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SAP school student who speaks Mandarin and English at home aces O-Level Malay, learns Spanish in free time

SINGAPORE — On a family road trip to Malaysia last month, Darius Song took it upon himself to be his family’s translator.

Darius Song, who took his O-Level examinations last year at Chung Cheng High (Main), enjoys learning languages for fun.

Darius Song, who took his O-Level examinations last year at Chung Cheng High (Main), enjoys learning languages for fun.

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  • Former Chung Cheng High School (Main) student, Darius Song, initially took up Malay as a third language as it was the only elective language offered in his school
  • But an interest to know more about Singapore's national language led him to continue lessons for four years
  • He took Malay as an O-Level subject last year and scored an A1 grade on Thursday
  • Besides Malay, Darius started learning Spanish last year as a way to relax outside of studying 
  • Darius, who also speaks Mandarin and Cantonese, hopes that knowing multiple languages will also help him to converse with patients if he eventually becomes a doctor 

SINGAPORE — On a family road trip to Malaysia last month, Darius Song took it upon himself to be his family’s translator.

As they drove from Singapore to Malacca, the 17-year-old student from Chung Cheng High School (Main) helped to translate road signs in Malay, such as those telling cars to reduce their speed or give way.

His language skills are the result of learning Malay as a third language in his school for the past four years.

Under the Malay special programme, which is offered to non-native speakers, students learn about the Malay language and cultural heritage of Malays.

It is an unusual choice for a student whose family has a strong appreciation for Mandarin and Chinese culture. His mother, who was formerly a primary school Chinese mother tongue teacher, speaks to him and his brothers in Mandarin. Their father speaks to them in English.

Darius has attended Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools since primary school, going to Tao Nan School. 

SAP schools aim to provide students with a learning environment that is steeped in Chinese language and culture. 

Darius, however, was so interested in Malay that he opted to take it as an O-Level subject last year with the full support of his parents.

He received his results on Thursday (Jan 12), along with seven other O-Level subjects that he sat for.

He scored a total of 10 points, with an A1 score — which is the highest score possible — for Malay (Special Programme).

While his overall results fall short of his expected eight points, Darius said that he was not surprised by his score for Malay as "it is one of (his) stronger subjects".

A total of 23,684 candidates sat for the 2022 GCE O-Level Examination, with 99.8 per cent of candidates obtaining one or more O-Level passes.

Some 22,868 (96.6 per cent) candidates attained three or more O-Level passes, and 20,406 (86.2 per cent) attained five or more passes.

This is comparable to the performance of candidates for the GCE O-Level Examination in previous years, said the Ministry of Education (MOE) and Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board in a joint press release on Thursday.

LEARNING THE NATIONAL LANGUAGE

Speaking to TODAY a day before the release of the results, Darius said that while he had initially chosen to study Malay as it was the only third language offered in his school campus, he pursued it until Sec 4 out of passion for the language.

“I feel there is a need for me to know at least a bit of our national language so that I can deeply appreciate our country’s history and culture,” he said.

As his older brother, who is now 20 years old, had taken Bahasa Indonesia as a third language when he studied at Victoria School, Darius could also turn to him for help when learning Malay.

FROM 1,2,3 TO WRITING ESSAYS

There are currently about 80 students across all levels taking up Malay as a third language subject at Chung Cheng High School (Main).

About 35 students take up the language at Sec 1, although this number normally dwindles by Sec 4 as some students choose to focus on other subjects, said Ms Khairunnisa Yahya, a Malay language teacher at Chung Cheng High School (Main).

Ms Khairunnisa, 37, said that Darius, in particular, has consistently scored well in the subject and can remember new words easily. 

It is this “super memory” which helped Darius progress from knowing only a few numbers in Malay at the start of Sec 1, to writing Malay essays by Sec 4.

His short essay on turning back time was published in a book compiled by Dunman High School last year.

The book, titled Tari Pena, compiles essays by non-native students who study the Malay language in schools that offer Malay as a third language.

Admitting that it is a challenge to learn the language without classmates to converse with, Darius said that he has found other means to do so.

For example, he speaks in Malay with shopkeepers when ordering food. 

“But most of the time, they reply to me in English,” he said.

Darius is now hoping to enter Nanyang Junior College where he intends to "jump at the chance" to converse with native Malay speakers there to keep in touch with the language. 

LEARNING SPANISH ‘TO RELAX’

Aside from Malay, Darius also took an interest in Spanish last year after a YouTube travel video made him realise how widespread Spanish is spoken globally.

Darius then turned to Duolingo, a mobile app that helps people learn new languages, to pick up Spanish.

Learning Spanish on the app every hour daily after intensely revising for his O-Levels helped him to relax, said Darius.

And despite the extra time he spends on other languages, Darius continues to excel in his mother tongue, Mandarin, and was selected by his school to participate in the Bilingual Youth Model United Nations Conference last year.

Participants of the conference are required to debate and present on world affairs in both English and Mandarin.

Darius, who also speaks Cantonese, said that he believes his skills in languages will come in useful if he achieves his ambition of becoming a doctor in future.

Describing the profession as “a noble job”, Darius said that knowing multiple languages will help him converse with patients.

And while his O-Level results fall short of his expectations, Darius is holding out hope on his ambitions. 

"I think I'm still on the way towards that goal."

Related topics

O-Levels Malay education

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