PM, give adult S’poreans better chance

to learn Chinese!

The current (and renewed) wave of breast beatening by those Chinese Singaporeans who don’t like weight — or too much weight — be given to learning  Chinese for their children to progress academically, makes me wonder once again why our dear, sweet, long suffering Government keeps on casting pearls be4 swine.

I don’t know why Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Education Minister Ng Eng Hen don’t pay some attention to those Chinese and non-Chinese Singaporean adults who missed out on a proper grounding in Chinese, not because they were unwilling but because knowing Chinese wasn’t important when they were at school.

Let those who want to, yank their children from school and emigrate. If every time their children face an obstacle that appears (note it only appears so; not necessarily is so) insurmountable and their solution is to emigrate, let’s see how many countries they would have to move to before their kids grow up

Instead, the Government should begin paying attention to Singaporeans like the following:

  • My friend Shirley Tong who, after retiring last year, has spent thousands of dollars to get her Chinese up to speed. She said: “Owing to the hefty fees one has to fork out, you really have to have the passion to learn/master the language and be prepared to put up with lots of homework and tests before you sign up.” She has completed two levels. Read her story here.
  • Or take another friend, retired journalist Ismail Kassim who has spent two periods in Kunming, Yunnan brushing up his Chinese. His story is here.
  • Then there is the Indian Singaporean restaurant supervisor I came across while eating at Ajisen. Read about him here.
  • Last but not least, the parents of a blogger whom I met recently. She writes in her blog how her elderly parents grew up English speaking but started learning the Chinese language in their old age. “These days, they subscribe to both the English and Chinese newspapers,” she adds, “and are now more proficient than me.”

From my examples, there appears to be no lack of adult Singaporeans trying or wanting to try to learn Chinese, maybe for no more altruistic reason than to have an easier time when visiting China.

The Government should leverage on this and expand WDA (Workforce Development Agency)  support to adults learning Chinese. And to ensure money isn’t wasted by those who just want to try but are not serious, make course and tuition fees reimbursable only when exams are passed and certificates obtained.

Or to make it more fun, fund short trips to China for those who spend a minimum stipulated number of hours learning Chinese at approved centres, such as Communty Clubs.

There is more than one way to skin a cat.

If the kids are unwilling, look towards the adults, many of whom have not only rediscovered their roots but also see the Chinese language as giving them a new lease and vigour for life. Better still, they could be role models for their children and/or grand children.

13 thoughts on “PM, give adult S’poreans better chance

  1. I re-learnt my chinese the immersion way! Now my colleagues are really proud of my progress and fluency 😉

    Back to a less selfish thread, I agree with you. Don’t get why one can rote/tuition/expose themselves through Math and Science but they cannot bring themselves to pick up a communication tool. If I recall correctly, during my time (in Sec) many schools dropped Literature as a mandatory subject simply because the passing rate is too low. Talk about resilience.

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  3. It’s a good suggestion. Many adults realise the importance of learning the Chinese language and would be happy to relearn the language. This kind of self motivation will make learning so much more enjoyable.

  4. Adult taking on courses (especially retiree)are motivated by different reasons. Some find it especially useful when chinese conversation is a means to an end (whatever the ends is) The question remains why stop at Chinese ? why not any language and for that matter any subject ? The question is then not about funding adult learning but if we agree that resources are limited, then the best use of resources and tuition funding must be 1st to the economic vibrant age group. I believe that it’s shameful if a Chinese cannot speak Chinese, Malay not able to speak Malay etc. If so, the need to be able to speak our mother tongue doesn’t need formal MOE endorsement. For adults after school, I hardly speak Chinese except on occassions where the need arises like when one visits china. If there is a motivation to learn a language or a subject at older age, one can definitely afford to spend some money. One can argue that one needs to learn chinese to interact with the grandchildren. If so, where the funding comes from is not important. What’s important is where we draw the line for which group Singapore needs to focus on to draw the most effective results. I know it sounds harsh but practical.

