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Singapore's English standard. The World. And much more!

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Singapore's English standard. The World. And much more!

Postby Skpp » Sun, 03 May 2009 3:05 pm

A very good day to one and all.

I have been reading this forum for quite a while. And yes, I have noticed the comments about the English standard of some Singaporeans.

I have a few things to say about that.

First and foremost, do not be so quick to pass judgement. You are judging an entire nation based on a few uneducated people which you encounter in your daily life.

While it is true that some Singaporeans do speak broken English, these people are often the lowly educated. They prefer speaking in Chinese or Malay. The educated Singaporean speaks English well. The next time you encounter someone speaking broken English, ask them if he or she has ever graduated from Primary or Secondary school. There is your answer there as to why they speak broken English.

We have to interact with many of these lowly educated people on a daily basis because they are often the ones casheiring at the local supermarket or serving us food at the coffeeshop. I think this is why some foreigners think that Singaporeans speak broken English.

Besides, there are a large number of foreigners now in Singapore. 30-40% of the population in Singapore are now foriegners. Many of them are from China and other non English speaking countries. Therefore, they do not speak English well. Do not mistake them for Singaporeans.

Take any Singaporean educated up to Cambridge O levels and you will find that they speak English well. In Singapore, we sit for the very same O and A level papers as the students in the UK. Our papers are sent to Cambridge to be marked and Cambridge examiners are flown in to assess us orally.

Personally, many of my ex classmates and myself have scored an A for English at the Cambridge O levels. Just for comparison, only 15% of students in the UK manage an A for English at their O levels exams.

As Singaporeans, we have nothing to be ashamed of. Our English standard is as comparable, and on ocassions, even better than many students from the UK or America (I am talking about the educated Singaporeans here).

How else can you describe the fact that many Singaporean students like myself have sat for the exact same English exam and scored better than 85% of the students in the UK?

I was educated in a British university. The Singaporean's accent is rather neutral and it can be easily understood. There are many accents around the world which are rather thick. It is very hard to understand them.

The Scottish accent is one. The Welsh accent is another. Just do a search on youtube for "scottish accent" and you will get what I am saying. Some Canadians also have a french accent to their English which makes it very hard to understand.

They are impossible for me and my American friends to understand.

As Singaporeans, we have a lot to be proud of. Our GDP and INCOME per capita is top 5 in the world. Higher than the US and the UK. Singapore is a clean and safe city to live in. We rank higher than many cities in the UK and US for standard of living and quality of life. Our government has made a very good decision in equipping us with English and Chinese skills.

Singapore IS the most English speaking Country in Asia. Our English ability is on par with the UK and US and Canada (the educated Singaporeans). We speak better English than most Europeans. In fact, in Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Finland, etc, their road signs are not even in English and their citizens do not even speak English as a first language, which is something we do in Singapore!

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Re: Singapore's English standard. The World. And much more!

Postby Plavt » Sun, 03 May 2009 3:35 pm

Skpp wrote:. In fact, in Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Finland, etc, their road signs are not even in English and their citizens do not even speak English as a first language, which is something we do in Singapore!


Why would the road signs be in English when the native language is something else? :roll: Singapore's first language is not English even if you and many others like to think it is, that is just a ridiculous assertion. Having good grades in exams and attending prestigious universities has little bearing on how well a nation speaks English that only comes with practice. This has been discussed before so I hope your not simply trying to stir something up.

Ps: I don't know where you get your figures from but the number of foreigners in Singapore is not 30-40%. By the way I have no difficulty understanding the Welsh, Scots or French Canadians. :lol:
Last edited by Plavt on Mon, 04 May 2009 3:59 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby QRM » Sun, 03 May 2009 4:07 pm

Thank you Skpp, your English may be A grade, but your post has made a perfect example of another strange Singapore trait, kiasu-ness. :lol:

Lets be honest, who would you rather sit next to at a dinner party someone who has straight A in all the subjects or a person who is "normal"?

