＊ By Jeremy Au Yong/Nov 06, 2009/The Straits Times
INTELLIGENCE does not necessarily translate into a flair for languages.
That was the lesson Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said he learnt in implementing the bilingual policy in schools.
Initially, I believed that intelligence was equated to language ability. Later, I found that they are two different attributes - IQ and a facility for languages. My daughter, a neurologist, confirmed this,’ he said in an interview carried in Petir, the People’s Action Party magazine.
Asked to pick policies he would have implemented differently, he cited the teaching of bilingualism, especially in English and Mandarin, as the most difficult policy.
I did not know how difficult it was for a child from an English-speaking home to learn Mandarin,’ he said.
If you are speaking English at home and you are taught Mandarin in Primary 1 by Chinese teachers who teach Mandarin as it was taught in the former Chinese schools, by the direct method, using only Mandarin, you will soon lose interest because you do not understand what the teacher is saying.
You spend time on extra tuition, and still make little progress. Many were turned off Mandarin for life.’
In the end, the Government recognised that students with the same ability in other subjects may not be able to cope being in the same second language class. It took 30 years for the issue to be resolved.
Eventually, we settled the problem in 2004 by teaching the mother tongue in the module system. Had we done this earlier, we would have had less wastage of students’ time and effort, and less heartache for parents,’ he said candidly.
While acknowledging the initial approach to the policy was unsatisfactory, he pointed to other policies that were spot on.
Asked about factors which had an impact on the PAP’s success, he pointed to winning people’s trust, and foresight: ’One attribute with the most lasting impact has been our approach of tackling problems early.’
He cited the Area Licensing Scheme as an example. The 1975 scheme was the precursor to the Electronic Road Pricing scheme and charged motorists for driving into parts of the Central Business District.
The Area Licensing System, we implemented before cars became so numerous that it became politically difficult. Many big cities in the West are trapped and cannot do this,’ Mr Lee said.
Petir also carried comments from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong in its latest issue. Released yesterday, the edition also marks the PAP’s 50 years in power.
PM Lee took the opportunity to look ahead and reflect on the future for the PAP and Singapore.
The party must aim to be fresh and relevant, and its policies, organisation and activities must constantly evolve to keep up with the times.
He said: ’The PAP carries a special responsibility for Singapore. The party needs to be there on issues which matter to Singaporeans - bread-and-butter issues like jobs, education, health care and housing, as well as softer issues such as the environment, the arts and rejuvenating our city.’
SM Goh commented on the policy he was most proud of, and his biggest worry for Singapore.
The policy he singled out was Edusave, which was introduced in 1993 to pay for enrichment programmes for students.
My own experience prompted me to introduce the scheme. I was helped by a government bursary in secondary school and university. Without the financial assistance, I might not have been able to complete university,’ he disclosed.
His biggest worry? The declining birthrate. The shortfall could be made up with new immigrants, he acknowledged, but it could affect Singapore’s make-up too.
Yes, we can top up the population with new immigrants. We can be a cosmopolitan country. It sounds good, but it is not the same as having a Singapore populated mainly by the Singapore ’tribe’.
It has taken 50 years for this tribe to evolve. With new immigrants, the texture of Singapore will be radically altered. There will be more tribes. It will take time, perhaps more than one generation, for them to integrate.’
■ English to remain master language
＊ By Clarissa Oon & Goh Chin Lian/Aug 16, 2009/The Straits Times
ENGLISH will remain Singapore’s master language even as the country nurtures more bilingual talents who can do business with China, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said yesterday.
The command of English is a decisive factor for the career path and promotion prospects of all Singaporeans.
For Chinese Singaporeans and those who want to study Chinese, Mandarin will be an added economic advantage with a thriving economy in China for many years to come,’ he said.
Even new residents from China know they will not go far without an adequate grasp of English, he added.
And they are pushing their children to master English, otherwise they will be disadvantaged in getting places in our good schools and universities, and in getting scholarships and eventually jobs.’
However, he drew the line at making it a requirement for permanent residents and new citizens to be fluent in English.
We cannot make (the requirements for residency) so onerous that they will not come, for example, by requiring permanent residents or new citizens to be fluent in English, which even some existing citizens are not.’
His remarks at a constituency dinner follow a recent debate in The Straits Times Forum pages on whether Mandarin is slowly replacing English as the language on the streets, and its consequences for Singapore’s multiracial society.
One ST reader, Ms Amy Loh, wrote how Geylang has evolved from a racially mixed, multilingual area into an enclave for new residents from China, with a growing prevalence of Chinese-only shop signs.
Another letter writer, Mr Samuel Owen, said it is becoming increasingly difficult to order in English in some Chinese restaurants and shops because many workers from China cannot speak English.
While agreeing that Mandarin proficiency was important to Singapore society, Mr Owen urged the Government to strike a balance between that and English as a lingua franca.
MM Lee called on Singaporeans to give the new arrivals from China some time to adapt to life here. ’It is not easy to adjust to a different society, multiracial, multilingual, multi-religious, with different customs and ways of life,’ he said.
People also need to be circumspect about the Government encouraging Singaporeans to speak more Mandarin and take scholarships to study in China’s top universities
Said MM Lee: ’Do not be misled by the emphasis on Chinese language and culture.
