Son corrected my pronunciation
FROM headlining television shows to theatre and film, veteran thespian Adrian Pang has done it all.
Now, as artistic director of his theatre company Pangdemonium!, the 47-year-old is more primed than ever to hone his craft as a storyteller.
In the first of a six-part series on good role models for English, My Paper chats with the funny man about fumbling with words at a swanky event, his role as an English nazi at home and being corrected by his children.
You seem to be able to switch easily between Singlish and proper English. How do you do that?
I think it's like a subconscious "code switching", depending on who I'm speaking to. It's not any kind of affectation, but more of tuning in to someone else's mode and trying to fit in there for ease of communication so that we don't misunderstand each other.
What is the most embarrassing language slip-up that has happened to you?
I was hosting some swanky awards ceremony and pronounced the word "poignant" exactly the way it's spelt. The thing is, I know exactly how it's supposed to be pronounced, but at that moment, "poick-nun" just came out. (Note: The "g" should be silent)
One of the tips for this year's Speak Good English Movement is "Grow in confidence by reading aloud regularly". Does this apply to your work?
Where the nature of what I do is concerned, the spoken word is key. The word is the weapon. I rarely look at a script on my own and try to commit it to memory, because for me, it's part of a process of rehearsals and hearing it being spoken aloud by my fellow actors.
Even in my daily life, I find myself reading something out loud just because I want to hear it. It's different from reading silently, and it makes you pay a bit more attention to the words, and even process them differently.
What is your pet peeve when it comes to the use of English?
People spelling "tomorrow" as "tomolo" - what the heck is that?
Who's the English teacher to your two boys, you or your wife Tracie? Are they allowed to use Singlish at home?
I am the English nazi at home, and no, my boys (Xander, 12, and Zach, 14) are not allowed to speak Singlish. Tracie and I always try to instil in them good communication and proper English skills, though I probably do it in my own bumbling sort of way.
Even now, whenever they're trying to tell me something or relate a story to me, they tend to use a lot of sound effects, like "bssh" and "ow". The sound effects are amusing for 10 seconds, then I tell them: "Okay, stop using so many sound effects. There are words to describe what you're trying to tell me."
It's just a matter of reading more and increasing their vocabulary. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe there's a case to be made for the good old classic novel.
I recently gave Zach a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird, which is one of my favourite novels. The story is wonderful - it's funny, moving and it's got a lot of lessons (about life).
Have your children ever corrected your use of the language?
Just the other day, Xander was being cheeky in the car when I used the word "advertisement", probably because I had corrected him on the same word before and he wanted to get back at me.
Singaporeans usually stress the "ad", whereas in Britain they stress the "vert", and I think some Americans pronounce the "tise" as "tize" as opposed to "tiz". I had inadvertently pronounced it the Singaporean way - hey, I'm Singaporean, after all - and Xander picked up on it right away. So we agreed to use the word "commercial" instead.
Is there anything lined up in the coming months for you?
Interestingly, on this subject, I'll be involved in a big-screen feature as a Singaporean everyman. Something happens that forces him to speak like an American from Nashville, so there will be an interesting change of lingo, speech patterns and use of words.
I'm also up to my ears preparing for an upcoming Pulitzer prizewinning musical, Next To Normal, where I'll play husband to a character who has been living with bipolar disorder for 16 years. In a nutshell, it's about survival, and finding meaning and happiness in life.
The Say It Right series is brought to you by the Speak Good English Movement. For more information, visit www.goodenglish.org.sg