One thing that you seem to imply is that Singlish is something only peasants do, you are almost ashamed of it. Only a small percentage of the population can afford to send their kids overseas for an education.

If you ask me, once you get the hang of Singlish, it is one of the most endearing qualities of this place.

Skpp wrote:How else can you describe the fact that many Singaporean students like myself have sat for the exact same English exam and scored better than 85% of the students in the UK?


Quite easily, The education system here is geared towards "parrot learning" in order to pass you just have to very good at memorizing and regurgitating the facts. If it come to a design orientated subject where a bit of lateral thinking is required, like the Arts/architecture, I think you will find the tables turns against Singapore. In the UK the emphasis on the type and style of learning is more evenly spread, hence the results?

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Postby sundaymorningstaple » Sun, 03 May 2009 5:51 pm

While it is true that some Singaporeans do speak broken English,


The vast majority speak broken English or Singlish as it's more commonly known! Those who speak it well are a very small minority (and yes you are most probably one and therefore feel you have been wrongly tarred). If the only people that foreigners meet speak bad English, how can you expect them to think otherwise? Pray tell? Look at the level of Education in the last quarter of a century. Educational levels have risen dramatically but the level of English has gone down just as dramatically. Why? Because it was around 30 years ago that Singapore stopped using native English speakers to teach the language and started using locally trained ones. There was the problem.

I've been an adult here probably as long as you have been alive. I'm married to a Singaporean, I work for local companies. I deal with highly educated locals regularly. For that matter I was a senior level Headhunter here for 14 years. Why do I generally have to correct their written English and why do they speak to me using Singlish? I don't look Asian, I'm Caucasian through and through. The other poster has it spot on. The country's education system WAS based entirely on rote learning and test taking (and for a large part, still is) That's why there is such a large "illegal" business the the sales of photocopied exams from previous years that goes on here in any photocopy shop in Bras Basar or Coronation Plaza. Unfortunately, the "mugging" for exams only allows the Singaporean to pass the exam, but doesn't allow them to absorb anything in long term memory. That is why after 10 minutes of discussion they rarely have any more to say as you have exhausted their test text boundaries.

Those who were fortunate enough to go overseas are a different matter altogether as they have had to "learn" as opposed to cram and regurgitate facts only. They can, in fact, usually carry on a reasonable conversation and editing their prose is not normally needed unless they have come back and spent to much time with locally educated peers. If so, then their English regresses back to pre-overseas schooling levels. (Standard spoken English/Singlish).

Oh, by the way, the latest stats are such that the population is no more than 25% foreign. But if you want to look at it from another perspective to back up your "facts", 86% of the population are foreigners as the only "locals" here are Malays. Everybody else are immigrants or the offspring of immigrants. Just like the US.

Singapore has no "first" language, English is the Language of Government but there are 4 main languages here and all have a place. Unfortunately, both Mandarin and English have suffered greatly at the hand of local teachers. The levels of English taught in the local schools is terrible (I know. Both of my kids went through the local system) Fortunately we were able of offset that by home teaching. It did get rather old having to correct the teacher though. If you go to China, you will also find out just how bad the level of instruction in Mandarin is as well. So rather than sticking you foot in your mouth trying to protect your country's general poor level of English. Be happy that they do so well in the Maths & Sciences Fields.

Kiasu-ism doesn't suit you.

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Postby Skpp(new) » Sun, 03 May 2009 11:35 pm

sundaymorningstaple wrote:
Unfortunately, the "mugging" for exams only allows the Singaporean to pass the exam, but doesn't allow them to absorb anything in long term memory. That is why after 10 minutes of discussion they rarely have any more to say as you have exhausted their test text boundaries.


You cannot "route learn" to pass an English exam because thare are no formulas to memorize. You can only route learn sciences, mathematics...etc.

It is not possible to prepare for an English exam by memorizing. The only way is to have a strong foundation in English.

Your argument is not valid.

Singaporean kids who sit for their PSLE/O/A levels and score good grades are definately sound in the fundamentals of English.

Oh, by the way, the latest stats are such that the population is no more than 25% foreign.


