Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Learning Chinese in Singapore

Recently, Minister Mentor Lee’s call to relook at the teaching and learning of Chinese in Singapore has drawn a flurry of responses from many quarters in Singapore who wrote in to the newspapers, sharing with all their trials and tribulations in their journey to master Chinese in schools. Some of the writers have such a difficult time with Chinese at schools that they eventually migrated to ‘escape’ the learning of Chinese.

Personally, I believe I am one of the few who mastered Chinese to a very competent level, acing both Chinese and Higher Chinese back in my school days. However, as Minister Mentor has so correctly pointed out that nobody is a master of two languages, my English was not that rosy during school days, though my standard is still alright. I am also always improving my English as it is so important here. After starting work, besides the occasional conversation in Mandarin with my Chinese colleagues, there is little opportunity for me to use written Chinese and as such over the years, I believe I have gradually lost track on how to write certain Chinese characters without relying on computer or dictionary.

Though the government has encouraged Singaporeans who are well-versed in both English and Chinese to venture into China to work and ride on the Chinese bandwagon, such opportunities are not many in Singapore. The only consolation is that as more China foreigners come to live and work in Singapore, Chinese Singaporeans may be using more Mandarin to converse with the China-born Chineses as Mandarin is just so natural a language to them. It is a true reality as many of the times, I have personally observed or experienced China-born customer service staff interacting with simple English with Chinese Singaporeans before finally succumbing back to using Mandarin after a short while as it is more natural for them to do so or when the listener could not comprehend the message that is being conveyed.

In the meantime, though the teaching of English has not been pinpointed, it is also observed that Singaporeans speak ‘singlish’ and not the grammatically correct English.

Knowledge is so important to man. The prerequisite to gaining knowledge is to first learn to read and write so as to absorb information. One would then use his cognitive faculty to transform information into knowledge and as more knowledge builds up, one become wiser.

However I would like to add on that there are certain processes which are more important than learning:

Learn to learn: so that one can learn correctly and more efficiently and effectively

Unlearn to learn: so that one can rid redundant and wrong knowledge for new and correct one, to do so, one needs to learn to unlearn first.

Unlearn to unlearn? Does this phrase make sense? Yes, this applies when one is like a RAM, storing information for a very short time before disposal and storing once again and disposal….and the cycle continues.

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