Wednesday, November 25, 2009

40 Years of Language Experimentation

MM Lee has announced that he made a mistake regarding our Bilingual Policy which has resulted in generations of students put off by Chinese language. Besides, there is also lost of bright talent who went overseas to study when they could not make the grade for 2nd Language. Many of them never return to S’pore after completing their studies aboard.

So after 40 years of experimentation with our students, we are ready to start another round of experimentation – different learning strategy. Is there anything new to this ? I though we have been experimenting with different teaching methods all these years, not only with Mandarin but also the English language.

I am one of the 'causalities' of our government bilingual experimentation. I can speak Mandarin quite fluently, but this is after I took up Chinese instrumental, martial arts and Taiji in my adulthood. For this, I have my friends to thank, not the school education system.

I have great difficulty in writing and reading Chinese characters. If I have any regret in life – this is it. I wish I have master the Chinese language during my school days. I think I am able to immerse myself better in Chinese cultural appreciation if I could read up on the subjects of interest written in Chinese. Instead, I have to depend on the translated versions in English.

I was doing well in my Chinese subject at primary school level. I liked the subject. It was during my secondary school days that MOE did some major experimentation. We were introduced to ‘simplify’ Chinese characters and it became a compulsory passing subject in order to make the grade.

Many familiar characters became unrecognizable in their simplified form. Six years of grounding foundation uprooted ! The relearning process was difficult as Chinese characters are not easy to master. A single dot or a dash can change the meaning of the word.

Besides during secondary school days, the number of subjects taken is often double the numbers taken in at primary level. Many of these are new subjects. Then the stress of knowing that all the studying will come to nothing if one failed in the 2nd language.

To add to my woes, our Chinese lessons consisted of hours of monotonous reading and explanation by the teacher. It used to be my ‘napping’ time as the soothing voice the teacher hypnotized me into perpetual slumber during 2nd language period. Chinese had became my least favorite subject.

Besides, some of us do not have the flair for languages. MM Lee just realized this, after being enlightened by his neurologist daughter. I wish his enlightenment has come earlier. After all, I thought Dr Lee W L has been a neurologist for decades ? Why did she not enlighten her father earlier ? They live in the same household, don't they ?

I used to have Hokkien speaking neighbours and classmates, but I never pick up the dialect. During my adulthood, I have Malay colleagues and friends. I try to learn the language but have not been successful.

I know my limitation in learning a 2nd language. Though I passed my final Chinese examination, but it is regrettable that after studying the language for 10 years, I end up only able to speak it. And it is only because of my immersion in Chinese culture related activities in my adulthood

I often wonder if I could have a better grasp of the language if there had been no major changes in the education policy and more creative teaching method employed during my school years.

I have learnt to live with my limitation. We need not be the master of everything. We just need to be the master of our fate.

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