SINGAPOREANS are being linguistically challenged - and they're being told it's for their own good. It is all to do with the Singaporean brand of English, known locally as Singlish. The Government has been preaching that perfect English is the way ahead and its patience is starting to wear thin. Anyone switching on their television sets to catch the new series of Singapore's most popular sitcom, Phua Chu Kang, will find its lead characters have been radically transformed. Instead of speaking Singlish - a colloquial cocktail of English splattered with Malay, Hindi and various Chinese dialects - its main star Mr Phua, a foul-mouthed builder, can be seen dutifully attending language classes learning to speak the Queen's English. Producers at the state-owned Television Corporation of Singapore felt duty-bound to act after Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong publicly criticised the show during his national day rally last year because of its poor public influence on Singapore's young. At the recent launch of a year-long Speak Good English campaign, Mr Goh said: 'Poor English reflects badly on us and makes us seem less intelligent.' The Prime Minister was referring to terms like Phua Chu Kang's catchphrase 'Don't pray pray' (don't kid me), 'blur' (confused), 'I catch no ball' (I can't understand) and 'sabo' (to sabotage or play a trick on someone). In the past few days, Singapore has been awash with new Web sites, radio jingles and language programmes on television, all aimed at improving English standards. Last weekend, hundreds of Singaporeans loyally turned out in a bid to enter the Guinness Book of Records by staging the world's longest public-speaking marathon, lasting 36 hours. Two local writer-actors were even persuaded to refashion their 1999 play The Singlish Patient for the campaign. English standards in Singapore are already among the highest in Asia, but they are evidently still not good enough for Mr Goh's mind if the island-state is to thrive as an international business hub. But he doesn't want to banish Singlish altogether. Rather, he wants to ensure that all Singaporeans can speak proper English when required to communicate with foreigners. Some Singlish expressions are easily understood by foreigners, such as ending sentences with 'lah' for emphasis. Others are more bizarre - 'shiok', for example, which means 'heavenly' or 'good'. Mr Goh does not mind a sitcom being used as a focal point for his language campaign. 'Let us laugh at ourselves as we correct our bad habits. It is time we stop saying: 'You see me no up' [which translates as 'You look down on me'].' Patrick Oei, Singapore branch member of Toastmasters International, said: 'Sometimes when we deal with foreigners, colloquial greetings put us at a disadvantage. We need to overcome our nervousness towards good English.' To prevent an erosion of standards, the Education Ministry is running new English-language courses for teachers.