  5. Dear Auntie Lucia
    To me, language is “exposure” and “immersion” and “interest and love” – then everything else fall into place naturally. I never study Chinese in school having taken Malay as a second language up to A Levels.
    From childhood, I was exposed to Mandarin at parents spoke Mandarin in addition to English and the main spoken at home dialects, Hainanese and Cantonese.
    Every week, we were brought to the cinemas to watch the then Shaw and Cathay produced Mandarin movies as my parents were avid movie-goers.
    My maternal Grandma listened to Redifusion every minute of the day and the continuous broadcasts (news and stories) are in Mandarin and the Chinese dialects.
    My Dad taught me to read and write Chinese at home and I learned “easily” because I like Chinese. We had both Chinese and English newspapers at home since I was young as my Dad was bilingual. My parents were lovers of Chinese pop songs and played Mandarin and Cantonese records almost every day when they were at home.
    Thus, I sang along with many artistes like Teresa Teng, Fung Fei Fei, Fei Hsiang, Chen Fen Lan, Sakura etc.
    My Dad told me lots of stories from Chinese literature & history (some of my favourites are Romance of the Three Kingdom 三国演义, Wu Ze Tien 武则天, Journey to the West 西游记, Dream of the Red Chamber 红楼梦).
    I remember reading books of my Dad’s favourite Chinese author, Lin Yu-Tang 林语堂, (TK’s friend, Amy brought us to his home at Yangmingshan outside Taipei during our previous visit). LW

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  7. Linda, u and I have similar backgrounds but I’m afraid I didn’t appreciate the great Chinese culture n language till I went 1) to work in a Chinese-strong org and b) visited China for the 1st time in 1986. Perhaps the fact tt in the old days China was tarred with a heavy communist brush made it more frightening than it actually was. And how can we love someone/something tt frightens us? All that’s changed now. I wish today’s Chinese Singaporean kiddies wld appreciate their luck better.

    Also, u and Pei (earlier comment) have both mentioned immersion as an impt factor to becoming better at Chinese. Maybe our dear sweet Govt should consider opening Parameswara centres (very much like China with its Confucius Institutes) in Zhongkuo for those Chinese Singaporeans willing and able to get better acquainted with their mother tongue?

  8. Bravo, Pei! For one who writes English like the best of them, it’s good to hear tt u are good at Chinese too. Mayb u are the exception that’s going to prove the falsehood of the oft reported claim tt one can’t be good at English and Chinese at the same time. Think those who propound such theories have forgotten about Joseph Needham!

    And I agree with you the curious fact tt no parent has said that his/her family has to emigrate becos his/her kids can’t do math or science. Perhaps it’s the angst of the parents carrying their own anti-Chinese language baggage tt’s weighing down the next generation/s!

  9. Hello, Keng, welcome back. Thot u miffed with me for my response to your last comment on housing tt u are never going to visit again! 😀

    Of cos it’s good, resources willing, to send all the adult S’poreans back to school to make up for wotever they failed to pick up at school when young. But as you say, resources aren’t infinite.

    That said, I regret that I don’t agree tt the resources for education and training shld be reserved for only the economically viable age group, whatever tt means. Why should anyone who’s retired fm one career not b able to contribute after training and retraining? (Doesn’t wot u say re Chinese contradictory to the current mantra: Lifelong learning?)

    Why should some resources for Chinese education not be given to those in their 40s, 50s, 60s,70s? And it’s not a 10+year free ride like it is for the kids. What I’ve proposed is to reimburse for performance; play the fool retirees won’t get a cent.

    Hope wot u said about resources for the economically viable age group isn’t what your employers espouse secretly 😦

  10. Lifelong learning is a good mantra but like all priorities in life, especially when one is older, the financial resources will be limited, with no income and only expenses, keeping some for the rainy day for health care is important. The demand for courses to keep one occupied and one’s mind active will increase with our aging population. That said, I too will be one in time to come. While its cruel to think that the Government will look after the needs of the “young”, I think that’s the sad reality. The only option is to work damn hard, save money now when one is younger so that we can enjoy during our older years of life. Not everything needs money. Conversation is key in any language learning and helping out in chinese-based charities open up the opportunities to speak in chinese. I think there will be retired Chinese teachers around. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a resource pool organised and “skills” are exchanged between the senior citizens in exchange for “points” where they can go attend other classes ? If Singapore can divert such resources over time, we will yet become another model for other countries to follow. This to me would be a “Life long learning” economically viable model.

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  12. Dear Keng, heard of the Black Swan? Must have, esp when the latest updated version is now in the NYT’s best seller list n u r in the US, after all. Black swans teach us never to only look at things in linear fashion.

    Other points
    1) the cruellest thing which they don’t teach the young is that not all of them will live to be old, let alone a ripe old age
    2) there will be other attritions among Singapore’s young: emigration and not living up to potential and the ROI will be below par.

    Lastly, I’m not asking the Govt to take from resources for learning Chinese from the young; only the crumbs to reward the seniors and elders with the interest and inclination to learn Chinese and with the hours’ input to show for it.

    Now u have a great week-end now that summer is here over where u r ! ^——–^

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