You are wrong.

35% of Singapore's population are foreigners (including PRs). Strictly speaking, PRs are not Singapore citizens because they do not hold a Singapore passport but one from another Country. They are a citizen of their own countries. If you include transient tourists, I think the figure could be ~40%


I am just trying to show you that there are many foreigners in Singapore. More than 25% of the population like what you claimed.

Personally, I love foreigners and have loads of friends from all over the world. I feel they make the city more vibrant and exciting.

Singapore has no "first" language, English is the Language of Government but there are 4 main languages here and all have a place.


Singapore has 4 official languages - English, Tamil, Chinese, Malay. But English is used mainly.

Every student studies in English. Not in the other 3 languages.

Parliament talks in English. Laws are enacted in English. Not in the other 3 languages.

Generally everythinng is in English, from the road signs to the menus to the internet forums.

But don't tell "Plavt" that. Even though everything is in English here, he still thinks we are not native speakers. Perhaps, he has very high standards.

Many other English speaking Countries do have more than one official languauge.

Canada - French and English
RSA - African languages and English.

Unfortunately, both Mandarin and English have suffered greatly at the hand of local teachers.


All the English I know was taught to me by Singaporean teachers. Going by your agument, I should have failed in international exams and failed to complete my UK degree.

In contrast, the opposite holds true. I have managed to score an A on my GCE Cambridge O level examamination, the very same exam where only 15% of students in the UK manage an A grade.

I have also done a BA and MBA from the UK.

I am very happy to be born in Singapore. If I was born anywhere else in Asia, I doubt I would speak English as well as I do today.

Was I a superb student? Not really. I was around the twentieth percentile in school. I did ok in my exams. When I was in poly, I flunked out because I was too busy chasing skirts to sit down and study. After NS, I pulled myself together and collected a few certificates.

If you go to China, you will also find out just how bad the level of instruction in Mandarin is as well.


Lol. I have been to China. Many Singaporeans love to visit China. With the advent of the budget airlines, you can fly to China and back for 300sgd.

The PRC Chinese refused to believe that I was not a local because my Chinese sounds so "China like". I had a hard time convincing them that I was not from China. Some of them thought I was lying :)

There are a few who told me my Chinese sounds like "Taiwanese Chinese". :D

In fact when I was in Sichuan, quite a few of the Sichuan people do not speak Chinese (putonghua) as well as I do. This is because they tend to speak in their own Sichuan dialect all the time.

So rather than sticking you foot in your mouth trying to protect your country's general poor level of English. Be happy that they do so well in the Maths & Sciences Fields.


I have no need to "protect" anything. I feel very comfortable with who I am and where I come from.

The educated Singaporean IS a native English speaker and is as proficient in English as those from the uk/us/canada etc.

Singapore is more english speaking than most parts of Europe with the exception of the UK. As I have said before, in most parts of Europe their road signs are not even in English.

Kiasu-ism doesn't suit you.


I was never kiasu. And never will be. :D

I base my stand on solid facts and figures. You and "Plavt" throw up a lot of personal opinions. Many of your opinions as I have shown above, are misinformed.



Please see sticky entitled 'Important all users please note'
Last edited by Skpp(new) on Mon, 04 May 2009 12:28 am, edited 3 times in total.

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Postby QRM » Mon, 04 May 2009 12:02 am

Skpp(new) wrote: As I have said before, in most parts of Europe their road signs are not even in English.


Skpp, There you go... you have an A in English and yet you completely missed what Plavt was getting at. I am sure your sentence has all the correct adverbs and subjective pronouns etc. which actually means bugger all to me, I failed my English O levels.

If it helps, if you saw an exam paper with the following question which option would you pick.

Q: In most parts of Europe their road signs are not even in English

A: a) A very daft thing to say OR b) I cant see the problem with the statement.
Last edited by QRM on Mon, 04 May 2009 12:15 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Skpp(new) » Mon, 04 May 2009 12:09 am

QRM wrote:Thank you Skpp, your English may be A grade, but your post has made a perfect example of another strange Singapore trait, kiasu-ness. :lol:

Lets be honest, who would you rather sit next to at a dinner party someone who has straight A in all the subjects or a person who is "normal"?

