Overheard 2 comments on radio.
The first is about some Singaporeans unable to speak either English or Chinese well. Despite years of studying both languages as “first languages”, many so-called “effectively bilingual” Singaporeans still struggle when communicating with native speakers of either language.
Mainlanders and Taiwanese laugh at our limited Chinese vocabulary, while the English-speaking foreigners mock at our strange accent.
We can’t speak English well. We can’t speak Chinese well. What we speak to each other is some manglish singlish that only we ourselves understand.
MM Lee once said:
“But today, we are connected. Everybody speaks English. So, you keep some part of your past, not at the same high level, same standard as before because you have to do English and mother tongue, two languages, very difficult. But if you are satisfied, say, your English is 80 per cent of what you would achieve if you only do one language, then your second language will be about 50, 60 per cent, that is good enough.“
I disagree. If given a choice, I would rather give up Chinese and speak better English. At least it’s better than not speaking either well.
The 2nd comment I heard is the oft-repeated argument that we should learn Chinese because China will be huge in future.
Well, this reasoning is not new. Many of us first heard it from our Chinese teachers in primary school, decades ago. Some of my friends were convinced and worked hard at their Chinese. Many scored A* in PSLE, went to SAP schools, and got A1 for higher Chinese – only to find Chinese totally irrelevant in their working lives. The only occasions Chinese is used is when ordering food in coffeeshops and gossiping with fellow local Chinese colleagues, and even then, a substandard pidgin kind of mandarin is used.
The right reason for learning Chinese is not because China will be great. It should be because you are of Chinese descent and want to stay rooted to the Chinese heritage.
Do you think Chinese is important?