Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bilingualism - Making It Happen

It is good to be back after a brief hiatus.

I spent the past week or so traveling in Taiwan. It was a great time checking out scenic spots and spending hilarious moments with the family.

While moving around in Taiwan, I was constantly tested on the competency of my Mandarin. I do admit that there were times I felt very discouraged and embarrassed with my less than adequate command of the language.

All the time, I have claimed that I am bilingual in my resume. However, I am fully aware of my lopsided ability of the two languages (English and Chinese) I have been taught to use. Actually, almost everyone educated in Singapore can make the same claim that they are bilingual.

Bilingualism was introduced in 1966 with two main objectives:

(1) Making English the first language for everyone so as to facilitate our integration into the global economy, and

(2) Educating the children with their mother tongue based on their ethnic groups so as to preserve their cultural and Asian values.

Bilingualism has been controversial in Singapore. Many parents frown at the thought of it, especially when they see their children struggle to cope with the demand from both languages. These parents often pleaded for the bilingual policy to be softened.

The mother tongue language is also known as the second language in the school curriculum. Although taking the second place after English, it is by no means unimportant. In the past, students who did not attain a certain level of achievement could not get a place in the local university notwithstanding their impressive results in other subjects.

In the past decade, the educators have gradually changed the way Chinese is taught in school. They have also varied the syllabus after recognizing that not every child has the same ability to handle two languages. However, parents with struggling kids are still very concerned that the demand for the second language is too high.

On the other hand, the Chinese linguists are now worried about the deterioration of the Chinese language in Singapore. They often remind on the importance of the language and often justify their claims with the 'emergence of China in the global economy'.

Their claim is not unfounded. In fact, Mandarin is the most spoken language in the world (followed by Spanish and English).

Last month, the founder of modern Singapore, Minister Mentor (MM) Lee Kuan Yew admitted that "Bilingual policy was most difficult". He has come to accept that intelligence does not equate to language ability and prompted for a change in the approach on the bilingual policy. (see report).

MM Lee reckoned that learning Chinese has to be fun (for that matter, any language, I thought). The Singapore educators are now told to be more receptive in using English to teach Chinese, a teaching approach which was not acceptable in the past.

As a nation, what we know about the Chinese language (and culture) is shallow and I am one of the many who contributes to the current situation. Every year, since 1979, the "Speak Mandarin Campaign" (讲华语运动) aims to get more Chinese to speak Mandarin and with that, hopefully the bonding among the Chinese will remain closely knit.

The Chinese has 5000 years of history and knowing the language opens up the doorway to learn from the past wisdom. While in Taiwan, I had a chance to take a quick glimpse at the National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院). It is one of the leading museums in the world with a collection of over 650,000 pieces of ancient Chinese artifacts and artworks. The depth and vastness of the Chinese richness were just so awesome.

There is no doubt about it. After 5000 years, the Chinese language remains an important tool to civilization.

It is an asset. Acquire it.

"Never be contented with your study;
never be impatient with your teaching."
~Confucius~ (551 B.C. – 479 B.C)

Stumble Upon Toolbar


bhutan holiday said...

nice post!

kids beddings said...

Liked the post very much!!Going to add your blog to my RSS Feed reader asap.

Inspirational Quotes said...

Great information you've provided us with here. Thanks so much for sharing. Nice site too...