Teach subjects in another language to improve proficiency


Daniel Sim

Published: 4:02 AM, September 21, 2013
Updated: 4:00 AM, September 23, 2013
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I refer to this week’s VoicesTODAY topic about the teaching of mother tongue.

Maybe the key to learning a language effectively is not by having more lessons or by mixing its usage in class with other languages, but by using the language in an applied way, such as for teaching science, history or literature.

The teaching of Mandarin in Singapore seems to focus on run-of-the-mill social issues, the weather and daily life. We have not learnt how to describe natural phenomena in a concise scientific way.

We have not learnt how to propose arguments, counter-arguments and a final conclusion, as would be expected of a student of the humanities.

We have not learnt how to use, process and synthesise information gathered from papers and textbooks into sentences that express novel and complex ideas.

Our grasp of the language is worsened by the fact that we, the younger generation, now overwhelmingly choose to speak another language in daily life.

In Malaysia, even if non-Malays cannot speak Malay fluently, they have enough mastery of the language to listen and write about science and humanities in Malay.

Some European students here and abroad may arrive barely speaking the language of their host country but, after some language courses and the smorgasbord of subjects taught in the language, master it enough to read, write and present even at the university level.

I, therefore, believe that using a language to teach other subjects is a good way to keep the language alive.

The subject that is taught would at least become a source of vocabulary for the language learner, keeping the language useful.

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