Monday, July 30, 2007

Learning Mandarin

This writer has it spot on:

30 July,ST Forum

Review mother tongue as success path in school

MR KELVIN Chia's view that 'a certain degree of regurgitation is not only well placed, but also very necessary' for language acquisition is a perception that needs to be debunked ('Current system may not be the problem'; ST, July 23).
The ability to regurgitate words and phrases simply proves a student's good memory but does not necessarily reflect ability to understand or appreciate the context of their use - a fundamental aspect of effective language acquisition.
With the dynamic nature of challenges ahead, rote learning cannot be the order of the day in schools.
Mr Chia also likens the teaching of Mandarin to that of English. The process of acquiring English as described by him is not in line with current best practices.
Backed by research, enlightened preschools in Singapore and many parts of the world have moved away from spelling lists and teaching the alphabet through repeated writing.
Pedagogy has evolved to focus on the development of long-term appreciation and love of the language.
By suggesting it 'makes better sense to promote the use of Mandarin at home than to adjust the current system', Mr Chia assumes every parent is effectively bilingual and able to speak Mandarin fluently.
The truth is many lost touch with Mandarin once they left school, for the simple reason that the working world is English-speaking and the language of business is predominantly English. Hence the language of choice for most is English.
This is a point acknowledged by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew when he cited the example of his children's choice of English as their predominant language even though they were educated in Chinese-medium schools.
Those who attempt to keep up their Mandarin proficiency inevitably end up peppering their speech with words and phrases in English, Singlish and dialects.
To speak Mandarin at home, as Mr Chia proposes, is in effect more detrimental than beneficial.
So many parents are unable to help their children tackle Mandarin at the pace and standards set by the Ministry of Education. The solution for a long time has been to engage private tutors but this should not be perpetuated.
Past approaches have failed to produce a generation of Singaporeans who can remain sufficiently fluent in Mandarin beyond their school years. We cannot afford to make the same mistake with the next generation.
It is time to review the criteria of mother-tongue proficiency as a requisite and determinant for progress in our education system.

Jocelyn Lim Chieh Ying (Mdm)

Fact: The average Singaporean does NOT speak proper Mandarin. And I am not just talking about the accent; but when I ride the MRT & listen to the surrounding "Mandarin speakers"conversing, I hear a Chinese sentences with liberal sprinklings of English words & even Singlish colloquailisms, as described by Ms Lim.

Fact: Students from English-speaking homes have been having trouble with learning Mandarin since my school days (back in the 70's & 80's). No matter what changes in policies & pedagogy have been applied by MOE, it did not & does not seem to be working, as evidenced by the groans & moans of my friends who have kids in Primary school. Mandarin has become the bane of their lives. Their kids hate learning it, & probably spend more time on trying to pass tests/spelling/exams than on any other subject.

Fact: Yes, Mandarin is an important language to learn, given China's economical growth & potential. No one is disputing this at all. But KNOWING that it is important does not make learning the language any easier.

I am sure that MOE is aware of what I have stated & what Ms Lim has said. My question is: why the reluctance to re-look & possibly re-vamp the whole approach to this problem (and yes, it IS a problem). Why don't we hear the same complaints from the Malays or the Indians whose children learn Malay & Tamil as a second language? Someone should analyse these differences & figure out what's wrong (& what's right) about the teaching of second language in Singapore.

1 comment:

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