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Dialects are a part of our heritage, identity

In “Hard truths of our education system” (March 26), Mr Ian Tan attributed some Singaporeans’ poor command of English to a poor understanding of how to teach the language in our schools.

Jeraldine Phneah Jia Lin

In “Hard truths of our education system” (March 26), Mr Ian Tan attributed some Singaporeans’ poor command of English to a poor understanding of how to teach the language in our schools.

He cited the emphasis on the usage of bombastic words and flowery language over other components.

His example would also apply to the Mandarin syllabus, wherein the use of proverbs, consisting usually of four to eight characters, would help significantly to increase a pupil’s score.

If such assessment methods continue to be used, I believe that the goal of bilingualism for all Singaporeans would not be achieved.

I come from an English- and Hokkien-speaking family, attended English-speaking schools and never read Chinese books for leisure.

Yet, I got a distinction in A-level Chinese because I memorised model essays and a list, given by my school, of difficult vocabulary which I could insert into my compositions to get a better score.

Due to such teaching methods, and the discouragement of dialects, many Singaporeans are neither proficient in their mother tongue nor the dialects that are a critical part of our Singaporean heritage, identity and core.

The Government’s view has long been that dialects would interfere in Singaporeans’ mastery of English and Mandarin. Yet, youths in Malaysia and Hong Kong are able to converse fluently in English, Mandarin and dialects.

Perhaps the problem of poor language skills among Singaporeans lies more in our schools’ teaching methods, rather than the learning of dialects. After all, there is scientific proof that children are capable of being multilingual.

According to Michael Paradis, a neurolinguist at McGill University in Montreal, children can develop native-sounding accents in each tongue. In adulthood, all reinforced languages hold their own in the brain without interfering with the others.

So, I urge the Government to re-examine and tackle other factors that are more likely to hinder our goal of bilingualism.

Meanwhile, the current restrictions on the usage of dialects also affect our elderly. Many cannot understand the local news and lack access to entertainment in the language they can truly enjoy.

They are isolated from society, and their own families when they are unable to communicate with their grandchildren. If they do not speak the same languages, no amount of family bonding initiatives would work.

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