One thing that you seem to imply is that Singlish is something only peasants do, you are almost ashamed of it. Only a small percentage of the population can afford to send their kids overseas for an education.

If you ask me, once you get the hang of Singlish, it is one of the most endearing qualities of this place.


LOL QRM, I do not look down on those who have a lower education than me. Many are hardworking people who make an honest living and contribute in their own ways to society. I was merely explaining why some of them speak broken English.

Neither do I look down on Singlish. I speak Singlish sometimes for the jest of it. I love the culture of my country.

But I do prefer to speak in standard English (like what the govt has been telling us to do) because when I work overseas I need to speak standard English for me to be understood.

But when I get back to Singapore's coffee shops, it would be "Uncle, kopi xiu dai!"

Singlish and broken English are two different thing. Perhaps you have not lived long enough in Sg to differentiate those who speak Singlish and can speak proper English from those who can't speak proper English at all and speak broken English. Thereby, you quantify them as Singlish as well.

Singlish merely adds a "la" lo" "lor" "eh" and a few ocassional hokien or malay words . If you try to mess it up any further, it is just broken english to me.

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Postby Skpp(new) » Mon, 04 May 2009 1:08 am

QRM wrote:
Skpp(new) wrote: As I have said before, in most parts of Europe their road signs are not even in English.


Skpp, There you go... you have an A in English and yet you completely missed what Plavt was getting at. I am sure your sentence has all the correct adverbs and subjective pronouns etc. which actually means bugger all to me, I failed my English O levels.

If it helps, if you saw an exam paper with the following question which option would you pick.

Q: In most parts of Europe their road signs are not even in English

A: a) A very daft thing to say OR b) I cant see the problem with the statement.


LOL QRM. I've got my pencil with me and I am going for :

c) Not too daft if you understand that a lot of people still think Europeans speak English as a first language

A lot of people here still think that way. You can ask a few people on the streets "Do Europeans speak English?" and hear what they have got to say.

Well if a German or French guy can work and thrive in the UK, then us Singaporeans should be even better positioned with our English speaking ability.

You can LOCK IN MY ANSWER! :)

BTW I have no idea what adverbs and subjective pronouns are at all. LOL. Perhaps "SundayMS" was right. All that rote learning is indeed good for exams only....

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Postby pixfirewall » Mon, 04 May 2009 1:43 am

Hmmm..Facts and figures..exams..statistics..percentage..education..Singlish..English..etc..

We could debate on these things for all we care...but for English to be spoken correctly would be different since the roots of English came from the UK then US (just visit wikipedia for details). As per world english standards there are 2 competing english proficiency certification or exam, which ever you call it...IELTS=UK and TOEFL = US

US and UK has been there enforcing their English standard around the world and their English has been the standards which other countries around the world has followed, yet with addition to their native language (e.g. German, French, Canadian, etc..).

As for Singaporean English, as mention on the early post on the thread...uneducated or didn't finish secondary or primary are the ones speaking broken english..this will hold true not only in Singapore but to other parts of the world as well.

As for Educated Singaporean English, as mention again on this post, they speak proficient English..this will hold true not only in Singapore but to other parts of the world as well.

Each countries has different accents on delivering spoken english yet still proficient. The thing with "educated" Singaporean English is that the "tone" and how the "blending" in the pronunciation is being done is not really at par or not close to the UK or US way of speaking English. I mentioned "at par or not close" just to be clear that it shouldn't be "exactly toned and blended as per US or UK" standard way of speaking.

I would agree that the teaching of english in "some" secondary and primary schools or even tertiary level here are not that proficient on the oral delivery of english. You may get high scores on the english exams and oral proficiency exams yet delivering it effectively on a day to day basis and how you communicate it is a different story.

Singaporean English in general is good, yet lacks the tone and blending on the pronunciation of standard english.