It does not mean we are displacing English as our working and common language, our first language.’
One new immigrant who made a concerted effort to improve his English was Mr Sam Sun, 39, who had difficulty communicating in the language when he arrived here from Beijing 15 years ago.
The computer engineer and Tanjong Pagar GRC resident improved his English through lessons offered by a church here, and later when he pursued a law degree.
The effort he put in meant that his Singaporean neighbour Rajajwe Velayudan, 41, had no trouble understanding him when they first met at a block party two years ago.
I could understand his English even though he had an accent. Having more gatherings helps us to open up to one another,’ says Mr Rajajwe.
■ Nurturing a key advantage
＊ Mar 20, 2009/The Straits Times
THIRTY years ago, I launched this Speak Mandarin Campaign. Chinese students were learning Mandarin in school. Unfortunately, they spoke dialects among themselves and at home. When I watched interviews on our Chinese TV channel in the 1960s and 1970s, I found students and workers speaking Mandarin haltingly.
Mandarin has to be the common language of Chinese Singaporeans. If the Government had left language habits to evolve undirected, Chinese Singaporeans would be speaking an adulterated Hokkien-Teochew dialect.
To effectively promote Mandarin, we closed down all dialect programmes on radio and TV from 1979. Also, I was setting a bad example by making speeches in Hokkien in the 1960s and 1970s so as to reach the largest number of Chinese. From 1979, I decided to stop speaking in Hokkien and switched to Mandarin. Had I not done this, Hokkien/Teochew would be the common language among the Chinese in Singapore, not Mandarin.
The value of a language is its usefulness - not just in Singapore, but also in the wider world. If you speak Hokkien or Cantonese, you reach some 60 million in Fujian and Taiwan, or about 100 million in Guangdong and Hong Kong. With Mandarin, you can speak to 1.3 billion Chinese from all over China.
I understand the strong emotional ties to one’s mother tongue. However, the trend is clear. In two generations, Mandarin will become our mother tongue.
English is the key language for our people to make a living. It is the second language of all non-English-speaking peoples. Multinational companies use English. Internet data banks are mostly in English. PRC Chinese are learning English with great effort. If Mandarin were our first language, Singaporeans would be of little use to China. They do not need more Mandarin speakers. English gives us easy access to English-speaking societies and the developed world. Thus, Singaporeans bring value-add to China.
To keep a language alive, you have to speak and read it frequently. The more you use one language, the less you use other languages. So the more languages you learn, the greater the difficulties of retaining them at a high level of fluency.
I have learnt and used six languages in my lifetime - English, Malay, Latin, Japanese, Mandarin and Hokkien. English is my master language. My Hokkien has gone rusty, my Mandarin has improved. I have lost my Japanese and Latin, and can no longer make fluent speeches in Malay without preparation. This is called ’language loss’.
To become a united nation, the population must speak a common language, so that they can communicate with one another. Singapore’s multiracial peoples would not have been united if we had used Mandarin as our common language. All non-Chinese, 25 per cent of Singaporeans, would have been disadvantaged. The result would have been endless strife, as in Sri Lanka, where Singhalese was made the national language and the Tamil-speaking were marginalised. We made the right decision to use English as our common language.
We also retained the teaching of mother tongues. Even in 1959 when we first became the Government, my colleagues and I could foresee a time when China would open up and become a huge economic power. Our choice of English has enabled our fast growth. Now with China’s economy growing, parents and students no longer complain of the burden of learning Chinese, a difficult language.
China wants to collaborate with us because through English, we are able to connect with the West. At the same time, our Mandarin is fluent enough to communicate with PRC Chinese.
The Speak Mandarin Campaign and our bilingual education policy have resulted in a growing number of young Singaporeans speaking Mandarin among themselves in schools, the Institute of Technical Education, polytechnics and universities. They also watch Mandarin TV more than English TV.
Quite a few Singaporeans with only AO- or O-level passes in Chinese have sent me e-mail from China to thank me for making Mandarin compulsory for them. With this basic foundation, they have been able to expand their vocabulary and increase their fluency after a few months in China. Singapore Press Holdings distributes a free bilingual newspaper called Wobao or my paper, which is bilingual in Chinese and English. It has a glossary of translations for the more difficult English and Chinese words and phrases.
School examinations no longer concentrate on mo xie, dictation from memory, or ting xie, listening and writing. They are not needed in real life. With computer programs, you can type the pinyin and the characters will appear. Since 2007, we have allowed the use of digital dictionaries in national examinations.
Singapore’s advantage has been that we have a Mandarin-speaking community. We have newspapers, magazines, books and television programmes in Chinese. We need some 300 Singaporean graduates each year who have Chinese language and culture at a high level, to interact with their China counterparts. The flow of new migrants from China as citizens and permanent residents will help in this process.
English is our dominant language. Most students will have little difficulty in mastering working-level English. However, if parents speak in English to their children at home, learning Mandarin will be a problem. Research of American-born Chinese disclosed that when these second-generation Chinese try to learn Chinese in college, those who speak English at home found mastering Chinese as difficult as Caucasian-Americans; those whose parents spoke to them in Mandarin easily made the grade. My advice is for both parents to speak Mandarin to their children if they can. If one speaks in Mandarin and the other in English, the child will grow up speaking more English than Mandarin.