Alan Soh aka Humourboi

I am my own columnist, publishing my thoughts!


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Bilingualism – The talk about learning Mandarin

With China poised to lead the world economy in the next 20 years, there has been an urgency, that economical value to get our chinese students speaking the mother language.

But as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last week, learning Chinese is also critical to “our sense of identity — who we are as Singaporeans and as Asians in a globalised world”.

In Singapore today, this connection to our ethnic and cultural identities is a matter of our education policy for the past 30 or 40 years: Each and every Singaporean is given a bilingual education, be it Chinese, Indian, Malay or Eurasian.

All these talk about bilingualism went few weeks back when Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew admitted that the teaching methods adopted by the Government (Ministry of Education) for learning Chinese while “hoping for an desired outcome to produce Singaporean chinese students who are effectively bilingual” were wrong. 

Since then, many Singaporeans, online or press papers, shared their perspectives about it. For those who were unable to master Chinese but had to make a detour to go overseas to continue their university education (due to an F grade in A- Level Chinese, thus unable to go local universities), it was little console to them.

As expected, some of them said, “This is overdue manz. Finally someone has admitted that the teaching methods used are wrong! Government turning a deaf ear when people commented that there should be a shift in the teaching methodology of learning Chinese! Aiya, what’s the point of saying sorry now when the damage is already done?” :p

For many chinese Singaporeans today, it was the “inflexible” way of how Chinese teachers tried to make them master the language in the past. Chinese is a ‘complicated‘ subject, they said. But the Chinese teachers don’t see it that way, thinking that students were lazy or whatever. The teachers thought these students were “unteachable, and hopeless”. In the end, many threw their hands up in the air in despair, making a self-declaration that “I give up totally on Chinese!!! Arghh!”

In one of his most recent Facebook status, Parlimentary Secretary for MCYS and MOT, Mr Teo Ser Luck shared abit on bilingualism. 

He wrote: “Someone felt that it is better to learn mother tongue before learning English.  I think it makes some sense because there are more opportunties to learn speaking English. Thinking back, I speak my dialect Teochew, next Mandarin, before English.  Being bilingual is an advantage and it had opened more doors for me. But most of us will always struggle to try to be fluent in mastering more than one language.”

I am also a Teochew. Haha.

Drawing from my own personal experience, learning both English and Chinese was not a problem for me because I developed a learning interest in both languages. In addition, I understood the importance of learning both – English is to be able to understand and communicate with people at workplace and from all parts of the world, and Chinese is to understand my roots, my culture. NOT BECAUSE I SEE the economical advantage of learning chinese due to China being an “uprising super power nation”.

That was also how I developed the kind of attitude and desire to master both languages.

Teochew was a basic must because being a teochew, I must know how to speak the dialect and also to be able to communicate with my older relatives who can only speak the dialect.

The interest and attitude must be there.

If you have these 2 things, no matter how the “difficult” the teaching methods are, be it spelling or dictation whatever or the complexity of the language, you will somehow be able to get through eventually.

And of course, no matter what language you are trying to master, it is always the same basic rule – read more, write more, listen more and speak more of the language. As time passes by, you will definitely be able to master the language. 

I was given an opportunity to strengthen my proficiency in Chinese under the guidance of a native chinese teacher from Beijing in my school years at Yishun Town Secondary School.

Today I am able to write and speak both languages. As you can see, I sometimes make an effort to pen my blog entries in my mother tongue because I feel that it is a good way of “practising my written chinese” although I’ve left school years ago.

What worries me the most is these days, I observe that there are alot young chinese students (mainly from reputable schools?) talking to each other in English outside school compound. 2 or more Singaporean chinese students talking to one another in English, not Mandarin! Sigh. Something has to be done to encourage them speak more Mandarin.

In today’s context, to seriously address the issue in the bud of the problem, there should be changes made to ways of how Chinese is being taught to our youths. Hence the MOE’s new policy direction to allow Chinese Language teachers to teach English is something to cheer about.

Bearing in mind that our students today are more IT-savvy and globally connected, we should encourage and brainstorm more creative ways of tapping onto information technology to make learning Chinese more interesting, relevant and fun. Other approaches can include learning Chinese pop songs, role-playing in Chinese drama, read Chinese graphic novels etc.   

 The Chinese purists may disagree with such “bold” ideas but I think we should do it this way, so as to allow our students a better grasp of the language. Agree?

Learning languages can be a fun thing, isn’t it?

My Teochew fluency level?

Ehhh. I am still stuck at the basic conversational level. Still can speak the dialect with my aunties and uncles with a bit of Chinese. It was watching MediaCorp drama “The Teochew Family” that I came to appreciate more about my identity as a Teochew Singaporean.

Oh yes, I am a Singaporean Chinese. I have had come across some foreigners who still think that all Singaporean Chinese are from China! *Faint*

For born-bred chinese in Singapore like myself, we are  descendents of chinese immigrants  who travelled from China to Singapore seeking a better life in the early 19th or 20th century.

I always wanted to learn Cantonese. Other than subscribing to Cantonese cable TV programmes, perhaps maybe I should throw myself to be immersed in Hongkong for few months? Hahaha.