I'm saying this tone and blending because, tone and blending is a key element that you could effectively delivery spoken english. I've been working here and I have noticed even those "educated" singaporean..they lack this trait. Also another trait..is being flexible with your english and singaporean also don't have this.

These are observations encountered everyday speaking with locals here in singapore. You may be good in written english but the manner of the delivery of spoken english is another thing.
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Postby Plavt » Mon, 04 May 2009 4:20 am

Skpp(new) wrote:
I base my stand on solid facts and figures. You and "Plavt" throw up a lot of personal opinions. Many of your opinions as I have shown above, are misinformed.


My opinions are not personal at all, Singaporeans may like to claim English as their first language but to do so is erroneous - simple question: what do most speak in their own homes and what language do they drift into? They certainly don't drift into English and therefore cannot logically claim to be native English speakers. Your claim that 30-40 percent of the population are foreigners cannot be correct as that mean nearly half the population of Singapore - I've seen far more locals than foreigners unless there has been an invasion that nobody has noticed. :P

Examinations in many languages quite aside from English can be passed with only a 'stilted' ability a trait I have seen only too often amongst Asians in particular (they know fundamentals and grammatical rules but have no real grasp of the nuances).

I think your problem is possibly one of false pride which I see so often in Asians; that is they do not like to admit their short-comings, nor do they like seeing something differently (Singaporeans at least). Do not think Singaporeans would be better placed to work in the UK than a German or French national, I assure that really is an incorrect assertion; nearly all west Germans my age or younger speak English which is on a par with ourselves. However, Singaporeans might be welcome in the medical or scientific field but then such people are the ones who have been abroad the longest! Sorry mate your country is simply too far away to be speaking English better or as well as us, which you admitted yourself when mentioned the accent of Scotland and Wales.

Ps: Have good look through the airline thread for some of the things I mean about Singaporeans having not having a proper grasp of English, it is wrong to quote this section as most people are native English speakers (expats that is).

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Postby sundaymorningstaple » Mon, 04 May 2009 7:12 am

As far as the bulk of your defense goes, it would appear you are fighting from a me-me-me perspective and not the country as a whole, which, sadly to say, is typical here. It's one of the reasons why the country will probably never has a homogeneous society as each are too busy trying to protect themselves. You talk about your level of English, we are not really questioning your level of written English. My written English is terrible and I type worse. But I'm and old farmboy so do make any excuses. However, you keep referring to heartlanders. But in the same breath talk about you "overseas experience" which I've already made mention of. Most here who get an overseas education and continue to work in a foreign environment have to maintain a higher level of English. But, come back to Singapore and work along your peers without that experience and have local uni degrees? You must know what I'm talking about. That, or you are more ostritch than Singaporean (actually the analogy is much the same as you seem to keep trying to bury your head in the sand and not see the obvious. So obvious that the government has been running these campaigns for so long about speaking proper English that it's become something of as world-wide joke. That along with the courtest campaign, which also hasn't done much if anything at all.

As far as your statistics go, yeah, you can probably do that, but if you want to bolster you position even further, you should have made mention of the fact that Singapore, with only a 1.3 fertility rate and falling, has had to resort to giving citizenship to countless thousands of PRC's in order to bolster the majority race's percentages as the majority race has the lowest fertility of all the races here. So yeah, you could say the level of Mandarin is probably rising among the population if only because of the increase of "NEW" citizens from China. And they also say the same as I do about the level of Mandarin in Singapore.

And, I hesitate to tell you, but the main language here is not English. As I said before, it's the "language of Government". English is NOT the main spoken language here. If you think is it, then why are those who are purely English speakers kept from '000's of jobs weekly? I think you need to fall back a regroup. Have a ride on the MRT (if you can lower yourself down to that level) or the Buses (even lower) and have a listen to the languages that you hear. English rarely, Singlish only in mixed company, Mandarin, Dialect, Tamil, Hindi & Malay primarily.

Sorry, but you are backing an untenable position.

