Thursday, March 19

My Thoughts on the Chinese Language

Recently, MM Lee gave his comments on the Speak Mandarin Campaign. As a Chinese teacher and a lover of the Chinese language, I welcome such support from our government with both arms.

In our family, we try to speak in proper language. My parents speak to Jaimie in proper Cantonese, myself and my in laws speak to Jaimie in proper Mandrain (because the 3 of us are Chinese teachers!) and Clement in proper English. There are many times we slipped into the casual mode and started to speak in Singlish/ mixing 2 languages but we tried as much as we can to speak properly.

Recently, we realised that Jaimie is speaking more and more of English. She is using a lot of English to express herself. We were happy with her ability to communicate in the English language and we are still happy although Clement and I have decided that we will do some adjustment with the home language used.

Clement is the only person speaking to Jaimie in English. As for me, sometimes I do too but most of the time I still speak Mandarin. We started off this way with the intention of allowing Jaimie to learn 2 languages at the same time. However, as MM Lee suggested, it is better for BOTH parents to speak in Mandarin to their children at home even if they are effectively bilingual. We see his point. As you can see, the number of adults using Mandarin to communicate with Jaimie to the number of adults using English is about 3:1. However, the use of English in the social and school environment is strong that Jaimie is gravitated to speaking in English more. If we do not do some adjustment at home as MM Lee had suggested, Jaimie will probably lose her interest in the Chinese language in a few years' time. By then, it will be too late to revert the situation.

Many people think that Chinese is more difficult to learn than English. Indeed, with each chinese character is a picture on its own and it has no phoenics to assist in the learning, it is relatively harder. The Chinese language is a right brain language because it requires more pictorial memory of the brain while English is more of a left brain language. Perhaps that is the reason why some people find it difficult to remember the strokes.

Personally, I really hate it when people associate the importance of learning Chinese with the economic rising of China. No doubt that is one of the reasons and motivations but I do not like it at all. In my 12 years of teaching, I have never once used that as a reason to encourage my students to do well in the language. I do not even discuss with them why must they pay attention in my class. The richess of the Chinese culture, the stories behind each idiom, the origins of the words are enough to captivate them and make them not-hate the language. In fact, a lot of my students told me that they had never known that Chinese is such an interesting and fun language and they looked forward to Chinese lessons. And I can proudly tell you that the percentage of my students achieving distinctions in major exams is quite satisfactory.

I am not being a show off here. I am just sharing the fact that to learn a language well, you need to first like the language. That goes the same for everything, actually. Hence, in my opinion, there is no such thing as a "difficult language".

9 voices:

小的 said...

i agree. i think chinese is a beautiful language and i am glad that i was taught by very passionate chinese and chinese lit teachers, who made me love and appreciate the language even more!
pls continue with your good job done!!

absolutfaith said...

I was thinking about you when I read the article! The example MM gave on the bilingual chaps was exactly like your approach with Jae but they switched cos MM told them to do so. And I wondered if you'd follow suit.

I do wonder if it's really necessary to place sole emphasis on Mandarin cos there are pple who end up not being good in English. My hubby is a good example. In those days, all the subjects were taught in Mandarin if you went to a Chinese school. When he went to NUS and had to do his subjects in English, it wasn't easy at all. And after all these years he still struggles with English.

We're all assuming that kids can pick up English easily once the Chinese foundation is set is it?

lovelyloey said...

Some students in my linguistics class has joined in a facebook campaign called "I'm Chinese and I'm proud Mandarin is NOT my language". We really think that Mandarin was imposed upon Singaporeans... no other country has ever tried to do that, it's just amazing the things we can get away with. Sometimes I'm glad when young people ask why we need to speak Mandarin if we're Chinese, cos in fact there is no real reason why.

Aces Family said...

Hi Angie,

Thanks for sharing your perspective on Chinese. Like you, i have the same thinking - we must love the language 1st to really learn it and not use it as a commercial tools..: P

The recent trip to Hong Kong made them realised the importance of Chinese...hee : )

Listening is believing.


kim said...

Laoshi, you know, throughout my education in pri school, sec school, and jc, the only time that I enjoyed learning chinese was in JC. All the rest of the time we were just drilled non stop in the pursuit of As in our exams. All we did was to memorise the meanings and 造句 in the 词语手册. Really meaningless.

How I wish all my Chinese teachers were as passionate as you, and maybe, my Chinese would have been better as I would be genuinely interested in learning more than to memorise for the sake of exams. =X

Clement said...

Singapore is the only country where you can find people who publicly (worse, proudly) renounce the language intrinsically tied to their race and ethnicity. No other countries has got an equally distorted demography.

Joyce Long said...

I was abt to share this in my blog too. In any case, in my opinion as being a s'porean, we are chinese here and we have to pass this message to our kid that this beautifully chinese language is our mother tongue language..

Meekfreek said...

How interesting....

I think it is good to learn Mandarin if one can speak it properly.

Same goes for English. It's perfectly fine to pick it up later if Mandarin is your first language but it's also important to use it properly.

No point being biligually challenged in both Mandarin AND English.

That is the problem with people here. Not many can speak standard Mandarin OR standard English.

My Mainland Chinese friend Herbert and my Taiwanese friend Michelle both can't stand the way Singaporeans (in general) speak Mandarin. They are always complaining that Mandarin is spoken horribly here.

As a native English speaker I think (in general) the English language is used very badly too.

My own personal opinion is to at least speak one language "properly" and do your best in your second language....whatever that language may be.

If you manage to master both or even more languages...since some people have an affinity for languages then that is really fantastic and advantageous to you!

"Living" is about being able to make choices. If one wishes to be fluent in one or more languages then go for it, enjoy it and benefit from it! But why be forced to do it! It should be your own personal choice.

I learnt Italian at school, took French and German for a short time and Bahasa Indonesia was spoken by my parents at home. I also went to Chinese enrichment every Saturday when I was young (which I was not good at) but I'm definitely not hung up about being Chinese and not speaking Mandarin. It's never been a problem for me all these years and I do not envisage it being a problem going forward unless the rest of Singapore suddenly starts speaking 100% Mandarin and I can no longer understand Singlish.

Ann said...

My friend's 4-year-old boy spoke only Mandarin before he went to kindergarten, but now he seems more interested in speaking English at home. When I went to visit them, I often heard the boy speaking English to his parents. Maybe I shall remind my friends to be wary of their kid's inclination in language learning?
Being bilingual is not easy task. I am a mainlander living in Singapore for 8 years so far, but I still find myself struggling with speaking and writing in English. It is always difficult for an adult to pick up a new language, while children learn language much faster and more instinctively.
So glad to find your blog and know that there are Mandarin teachers like you who have so much passion in teaching our mother tongue. I realize that both Angie and Clement are very effectively bilingual, after reading posts in English by Angie, and posts in Chinese by Clement, which is really impressive! since most of my Singaporean colleagues are influential in English only.
Keep up your great work!