Friday, 24 February 2017

Voices: Rethink how Mandarin is taught in Singapore

As one with comparable competence in my English and Chinese, it troubles me that many of my friends struggle to learn the latter (“What ‘brand’ of Mandarin will you teach your kids?”; Feb 20).

Although it is my mother tongue, and I am generally more comfortable reading Chinese material on non-technical topics, the textbook and assessment mode can be a turn-off.

The language is taught with textbooks, and pupils’ impression of the language is shaped by the content.

The learning of Chinese often has a twin goal of imparting values, so I am not surprised that articles in the textbooks usually seem insipid to young pupils.

Also, the oral assessment requires pupils to discuss topics such as cleanliness campaigns and the kindness movement — they consider boring and seldom discuss in the real world.

This may lead them to dislike the language and thus have less of an ability to converse on normal occasions.

The rise of China is supposed to give Chinese Singaporeans an added incentive to master this language, at least with some working proficiency. This, however, does not seem to happen all that well.

Perhaps some of them do not know about the sheer progress in China.

What I would suggest is to revise the textbook and assessment mode, and taking the pupils’ age into consideration, to take the overly moral- and cultural-based topics out of the syllabus to change stereotypes some may have of the language.

Also, more students can be sent on immersion trips to Beijing, Shanghai and other Chinese cities.

This would help them to form a correct impression of how advanced the Chinese economy is and the significance of grasping its language to brace themselves for the future world.

If United States President Donald Trump’s granddaughter could start learning Chinese before she was two and can recite several poems by the age of five now, why can we not speak Chinese with better proficiency?

Lucy Sun


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