Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Chinese Dialects - The Real Singapore


DOES SPEAKING DIALECT AT HOME REALLY AFFECT LEARNING MANDARIN IN SCHOOL?

All ethnic Chinese Singaporeans are born to parents who belong to one of several dialect groups here. There isn’t any ‘formal’ schooling or training (as in formal lessons conducted in a classroom) wherein our children are taught to speak the dialect of his or her parents, grandparents, and elders. Rather, it is quite literally by word of mouth that from birth we are inducted, nurtured, taught and ‘immersed’ by our parents into the cultural mores, values and habits of our respective dialect groups. Meaning, this comes about very naturally especially and particularly between mother and child (hence, the real origin of the term ‘mother tongue’ to describe this intimate nurturing relationship. Regrettably the term has been quite brazenly hijacked by the MOE to describe the compulsory learning of Mandarin by all ethnic-Chinese Singaporeans). 

In other words, dialects are the very essence of the conduit for the vital flow and direct transmission of our ancestors’ unique cultures, values, social and traditional mores, to descendants, in particular the younger generations. By extension and implication, the loss of the use of our dialects can therefore lead to an inexorable and irreversible dilution and eventual loss of our ethnic roots and cultural ballast over time. And on a timeline, after 30 years of govt sanctioned prohibition, I would say we are really almost on the precipice’s edge of dialects’ extinction – it is going the way of the dinosaurs. 

So the corollary (i.e. consequence and conclusion) must be that without a living and functional use of dialects, it is almost impossible for our ancestors to ‘speak’ to us through our elders in the most intimate way possible.

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SUPPORT THE REINTRODUCTION OF DIALECTS ON LOCAL TV/RADIO PROGRAMS IN SINGAPORE

According to the Media Development Authority, they are not lifting the ban as “ the problem of falling Chinese standards among young Chinese Singaporeans will be exacerbated if the profile of dialects in the media were raised”

We are pushing for the lifting of the ban on dialects on local television and radio programs because the belief that the learning of dialects interferes with the mastery of Mandarin and English is no longer valid. Huge amount of linguistic research has shown that it is possible for young children to be multilingual. We also have living proof – Youths from Hong Kong and Malaysia and fluent in not just English and Chinese but also in dialects. Singaporean youths may lose out from the ever increasing global economic competition and rise of China as well as it’s dialect-speaking states.

Disallowing dialects on local radio and television programs also marginalize the elderly from being in touch with current affairs, having access to entertainment and even communicating with their own grand children.

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ABOLISH THE BAN ON DIALECTS ON LOCAL TV/RADIO PROGRAMS IN SINGAPORE

Activists also believe that this language barrier isolates the elderly even from their own families where they are unable to communicate with their own grand children.

“Dialect is what we use to communicate with elderly. Only through television can kids be more exposed to different dialects and as we hear it more frequently, we would learn them and communicating with elderly would not be a problem,” said Phneah Wei Xuan, a secondary one student in Hwa Chong Institution.

“I belong to the generation whom my own father unthinkingly forbade me to learn Hokkien/Teochew/Cantonese etc just because then Lee Kwan Yew said so. This prevented me from communicating effectively with the older generation, and we now have a generation of lost myriad of rich cultures not passed down to us,” said Mr. Mervin Tan.

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MINISTER HENG SWEE KIAT, HOW DOES SPOKEN DIALECT BURDEN SCHOOL KIDS?

A child has the ability to absorb whatever is interesting like a sponge. I taught my children how to count from one to ten in Japanese, Thai, Tamil and Malay and they could do so at 4 to 6 years of age.

An Indian friend from Malaysia could converse in fluent Cantonese, Hokkien, Malay and Tamil besides English. Languages and dialects are best learnt from a young age.  By insisting that our our children are capable of learning only two languages, we are belittling them.

Emphasise on mother-tongue language if the government must but why eradicate dialects when there are no studies to prove conclusively that learning dialects will impede learning other languages? The official view of the government requires a review.

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