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Postby QRM » Mon, 04 May 2009 8:41 am

sundaymorningstaple wrote:..... So yeah, you could say the level of Mandarin is probably rising among the population if only because of the increase of "NEW" citizens from China. And they also say the same as I do about the level of Mandarin in Singapore.


While this thread is about bad English in Singapore, I mentioned to my wife I would like my daughter to go for Mandarin Lesson, she insisted we don't use a Singaporean teacher, as their Mandarin is as bad as their English :o , apparently it has a distinctly local twang. To me mandarin is Mandarin.

Skpp(new) wrote:A lot of people here still think that way. You can ask a few people on the streets "Do Europeans speak English?" and hear what they have got to say.

Well if a German or French guy can work and thrive in the UK, then us Singaporeans should be even better positioned with our English speaking ability.



Skpp, again you miss the point its not just about grades, who would you employ a French or German who gets a C in English, but has great social skills, and a very balanced view on life. OR a Kaisu Singaporean who has an A in English but has lead a very cocooned life, as you said it.

" A lot of people here still think that way. You can ask a few people on the streets "Do Europeans speak English?" and hear what they have got to say."

I know its stereotyping but only to make a point.

Its not just about being able to speak, its the.. dare I say it "manners" of the delivery. Call any Singapore firm up and the gruff, pissed off response you get in English sums it up.

Imagine a lovely new car pulls up, door opens and an elegant lady steps out in a immaculate outfit. She then gargles up a huge Shanghai Oyster and gobs in the drain. It would be a shock. If the same woman got off her ox cart on some dusty road and did that, there's no surprise.

Its all about perception and Singapore now has the immaculate suit on. The PR department needs to get to work. A French woman speaking English with a French accent is perceived in a very positive light.

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Postby sundaymorningstaple » Mon, 04 May 2009 11:29 am

QRM, when my daughter first started Kindy way, way back 20 years ago, the level of Mandarin here was already atrocious. I hired a Mandarin Tutor for three years (K1,2 & P1) He was from China (Shanghai) here as a computer programmer for the government. He taught my daughter as it's done in China (without English or Hanyu Pinyin) and when my daughter entered P1 her Mandarin was better than any in her class when she entered CHIJ-Toa Payoh (she was the only non-Chinese in her class). Her basics were sound and held her in good stead throughout her studies.

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Re: Singapore's English standard. The World. And much more!

Postby jpatokal » Mon, 04 May 2009 2:37 pm

You know what annoys me much more than "lowly educated" Singaporeans talking fluent Singlish? Foreign-educated Singaporean snobs who think their English is purrfect and this makes them better than others, even though their Engllish is actually full of mistakes.

While it is true that some Singaporeans do speak broken English, these people are often the lowly educated.

"Lowly" is a somewhat offensive term for people of lower social status and you're using it to modify "educated", so the implication is that you're talking about educated people who are below you in social status. You presumably mean "less educated".

There is your answer there

:o

We have to interact with many of these lowly educated people on a daily basis because they are often the ones casheiring at the local supermarket or serving us food at the coffeeshop.

Cashiering does not mean what you think it does, and you've misspelled it to boot.

Personally, many of my ex classmates and myself have scored an A for English at the Cambridge O levels.

That should be "my ex-classmates and I", and you can't use "personally" to modify your classmates.

As Singaporeans, we have nothing to be ashamed of. Our English standard is as comparable, and on ocassions

Your English (in your opinion) is comparable to, not "as".

I was educated in a British university. The Singaporean's accent is rather neutral and it can be easily understood.

That should be either "The Singaporean accent" or "Singaporeans' accent".
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Postby jpatokal » Mon, 04 May 2009 2:41 pm

Skpp(new) wrote:You cannot "route learn" to pass an English exam because thare are no formulas to memorize. You can only route learn sciences, mathematics...etc.

It is not possible to prepare for an English exam by memorizing. The only way is to have a strong foundation in English.

Snicker. Take a look at English education in Japan, which has an excellent track record of producing students who ace their fiendishly difficult exams, yet are unable to string together a coherent sentence.
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