanding the intentions of others. Such situations remind us that speaking plainly and effectively is not as easy as one might think. It is a skill cultivated through practice and through listening to good English. Tonight, we have had the opportunity of listening to several good speakers who have mastered this important skill and we have heard several compelling examples of effective speaking. We have been informed, charmed, provoked, amused, persuaded, and moved. Please join me in thanking our awardees for providing us with such a rewarding experience.

Those of you who are regulars at the Plain English Speaking Awards may have noticed some changes in the format. This year, we moved away from themes on social and global issues to a more personal and value-centred focus. The intention is to encourage participants to use plain English to express their emotions, to speak from the heart about their values, and to give their personal opinions on what constitutes good character, good citizenship, and social responsibility. I am pleased to see that contestants have risen to this new challenge and have demonstrated that they can speak persuasively on such topics with both individuality and civic-mindedness.

I commend YMCA for its dedication in improving the quality of spoken English of our young. I would also like to thank the organising committee and everyone who have worked so hard to ensure the success of YMCA 2010.

Finally, I would like to, once again, congratulate all participants. It requires no small amount of courage to stand up and speak in front of a public audience. Winners, enjoy your awards. You truly deserve them. To all participants, the skills and confidence in public speaking that you have earned from this experience will be your richest reward. This will stay with you for life. I wish you all every success in your future endeavours.

Thank you.