Chinese language: to reduce weightage or not to

A few months ago our education minister seemed to have suggested reducing the weightage of mother tongue in our school examinations, resulting in plenty of discussions that led to an apology of not choosing the right words which led to a misunderstanding. Recently our dear MM Lee also spoke on the topic of our mother tongue, highlighting the issue that very few Singaporeans actually manage to master both languages, and that compared to English, our mother tongue is used less frequently. English is still the medium of instruction in subjects like math and physics. He is also right to point out that university students do not get exposed to mother tongue unless we choose to take related modules.

I agree that most of us cannot master both languages, myself included. Ever since NS, I have had difficulty remembering how to write Chinese words, but I can type farely well. My vocabulary is limited to those that I use frequently; only when I get into a more poetic mood do I have an improvement in the choice of words used.

But like a friend pointed out, just because it is hard, should we stop trying? Although I was exposed less to Chinese ever since I became an undergraduate, I felt that I could better relate to the language, and accept the language more than I was in school. In fact, I discovered I enjoyed the process of learning the Japanese language in my adulthood more than chinese in my kid days.

Yes, perhaps I am much more older and more matured, hence I could enjoy it more than anything I studied whilst I was young. However this does not mean that no steps could be taken to possibly improve our current methods of teaching mother tongue.

Perhaps a revamp of the education method with regards to the mother tongue should be adopted before we give up and throw in the towel. For us Singaporeans should be more resilent and stronger than that. If the problem was the method, and we chose to give up now, we would be denying our children the chance to have a greater mastery of both languages compared to my generation.

Hence before we adopt the drastic measures of reducing the weightage of mother tongue, we should consider adopting better systems to teach the language.

The reason why I enjoyed learning Japanese is simple. I had access to the Japanese dramas, which, in my own biased opinion, is more entertaining that local productions. I loved the Japanese anime, and their songs are nice too. I loved visiting the country, and I loved the food. What this means is that I had viewed the language as a pathway to embracing the rich culture of the Japanese. Now that the focus is on the culture and not the language, learning becomes more fun.

So this is what we should do. Whilst we cannot transform china because we have no right to, what we can do is to make people interested in the Chinese culture. The stories of legends, history of the emperors, even popular works like Legend of the Condor Heroes etc could help in teaching the language.

myPaper has done it. In the paper, certain english words are in bold, meaning their Chinese equivalents would be shown somewhere in the article. Since reading newspapers is not what most students consider entertaining, I would suggest putting the focus on television dramas instead.

For a start, we could focus on dramas with potentially high viewership. Selected words in the script could be displayed in a different colour in the subtitles with their Chinese equivalents stated. Since these dramas are in the chinese language, pronouciation would be taught too. The list of words could be provided in MediaCorps website.

Additionally, we could change the system in the classroom, but since it had been discussed at length, I shall not mention it.

The point of this post is this: we should exhaust all means necessary to improve the learning process before deciding to play with the weightage.

Note: I know the proper word is Mandarin, but most of us use Chinese as if it was the right word to use. It has already become part of our language.

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