Life is tough. So learn how to play the guitar, you’ll be better for it!

(Watch the video first, it’s relevant to my post)

Reading all the articles about the tuition industry in the past few days, it has become ever clearer to me that Singaporean parents view life here as an intensely competitive thing (“$1 billion spent on tuition in one year”; “Tuition no enough”). The strange thing is, I have never had any tuition in my life as a student. Yet, I did well enough to top my school in GP for the A-levels in 2001. I won that competition without any tuition, ey? What gives? Here’s my (open) secret. Being a musician has helped me develop discipline, creativity, and the ability to connect to my emotions — skills that all contribute to being an effective writer.

The musician in me was dead chuffed (very pleased) when I first came across the video above. TED-Ed confirms what I’ve known all along! My brain is stronger because I’m a musician. (That just means that I’m less stupid than before, but let’s not nitpick.)

Being a musician has helped me develop discipline, creativity, and the ability to connect to my emotions — skills that all contribute to being an effective writer.

People often act surprised when they first hear of my musical life, as if I am particularly “talented”. Here’s the thing, though — I don’t think I’m especially talented. All my abilities are the result of hard work, persistence, and perhaps a touch of good fortune. I count myself lucky that I have received excellent guidance from the people around me, from my father’s insistence on discipline (oh, how we hated that word as children), to a Physics teacher’s silent nod of approval when he saw that I had a B.B. King CD in my bag. The whole discipline thing? It’s the reason for my current musical ability.

So, if you’re finished with your exams and find yourself looking for something to do, pick up the guitar. It’s pretty easy, especially if you have the right guitar. (Ask me about it in the comments.) It’s a workout for your brain!

PS. I know a good guitar teacher who’s not me. Here’s a taste of his music!

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Malaysia’s command of the English language is stronger than Singapore’s?! What can we do about it?

Mr Seah boleh! ;)

Mr Seah boleh! He got the highest grade! 😉

Singapore has lost to Malaysia, in an academic contest! It is time for outrage and panic, remorse and shame! Why? Because Malaysia has attained a whopping rank of #12 — the highest in Asia — according to the EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI). Singapore, meanwhile, has come in at #13. I like The Rambler’s take on this: “In a land where appearing on the top of world charts is something devoutly to be wished for, it must come as a blow to us when year after year, we are trounced by a country as incompetent as Malaysia.”

Malaysia has attained a whopping rank of #12. Singapore, meanwhile, has come in at #13.

I found the ranking a tiny bit strange, though. In my experience, even though Malaysians and Singaporeans work as peers in the highest levels of academia and business, at the ‘lower’ levels — the taxi drivers, retail assistants, service staff, and so on — Singaporeans seem to hold the advantage over Malaysians in terms of proficiency with English. Most taxi drivers in Singapore can hold very interesting conversations in English (ask them about the ERP, go ahead, I dare you), but a Malaysian taxi driver who can do the same is rare indeed. (DISCLAIMER: I only have been a tourist in Malaysia, and I understand my perception may not reflect the reality in Malaysia.)

How is it that the EF EPI ranks Malaysia ahead of Singapore? Is it a failure of Singapore’s education system, and a sign of Malaysia’s emerging power in Asia? Perhaps not, because the methodology of the EF EPI (how they rank the countries) leaves plenty of room for improvement. To put it simply, this ranking is biased. The EF people know it. For those who understand methodology, I quote directly from the website’s FAQ:

“We recognize that the test-taking population represented in this index is self-selected and not guaranteed to be representative of the country as a whole. Only those people either wanting to learn English or curious about their English skills will participate in one of these tests. This could skew scores lower or higher than those of the general population. In addition, because the tests are online, people without internet access or unused to online applications are automatically excluded. In countries where internet usage is low, we expect the impact of this exclusion to be the strongest. This sampling bias would tend to pull scores upward by excluding poorer, less educated, and less privileged people.”

To put it simply, this ranking is biased. The EF people know it.

Nevertheless, it stings a little bit, knowing that Malaysia has beaten Singapore, even if the ranking isn’t representative of our general populations. It must be that kiasu element in me rearing its head. What can Singaporeans do to ensure we beat Malaysia next year, and what can Malaysians do to try to maintain their lead over Singapore in the EF EPI? You can do as I did, and take the test yourself, if your command of English is good. I cannot emphasize that enough — if your command of English is bad, and you take the test, you will pull your country’s ship down.

If you are confident of your English abilities, take an hour from your day, sit down with a cup of coffee, and click here to take the test. Come on, Singapore, we can do it! Singapura boleh! (Eh? Wrong country, wrong slogan?)

If you feel like you need English tuition before you take the test, contact me. It’s in the nation’s interest 😉